A year ago we experienced one of the most difficult days in Chester Zoo’s long history when a fire broke out in our Monsoon Forest habitat. The extraordinary efforts from the zoo team and the emergency services meant the fire was quickly extinguished and all visitors and mammal species were safely evacuated, although losing a small number of frog, fish and bird species was, of course, devastating.
The incredible bonds between the zoo’s keepers and the animals under their care meant we were able to encourage all mammal species away from the fire and to safety – including groups of critically endangered Sumatran orangutans and Sulawesi macaques, endangered silvery gibbons, as well birds such as rhinoceros hornbills and large reptiles like the Asian forest tortoise.
New homes were found around the zoo for the rescued species and we’re delighted to see they have all recovered extremely well. Indeed, only last month, Sumatran orangutan Subis, one of those many animals led to safety, gave birth to a healthy baby – a wonderful boost to our ongoing efforts to prevent the extinction of this precious species.
Monsoon Forest is the UK’s largest indoor zoo habitat. It’s a wonderfully complex, complicated, completely unique building and so the efforts to rebuild have been mammoth.
After an initial lengthy period of planning, the road to recovery started with assessing the damage to the structure and the roof, and clearing the debris. Then, work began in earnest, starting with the removal of all the roof trusses to get them thoroughly cleaned. These were individually repositioned and the new roof fully installed in early November, making the building water-tight once again. With this external work completed, we can now get to work on reheating all parts of the building, carry on refurbishing the inside and begin replanting all the exotic plant species that were previously found there, before any animal species move back in.
This work continues apace and we’re so pleased to reveal that Monsoon Forest will reopen in summer 2020, once the animals have had a lengthy period to settle back in.
The costs to rebuild Monsoon Forest were covered completely by our insurance, however we were humbled to receive an incredible number of requests from the public who wanted to support us as news of the fire broke.
As a wildlife conservation charity with a mission to prevent extinction, we set up a Just Giving page to support conservation work for South East Asian species, some of which are found in Monsoon Forest. We were overwhelmed by the generosity of the local community, members, visitors and the general public alike, and were inundated with spontaneous donations, raising over £260,000.
This fund is already making a huge difference, and will continue to do so, across several life-saving wildlife protection projects. Here’s how:
- We are supporting the Borneo Nature Foundation to safeguard the largest remaining protected population of critically endangered Bornean orangutans in the world; fighting forest fires and restoring fire-damaged habitat in Sebangau National Park in Indonesia
- We’ve begun preparatory work to deliver a brand new project in South East Asia to prevent the extinction of the stunningly beautiful bleeding toad
- We’ll be delivering a project to conserve some of the world’s most carnivorous plants, known as pitcher plants or Nepenthes
- And here at the zoo, we’re using a portion of the fund to enhance the refurbished habitats for critically endangered Sumatran orangutans and threatened Indonesian hornbills. These new, specially designed adaptations will further enrich the animals’ environments and improve our conservation breeding work, while giving people the opportunity to see first-hand how their kind donations have boosted our efforts to prevent extinction.