Donations have flooded in for Chester Zoo after bosses said its future was "at risk of extinction."

In a statement today, Jamie Christon, the zoo’s Chief Operating Officer, said the government's decision to change the rules around coronavirus threaten to shut down the world famous site for good.

The changes in legislation enforced the closures of zoos, which had not previously been included in the regulations and bosses say the move could "financially cripple" them.

The attraction is appealing for the public’s help to secure its future, and the charity now needs to raise £1.6m a month to save it.

Since hearing of the news reported earlier today, over 19,000 people have donated to the cause raising a total of £359,979 so far.

One supporter wrote: "The fact that beaches and gardens can open but the zoo cannot is outrageous. Save the zoo!"

Chester Zoo will look very different when it reopens after lockdown

While another said: "My wife and I had the privilege of getting married at Chester Zoo. A truly world class, amazing place that we're lucky to have access to. Wishing the staff & animals all the best, hope to see you soon."

One woman added: "So disappointed in the lack of thought and support from the government. Wish you all the best and so hope that the Zoo remains open and functioning."

Another said: "Thank you so much for all you do. We will always do absolutely everything in our power to help you. We WILL save our zoo."

In a statement today, Jamie Christon, the zoo’s Chief Operating Officer said the government's move could mean the end for the country's most loved zoo.

He said: “As the UK’s biggest and most popular charity zoo, we’ve tried to stay positive during this pandemic.

"Our conservationists have continued to prevent extinction, our virtual days have cheered up the nation, and our learning resources have helped out thousands of home schooling families. We wanted to remain a beacon of hope.

“But now, the government has ordered us to stay closed indefinitely and Chester Zoo is very much fighting for its future.

"This change in law has flicked a switch for us and, heartbreakingly, our lights are now flickering.

"Not being able to open, despite being a huge outdoor site with all the necessary safety measures in place, is having a devastating impact of the future survival of this much-loved charity zoo. We’re heading towards debt in excess of £24m by the end of 2020 – this will financially cripple us.

“We absolutely refuse to cut corners when it comes to caring for the animals. But ensuring that each and every one of the 35,000 animals at the zoo is receiving the best possible care, every single day, comes at a huge financial cost.

"Not being able to open, with such massive outgoings, puts the future of the zoo itself at risk of extinction.”

The Government has also changed its schedule on coronavirus, meaning these regulations are likely to stay in place for at least the next four weeks, instead of three as was previously the case.

Mr Christon pointed to the fact that people are allowed to meet in much smaller gardens and to those chaotic scenes at beaches.

He said: "While we see pictures of public beaches, parks and UK beauty spots busy with people, our zoo – a huge outdoor space, with 16km of pathways, and numerous measures in place to ensure that we can provide a safe environment for guests – sits empty.

“We plan to heavily limit visitor numbers, we’ve installed self-scanning ticket lanes, floor markings, one-way systems, multiple cleaning and hand sanitisation points, a huge amount of signage and protective screens in all of our key locations and service areas.

"We’ve also trained staff to ensure that social distancing rules are followed at all times. People will be safer here than in public spaces, as we know can manage numbers and social distancing.

“Much smaller, private gardens are opening up this week, which is positive as the great outdoors is proven to offer benefits to mental health and wellbeing.

"However, we and our 128 acres of gardens have to remain closed. It’s possible we’ll be given permission to open our indoor retail shop later this month, but not our massive outdoor site. While we support the need to carefully lift the lockdown, we’re under enormous financial pressure and these things don’t stack up.”

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He added: “We are not prepared to give up this fight and are continually lobbying government across all relevant departments, at all levels.

"We know we can provide a well-managed, safe environment for our visitors, staff and animals and have invested in all of the required safety features set out by the government, and more. Visitors carefully returning to the zoo is our lifeline.

“Chester Zoo contributes over £83.1 million to the regional economy, supports over 1,700 jobs, protects wildlife in more than 30 countries around the world and engages over 150,000 young people – the future of our planet – every year. At a time when global environmental pressures escalate, the seriousness of losing a conservation charity cannot be stressed enough.”

"If all our members choose to keep their memberships going this month that would be a huge help to get us there,’ the statement reads.

"We hope that this month you can help us by simply continuing with your membership with no changes or renewing your membership if it’s due to end."

If you would like to contribute to the Save our Zoo appeal, click here.