The African reserve is closed until November 27, to prevent any bird flu contamination. A heavy blow for the animal park in the late tourist season.
Originally, it was a dead pelican that was recovered on Friday from the Sigean pond. Immediately, as required by the implemented procedure, the animal was sent for autopsy to the veterinary services of Aude. A method that takes all its intelligence in the middle of an epidemic of avian flu. There was chaos while waiting for the results: the sub-prefect immediately extended the protective net, closed the aviary and forbade visitors to enter the path that winds around the lake, the protection of the bird is necessary.
Bio-protection measures are immediately put in place inside the park, especially the installation of disinfection footbaths in the main areas, moving from one animal area to another. “The sole of a shoe can infect an entire site: if a visitor steps on the droppings of affected birds, he does not know that he is carrying the virus!” explained Gabriel de Jesus.
Saturday afternoon, the result was: it was indeed the avian influenza virus that killed the pelican. Disastrous and less predictable news, because the virus, which is highly contagious, spreads very quickly in the fall, with the drop in temperature and the transition period. The national territory only increased the risk level, so it goes from negligible to moderate.
The sub-prefect immediately applied the procedure: administrative closure was decided for the entire Reserve for 21 days. “Pelicans are sentinel birds, they are very sensitive to viruses, and they were the first to be affected. Last year, we had 6 pelicans affected by this virus. We also closed the entire Reserve to protect the our birds. Therefore the second time we have experienced the same situation” explained Gabriel de Jesus, who manages communications for the park. “The initiated vaccination campaign has not been changed, it continues as normal”.
A big late tourist season
The closure of the animal park coincided with the final All Saints’ Day weekend, and the last school holiday, a crucial time for this major tourist attraction. “We have a lot of reservations for this time of year, and from Saturday all the staff are busy sending emails and making phone calls to do the cancellations. Unfortunately, by Sunday we already have people in place to come Gabriel is being chased by Jesus. Fortunately, we do a lot of online ticketing, which allows us to work upstream. We ask guests to reschedule their visit or return them as appropriate.” Hard blow for the Reserve counted on the bridge of November 11 on the holiday to extend a good late season, favored by the weather. “It shouldn’t take long, we count a lot on December 6 and 8, when Spanish clients are increasing.” A client, spread between Catalonia and the rest of Spain (and sometimes even further afield), representing 20% of the Reserve’s turnover throughout the year. This shows that Iberian visitors are valued at the end of the year celebrations.
But 21 days is a long time for a private company, whose only revenue comes from the ticket office. The regulatory ban leads to the doors opening on November 27.”November, contrary to what people think, for us it is not insignificant with 15,000 admissions. You should know that in July it is 60/70,000 entries and August 90/100,000 entries. The economic fallout from the 3-week shutdown has been very difficult for us.”
The Reserve, affected by the energy crisis
The park provides 3.5 tons of food for thousands of animals every day. A prison reminiscent of the Covid era, when the paths of the park were deserted. “Fixed costs remain and will increase tenfold with inflation, and the increase in energy prices. We have heated parts, and we are doubling our vigilance. Our strict management of thermostats means we will reduce our costs by 10% to overcome this crisis.
To compensate for this increase, which was difficult for the company to sustain, the management decided to change its entry price. “It’s been 7 years since we raised our prices. We will increase by €1 more, that is, €33 instead of €32, and €24 for over 14 instead of €23”. The company has just hired 7 permanent employees, bringing the workforce to 100 employees.