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The Big Cat Sanctuary, in Smarden, near Ashford, forced to cancel annual open days due to coronavirus

The team behind The Big Cat Sanctuary is growing increasingly concerned for its future following the Covid-19 outbreak - and has launched a 'save our sanctuary' appeal.

It comes after bosses at the animal park, in Smarden, near Ashford, have been forced to cancel its annual open days and reschedule them for 2021.

Giles Clark, director of cats and conservation at The Big Cat Sanctuary, with Willow the Cheetah. Picture: The Big Cat Sanctuary
Giles Clark, director of cats and conservation at The Big Cat Sanctuary, with Willow the Cheetah. Picture: The Big Cat Sanctuary

The five open days were due to take place from July 29 to August 2, with 15,000 people expected to attend.

But due to crowd numbers and other restrictions that would limit which events could take place, for example shows, animal talks, rides and the logistics of hiring toilets and marquees, the days are just not possible.

And the cancellation means the sanctuary will miss out on its biggest fundraiser of the year.

Director of cats and conservation Giles Clark said: "We are so disappointed to have to reschedule this year’s annual open days.

"We were all so excited to welcome our visitors back to the sanctuary and give them an amazing day out, especially after the immense support we’ve received over the last 12 weeks.

The park's open days have been cancelled due to Covid-19. Picture: Alma Leaper
The park's open days have been cancelled due to Covid-19. Picture: Alma Leaper

"Although we know rescheduling is the best option to keep everyone safe at the moment, our concern for our sanctuary continues to grow.

"Our Open Days are one of the biggest fundraisers for our cats and now, without the additional income they bring and our regular income, it’s a very worrying time for the sanctuary."

All purchased tickets will still be valid and will be transferred over to the new dates, scheduled for June 2 to June 6 next year.

The Big Cat Sanctuary is home to more than 50 cats including African lions, white lions, Amur leopards, North Chinese leopards, snow leopards, Amur tigers, Sumatran tigers, cheetah, lynx, fishing cats, jaguars, Pallas cats, pumas, rusty spotted cats, jungle cats and servals.

The animal park - which remains closed due to the virus - will also miss out celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

Maya, one of the many animals at the sanctuary. Picture: Alma Leaper
Maya, one of the many animals at the sanctuary. Picture: Alma Leaper

To help make up for lost income - from the open days and from its exclusive experiences - a #saveoursanctuary fundraiser has been launched.

A spokesman for the sanctuary added: "With the future currently uncertain and with the welfare of the cats in our care the highest priority, we’re asking for help from our amazing supporters to #saveoursanctuary and launched a Facebook fundraising page where people can donate and spread awareness of the situation.

"By donating or supporting the appeal, you will be helping to keep our beautiful sanctuary going while we battle with the aftermath of the pandemic.

"Again, we want to extend our sincerest apologies to everyone who was excited to come spend the day with us at one of the Open Days, we hope to see you return in 2021."

To donate click here.

Earlier this year, staff at the Smarden sanctuary had to distance it from Netflix documentary Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness after people mistook it for Big Cat Rescue, which features in the series.

Staff said people had been getting in touch with the sanctuary asking to speak to people from the show.

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