CHESTER ZOO remains in a 'vulnerable' position financially despite a huge funding campaign and has expressed concern about what will happen if coronavirus restrictions continue to tighten.

The popular animal attraction was forced to shut its gates back in March as part of the national coronavirus lockdown and was only able to reopen on June 15, facing the real threat of closing for good.

The lockdown put a huge strain on the zoo's finances, even with many of the staff put on furlough leave, as it cost £1.6 million a month to keep the zoo going during that time.

And although the zoo has reopened, it has done so under significantly reduced capacity, which has in turn reduced income at what would have been the busiest time of the year.

It means the zoo will fall well short of its usual annual visitor numbers of about two million, and as visitor income makes up 97 per cent of its total income, that has led to a £5 million shortfall.

This is despite the huge impact of the 'Save Our Zoo' campaign, which raised over £3 million via a dedicated JustGiving page.

In a statement on the zoo's website, the zoo adds a further £200,000 was raised from other donations, plus £800,000 from animal adoptions during this time.

The Chester Zoo statement adds: "The “Save Our Zoo” campaign was launched on one of the darkest days in our history. The government had just announced that UK zoos were to close 'indefinitely' and we were approaching, what has traditionally been, our busiest part of the year after already being closed for nearly three months.

"We’re a big zoo, with over 35,000 animals and it costs us nearly half a million pounds a month just to feed and manage their welfare.

"Even with the zoo closed, many of our staff on furlough leave and a strenuous effort to cut all of our costs we still had to spend £1.6 million per month to keep the zoo going.

"Like any professional organisation we hold access to cash reserves, but without any admissions income since late March and unable to access funding from the government’s zoo support fund due to the restrictive criteria for applications, by June we were fearing that an indefinite closure could mean the end of Chester Zoo.

"As soon as we launched the campaign donations came from far and wide, from one off donations through our JustGiving page, hundreds of cheques posted to us and thousands on animal adoptions being purchased. We also had thousands of people finding creative ways to fundraise on our behalf.

"When we take in to account gift aid, we received over £3 million in donations to our JustGiving page alone. A further £200,000 in other donations, £800,000 in animal adoptions and the continued support from our members meant that we were able to cover our immediate costs during our closure.

"Our loyal supporters provided a valuable lifeline and we could not have been more overwhelmed or grateful.

"Thanks to the huge media attention, public support and our work behind the scenes with politicians, the decision to reopen zoos in England came more quickly than we expected and by 15 June we were able to open our doors again.

"Despite the “Save our Zoo” campaign we are sadly not out of the woods. We’ve moved from a perilous position to one where we can continue to operate.

"But, with the restrictions on visitor numbers to around half of our capacity, putting a strain on our ability to raise money and with our costs increasing back to the normal, now that we are open, the pandemic has left us with a huge £5 million shortfall in our finances.

"We’re determined to find ways to cut our costs and make good decisions that will lead to a return to financial health but for now our plans are on hold and we are vulnerable to the real possibility that further coronavirus restrictions will impact our finances yet again.

"There is no doubt that without your ongoing support we simply can’t deliver against our mission of preventing extinction through our conservation and education work.

"We feel passionately that this mission is more crucial than ever before.

"Please, continue to support us, if you can to Save our Zoo."

So far, Chester Zoo has been unable to access a penny of the Government's much-trumpeted £100 million Zoo Animals Fund, as it has been ruled ineligible.

Earlier this month, despite applications opening in August, the Government admitted that none of the £100 million has reached zoos or aquariums.

In response to a written parliamentary question, environment minister Victoria Prentis said only four applications had been received since the Zoo Animals Fund was launched on August 3, all of which were still currently under review.

Speaking at the time, Jamie Christon, chief operating officer at Chester Zoo, said: "The Government has said it is continuing to talk to large zoos like us to explore ways of supporting us and our vital efforts to prevent extinction. But still there is nothing on the table.

"After significant time spent in lengthy and what have been seemingly very positive discussions with Government representatives for several months, this is extremely disappointing for us."