MOST of us have great memories of a family day out to the zoo.

But for a dramatic U-turn, those happy times among the elephants, monkeys and reptiles could have been a thing of the past.

Many zoos were on the brink of going under until the government changed its mind and said they can reopen from Monday after all.

Originally zoos, safari parks and aquariums had all been told they had to stay closed.

In fact, the government changed coronavirus laws on June 1 to specifically prevent zoos and aquariums from being allowed to reopen because of social distancing concerns.

The plight of Chester Zoo, in particular, hit the headlines and led to huge public pressure for a rethink - including from the Prime Minister's own father Stanley Johnson.

Chester Zoo has been closed since March 21, gets 97 per cent of its income from visitors and costs £1.6m a month to run. While other workplaces closed down due to the pandemic, animals still needed to be cared for. And with that, the massive overheads in heating, food, water and wages for the keepers who remained at work to look after them, still needed to be found despite zero money coming in.

Our local zoos and animal parks have faced similar challenges, albeit on a smaller scale.

Just 24 hours before the U-turn, South Lakes Safari Zoo in Dalton spoke out about the unfairness that they had to stay shut, when other outdoor spaces like gardens and parks, and indoor shops were beginning to reopen.

But now - in a move which was due to be confirmed as the Gazette went to press - Boris Johnson was to announce that outdoor attractions can reopen as long as they follow social distancing rules.

The irony for Lakeland Wildlife Oasis near Milnthorpe, which houses more than 100 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and other creatures, is that the change of mind has caught them completely by surprise. Having expected to stay closed for some time yet, the changes they are making to meet safety guidelines are not yet in place, so they will not reopen for a few weeks.

The way the reopening of zoos has been handled will add fuel to criticism of what has seemed, at times, a confusing approach to easing us out of lockdown.