A heart-rending message from the owner of Combe Martin Wildlife & Dinosaur Park has said she doesn’t know if the zoo will ever be able to open again.

Pugwash the penguin is a Combe Martin WIldlife & Dinosaur Park favourite. Picture: CMWDPPugwash the penguin is a Combe Martin WIldlife & Dinosaur Park favourite. Picture: CMWDP

Dawn Gilbert has launched an urgent GoFundMe crowdfunder to try and raise enough money to keep the animals at the zoo for however long the coronavirus crisis lasts.

The park closes its doors today (Monday, March 23) and Dawn said: “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 circuses, the pet trade and laboratories.

“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.”

Lenny and Leo the lions at Combe Martin Wildlife & Dinosaur Park. Picture: CMWDPLenny and Leo the lions at Combe Martin Wildlife & Dinosaur Park. Picture: CMWDP

She said the school holidays usually brought the majority of the park’s takings and the rest of the year it ran at a loss.

She said the park was not entitled to any government grant and had little faith in the bank being able to help.

She added: “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.

One of the Combe Martin WIldlife & Dinosaur Park wolves. Picture: CMWDPOne of the Combe Martin WIldlife & Dinosaur Park wolves. Picture: CMWDP

“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 have been involved in this park for many years and have known these animals all of their lives.

“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.”

If you’d like to help the park during this time, you can donate at gf.me/u/xr4b8n .