Exmoor Zoo is fighting for its survival after closing down in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

The Exmoor Zoo blck leopard Ebony aka the 'Exmoor Beast'. Picture: Exmoor ZooThe Exmoor Zoo blck leopard Ebony aka the 'Exmoor Beast'. Picture: Exmoor Zoo

The attraction near Bratton Fleming had just gained charitable status which was meant to come into force in April but that is now likely postponed as it becomes yet another financial victim of the virus.

Now trustees Danny and Lynn Reynolds have launched an online fundraiser in the hope of weathering the crisis, which follows hard on the heels of two wet winters that have led to poor visitor numbers.

They said: “It breaks our hearts to know that the zoo has come to this.

“We are unsure if we can survive the shut down – we will try. Regardless we will incur more debt and we may never in the long run emerge from this as we still have to get through next winter.

A tragopan at Exmoor Zoo. Picture: Exmoor ZooA tragopan at Exmoor Zoo. Picture: Exmoor Zoo

“We have lived and breathed this zoo and enjoyed creating a unique and very special place that anybody could visit, enjoy and learn within. All in the knowledge that we are safeguarding rare and endangered species and looking after them in our rural Devon countryside.”

The zoo was begun by Danny and Lynn when they moved from Surrey 27 years ago and took on the former Exmoor Birds Gardens.

Today the zoo is part of more than 45 breeding programmes nationally and internationally, with more than 350 animals and many of them rare endangered species.

The Reynolds said: “The zoo is more than a tourist attraction - it is a way of life for us and all our team and a part of the social fabric of the area.

Exmoor Zoo's puma kitten. The zoo has 10 rare species of cats. Picture: Exmoor ZooExmoor Zoo's puma kitten. The zoo has 10 rare species of cats. Picture: Exmoor Zoo

“Exmoor zoo is a passion for wildlife, it is a way of life, 24/7. We have a loyal team working for us who are all working as hard as they can to help the zoo survive, despite knowing that some of them are going to be furloughed. How and when this will happen, we are not sure yet.

“We are well known for holding rarer and different animals that are seldom seen elsewhere and now house a stunning collection of 10 different cat species.

“We know that many of you travel many miles just to see some of our rarer species, civets, cacomistles, rusty spotted cats, fanaluka to name but a few.”

The cats include the ‘Exmoor beast’ - Ebony, a black leopard who lives at the zoo with her mate.

The new charitable status would have meant people could donate to the zoo without it having to pay VAT and it could have reclaimed some gift aid from visitors.

Lynn and Danny said: “If you feel that you can help in any way, we will be very - very grateful.

“We are determined to get through this Covid-19 pandemic and safeguard the welfare and the lives of the animals we are responsible for.”

If you would like to donate, please go to https://www.gofundme.com/f/save-our-zoo .