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Secret Valley facing struggle to survive

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Bonny and Clyde, blue and yellow macaws.

Bonny and Clyde, blue and yellow macaws.

A three-and-a-half month old kid goat

A three-and-a-half month old kid goat

Three-year-old Ajo, a crested porcupine, getting fed by owner Ann O’Connor

Three-year-old Ajo, a crested porcupine, getting fed by owner Ann O’Connor

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Bonny and Clyde, blue and yellow macaws.

One of the county's most popular attractions is surviving 'by the skin of its teeth' and may not be in a position to reopen once the restrictions are finally lifted. Secret Valley Wildlife Park in Clonroche has been one of thousands of businesses forced to close because of the pandemic. However, it has operating costs which must continue to be met regardless.

'It's been hard, we're not like other businesses where we can just shut up shop and wait it out. We have to feed the animals regardless and pay the electricity bills,' explained Ann O'Connor, who runs the park with her husband John.

'It's costing approximately €800 per week to keep the place going. People have been so good, they've backed us and helped out us whenever we've asked - some have even brought hay for the bigger animals. But the smaller primates need specialised food.

'We're living week to week at the moment, surviving by the skin of our teeth. In fairness, it hasn't just all been donations, some customers have bought vouchers to use when we reopen. But we won't hang in there for much longer.'

According to the Government's roadmap to recovery, the park could reopen on June 8, but Ann said that, given the complications involved, they won't be ready to return until later on in the month.

'Some zoos and wildlife parks are reopening on June 8 but we won't be ready by then; we're looking at the later date in June. There's a lot of regulations to adhere to and people's safety comes first. Even that date is not set in stone, we might not be able to come back.

'There's protocols which need to be put in place; one-way systems, the cafe will operate behind a partition, people won't be able to pet some animals. We'll have to do a total clean-down after every visit.'

Mindful that the general public have already showed huge generosity towards them and that there are many other businesses struggling to survive right now, Ann and John have set up a GoFundMe page (Secret Valley Wildlife Park Emergency Appeal) in the hope it will bring in enough funds to help them survive until the end of June. But it's the animals' survival which is uppermost in Ann's mind.

'I would be worried for the animals, I wouldn't want them having to go anywhere else - a lot of them have been here for many years. But they're actually enjoying the lockdown they're living free-range at the moment.

'It's a bit surreal here at the moment, the place is strange. You have ponies and pigs wandering around by themselves.'

The Cathaoirleach of the New Ross Municipal District, Cllr John Fleming, is a neighbour of the O'Connors and he attested to the work they have put in to ensure their animals continue to be looked after.

'There are over 40 types of animals, big and small, including monkeys, raccoons, lemurs, alpacas and porcupines,' said Cllr Fleming. 'All these animals need food and some locals have kindly donated hay and straw for the larger animals but there are a lot of smaller animals that need specialised food that has to be imported and at considerable cost.

'Anne and John work tirelessly attending to their animals and, unfortunately due to Covid-19, have had to let staff go. I am looking at what funding loans are available through Wexford County Council at the moment and also if anyone would like to donate go to their Facebook page, there is a section there to donate or even purchase tickets in advance to help out,' said Cllr Fleming.

Enniscorthy Guardian