At 155 years old, the Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens (Thao Cam Vien) in District 1 is the oldest zoo in Vietnam and one of the oldest ones still in operation in the world.

The 17-hectare zoo in downtown Ho Chi Minh City currently houses more than 1,300 animals belonging to 125 species, including many rare ones such as the crested argus, douc langur, yellow-cheeked gibbon, Indian hog deer, Asian golden cat, clouded leopard, and more.

There are also 2,500 trees and plants, representing over 900 different species, preserved in its botanical gardens.

The Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens has reopened from May 15 after being closed since March 20 to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Days after the reopening, the number of visitors to the historical zoo remained very low on May 19 compared to pre-pandemic levels.

As of last week, ticket sales were not enough to cover the zoo’s operation costs including those spent on animal care and staff salaries, an official at the zoo told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.

“Our staff are trying to attract more visitors by encouraging [the public to come] and propagating [information on the zoo]. At the same time, we’ve launched stands selling clean fruits and vegetables to increase revenue,” the official said.

Tourists visit the Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, May 19, 2020. Video: Duc Phu / Tuoi Tre

Despite having no revenue during the two months of closure, the zoo was able to keep its animals fed and its trees and plants taken care of, according to Pham Van Tan, director of the Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens Co. Ltd.

However, in light of the difficult circumstances caused by COVID-19, the company has now asked the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee for support to get through the hardship.

According to Tan, since the reopening day, the number of visitors has decreased compared to pre-pandemic levels.

The main reasons are that people are not sure if the zoo has reopened and the public’s general reluctance to travel, he explained.

As a result, daily revenue from ticket sales only averages about VND100 million (US$4,300).

The zoo is therefore pleading for financial support for the two months it was forced to close because of COVID-19, Tan said.

The zoo has also begun selling tickets online via the website and recommended people purchase tickets through the platform in order to save time lining up at the entrance and protect themselves from the novel coronavirus.

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