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News : New Providence Last Updated: Jun 14, 2020 - 4:54:11 PM

Ardastra to remain closed as tourism sector prepares to reopen
By Tosheena Blair, Precision Media
Jun 14, 2020 - 9:30:47 AM

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As the tourism sector prepares for its July 1 reopening, one popular attraction will remain closed as it attempts to stave off worsening financial conditions triggered when business ground to a halt due to COVID-19.
In the worst crisis of Ardastra Gardens &  Wildlife Conservation Centre’s 83-year history, its operators are no different from other business owners the world over who are desperate to figure out the way forward.
“Regrettably and sadly, we will not be reopening to the public in the short to mid-term future.  Past struggles combined with the most current ones have brought us to a crossroads,” Ardastra’s director, Katherine Solomon announced Friday, June 12.
A two-time TripAdvisor Hall of Fame honoree, Ardastra unfortunately finds itself in the same boat as aquariums, zoos and other such attractions struggling across the globe, uncertain as to whether they will make it to the other side of the pandemic – that is, financial recovery.
During the traditionally slow summer months Ardastra’s  income streams are buoyed by summer camps, cruise line guests, educational field trips and by residents.
With the cruise line industry suspending operations, most summer camps closed and the average household grappling with income reduction, Ardastra expects its financial prospects to be challenging, to say the least, in the coming months.
“Although it appears to be a gloomy picture now, we are optimistic in the longer term,” said Mrs Solomon. “We have chosen to proceed in a slow and cautious way, adopting a ‘wait and see’ approach both locally and globally. We will continue to assess the situation, evaluate and to think creatively as to how we may move forward in a financially viable way.”
Modifying its business model for a post crisis world, Ardastra is open to those wanting to book the venue for private events. Its spacious, open-air set-up is ideally suited to incorporate new health and safety protocols, particularly social distancing.
A national treasure, the conservation centre sits on over four acres of lush tropical gardens. It is  home to a flock of marching Caribbean flamingos, Bahama parrots, Bahamian boas and other native and non-native flora and fauna.
Ardastra closed its doors to the public on March 20. However, a skeletal staff of animal-care specialists remained onboard to look after its 200 plus residents, representing 50 species.
Heading the dedicated and passionate team is Hendrew Hailey, the first Bahamian to hold the position.
A certified animal trainer who has worked with marine and land animals, Mr Hailey was previously employed at leading tourist attractions in The Bahamas and Singapore. His work with Ardastra’s residents as well as updates on the animals are posted regularly on the Centre’s Facebook page and on Instagram.
“Our animal care team will continue to provide the same excellent care to the animals. We are still rescuing injured and orphaned animals and rehabbing them for release. We are still working on our breeding programs and we are still working on our training programs,” said Mrs Solomon. “Our family of animals will always be our priority.
Still, that work requires funding. For those Ardastra members supporting its efforts, the centre promised to reward them at a future date.
“Thanks to donors and members, we are able to continue doing this very valuable and worthwhile work for the community. One hundred percent of any financial aid we receive goes to food and medical care. We deeply appreciate the support and encouragement and hope that it may continue through these unprecedented times,” said the director.
“Although we have been extremely hard hit by this pandemic, we know that this too shall pass,” said Mrs Solomon. “Our goal is to lead this organization to a sustainable future.”

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