A family-run zoo that has opened two habitats for endangered species said a two-year delay was a “blessing in disguise”.
Jaguar Jungle and Sun Bear Heights at Paradise Wildlife Park in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire are due to open in 2021.
After delays due to the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit, the “UK-first habitats” will open from April 1.
Aaron Whitnall, one of the brothers who runs the zoo, said that with the extra time they “could have created something amazing”.
Three brothers – Aaron, Tyler and Cameron – work at the wildlife park, which has around 800 animals and is situated on land near Broxbourne bought by their grandfather in the early 1980s.
The habitats in the £1.5 million project were due to open in the months following the third Covid lockdown, but have taken longer to recover from the previous 12 months than expected.
This was compounded by Brexit rules.
“Glass we needed was delayed for centuries and the cost of materials had gone up pretty much overnight,” said Whitnall.
“There were also problems with contractors and it all came together in one giant nightmare project, but it’s done now and we can’t wait to go.”
The resident big cats Kedera and Kumal return from a sister site, The Big Cat Sanctuary in Kent, to Jaguar Jungle, a renovation of their old habitat.
The new South American themed area is about three times the size with a pool, underwater views and a walkway in the trees.
It is the only habitat in the UK where you can see jaguars swimming, according to the zoo.
Sun Bear Heights will house three species, all new to the park and mostly found in Southeast Asia: the endangered bears, Kyra and Indera, along with a pair of binturong and two Asian small-clawed otters.
Mr Whitnall said: “While a bit behind schedule, the delay has had its benefits. We’ve been able to take a bit more time and we now think we have world-class habitats.
“It was a blessing in disguise – we’ve now been able to create something amazing that we think will blow people away.”
The new and returning species are all part of an ongoing plan to put the zoo at the forefront of conservation “by creating custom habitats.”
Each new area also explains what puts each species at risk.
All of the newcomers are classified as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List, the category below threatened with extinction, and jaguars are “near threatened,” Whitnall said.
It is hoped that they will breed in Hertfordshire for years to come.
The park will be called Hertfordshire Zoo from its 40th anniversary in April 2024 and Mr Whitnall said they had many new projects planned for the re-branding.
“2022 was the busiest year in our history and we now hope to continue to grow and invest more in both the park and conservation,” he said.
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