Statement from Dawn, director of Combe Martin Wildlife & Dinosaur Park

Statement from Dawn, director of Combe Martin Wildlife & Dinosaur Park
21/03/2020

Unfortunately due to COVID19 we will be closing our doors from Monday 23rd March. We have tried to remain open as long as possible. Not for profit, but having been closed all winter we are desperate for the income. The reality is that zoos still have overheads whether they are open or closed, so we are unique businesses.
To be honest I am not sure whether we will be able to open our doors again. I am so distraught. I will have difficulty in rehoming a lot of animals that we have rescued over the years from various situations such as circus’s, the pet trade, laboratories etc. We recently had a zoo inspection and were commended for our conservation efforts for endangered species as well as the husbandry of all of our animals. We have never dealt with animals traders and we are proud to have these ethics.
It has been a difficult couple of years with the extreme weather conditions we have had, causing a reduction in our visitor numbers, and now this virus will have a devastating impact.
The reality is that school holidays bring the vast majority of our year’s income, the rest of the year we run at a loss. I will be obviously looking at any help the government can give me but we are not entitled to any grant and personally I am not confident of any bank loan because our bank has never been supportive even though we have always made our loan repayments. They won’t even give us an overdraft facility! Thanks Barclays! So if any other banks out there want to help, please contact me.
My father started this park in 1986 and still lives on site but
unfortunately is now suffering from vascular dementia. I have been involved in this park for many years and have known these animals all of their lives. There is nothing more important to me than making sure that their diets, husbandry and enrichment is of the highest standard. In fact we are probably the only small collection that provides a fruit free diet for most of our animals because of the sugar content, it is
only the bigger zoos that do this.
For those that sometimes criticise us for looking run down, it is only aesthetics. We do not have millions of pounds that bigger zoos have to build enclosures, so have to use cheaper
materials etc. because our priority has always been the welfare of our animals and they don’t care whether their enclosure is built from wood, scaffold poles etc. All they want is the right food, heat and attention from our amazing keepers who I cannot commend enough for their dedication to our animals and who work so hard in difficult weather conditions.
I also feel a sense of duty to our community. As Combe Martin’s biggest employer (we have up to 50 staff in the height of season) I am worried about our staff’s income and the potential of getting other work in such a rural area like ours. I will do my utmost to save this beautiful park and the animals that I love so much and have dedicated my life to. I also want to keep local people in work and bring visitors to Combe Martin, our beautiful sea side village.
If you can help in any way at all, however small, please donate anything you can afford (although I know it is difficult times for everyone at the moment). We will be setting up a funding page next week for those of you that want to help. We are also desperately looking at any other streams of income, any suggestions would be welcome.
I wish everyone health and happiness.
Thank you from me, the team and our animals particularly Morgan the sea lion, the most gentle sea lion ever,
Tamaska and Yana, our oldest wolves, Leo and Lenny, our stunning lions, Pugwash our penguin – who once appeared on good morning with Phil and Fern, Oscar our Pelican, one of our oldest residents, Dillon our gibbon, an amazing dad, Anik and Kazimir, our Amur Leopards the most endangered
animals in the world (less than 80 in the wild) and for those of you who remember him, Zebedee the love of my life Gibbon, who sadly passed a few years ago nearly 30 years old and whose ashes, after much debate with DEFRA about his
cremation, are now still with me on my desk and who I still sadly miss.

Thank you to all our customers over the years who have appreciated what we do here and although hilly, appreciate the uniqueness of our stunning tropical valley.
We really hope that we will find a way to reopen our doors again!

Dawn Gilbert
Director/Owner