COLCHESTER Zoo has announced it will reopen to visitors from Thursday, with a raft of changes planned at the facility.

The attraction has been closed since lockdown restrictions were introduced on March 23.

It has still faced bills of around £25,000 a day, with bosses expressing serious concerns for the future of the facility.

Kind-hearted supporters have helped raise more than £100,000 for the facility's operating fund.

With lockdown restrictions being eased further and zoos and outdoor attractions allowed to reopen from Monday, the facility has announced when residents will be able to attend again.

Dr Dominque Tropeano OBE has written an open letter to supporters announcing the zoo will reopen on Thursday but it will also host a special invitation only day for its supporters.

He said: "Whilst we are grateful, we need to understand the guidance the Government will set on how we are going to be allowed to open and run the zoo.

"The problem being these details are to be communicated to us on Saturday, thus giving us only two days to prepare if we were to open on Monday.

"I can now confirm the official re-opening date is not Monday but Thursday.

"However, we will be hosting a special pre-opening day on the Wednesday, which is accessed by invitation only.

"This day has been reserved for the hundreds of people who over the past three months have given us unbelievable support, inspiration and comfort when our moral was low.

"So, by hosting this pre-opening day this is a gesture of a much needed thank you.

"We would have loved to have been able to invite everyone who has donated and supported us through these difficult times but unfortunately due to the capacity allowed within the park we had to select donors and supporters randomly to be fair and provide limited tickets per person."

The day will be used a trial to help bosses understand how the new visitor experience will work.

With visitor numbers restrictions, tickets for the zoo will need to be purchased in advanced.

Bosses say the visitor cap and ongoing impacts of the pandemic are likely to have an effect on the future of the facility.

Dr Tropeano said: "Every year, July and August, are traditionally two of our best months’ attendance wise.

"For example, we can receive 130,000 visitors during August, however, social distancing could have an impact and only allow 2,000 visitors a day or 60,000 a month, a huge reduction in our attendance and of course income.

"The negative financial impact will continue because of the lower numbers, the lower price too but we also expect a large reduction of sales within both our catering and retail outlets.

"Therefore, please continue to support us the best you can, including by visiting as often as you can.

"Every penny we make is always reinvested into the zoo, improving both animal and visitors’ facilities but also participating or funding conservation; important conservation projects in many countries of the world.

"This expected loss of income has meant survival will be a challenge. We will need to be very careful with our spending but also ensure we build reserves should the pandemic return we will be able to cope better.

He added: "You will find your visit experience will not to be what you have been used to in the past but please remember the pandemic has changed our life and I am afraid changed, at least for now, the zoo as we know it.

"This has been a really truly difficult experience, one we all will remember but there are signs of life as we know it returning, we can say we have fought our battle and have survived.

"It is a time to appreciate how lucky we are to be here, to look forward to a new life with new hopes and new challenges but we must never forget the trail of destruction and loss over an enduring three months."