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Coronavirus: Unique animal sanctuary fears for future as school visits likely to end

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Casey McKinney with some of the animals he has spent the last 10 years caring for near Portrush

Casey McKinney with some of the animals he has spent the last 10 years caring for near Portrush

Casey McKinney with some of the animals he has spent the last 10 years caring for near Portrush

Casey McKinney with some of the animals he has spent the last 10 years caring for near Portrush

Casey McKinney with some of the animals he has spent the last 10 years caring for near Portrush

Casey McKinney with some of the animals he has spent the last 10 years caring for near Portrush

Casey McKinney with some of the animals he has spent the last 10 years caring for near Portrush

Casey McKinney with some of the animals he has spent the last 10 years caring for near Portrush

Casey McKinney with some of the animals he has spent the last 10 years caring for near Portrush

An animal lover who has spent the last decade building up a non-profit educational sanctuary has told of his concerns that school closures over coronavirus could put an end to his main revenue stream.

Casey McKinney, who cares for a myriad of exotic and abandoned animals at Casey's Creatures near Portrush, relies heavily on school visits to pay for the upkeep of the facility, but the expected school closures are set to leave him struggling to keep his business operational.

"I'm looking at my diary here for the next two months and things are a bit scary," he said.

"Over 80% of my planned income is from schools, youth groups, nursing homes and nursery visits. I have to assume that the vast majority of these will end up being cancelled.

"I've worked so hard over the last decade to build my non-profit educational service to fund the care of the animals here.

"I don't rely on or ask for donations because I have a business model that works. I plan things months in advance to make sure I will always have enough coming in to cover all the costs.

"But what is about to happen is pretty unprecedented and no one could have predicted it."

With schools set to close in the near future, Casey says he will have to postpone all visits to nursing homes and schools.

"An average week costs around £1,000 here to feed, house, clean and enrich everyone's lives. I take in, rehome or rehabilitate between 50 to 100 vulnerable animals every year and I have over 100 permanent residents. I can get by and make everything work for around £600 a week. I have savings and an overdraft, but when everything inevitably shuts down those will be depleted fairly quick."

Now Casey has been left with no option other than appealing to the public for help for the first time and he's set to take his creatures on the road by offering a novel treat for kids who may have had birthday parties cancelled as venues close due to the virus fears.

"I need a cushion to get all the animals through this," said Casey. "I have to try to raise around £2,000-£3,000 which should be enough to get us through one month of cancelled bookings."

He explained: "I'm offering a service that you can pay for in advance if you would like to be part of helping us through this.

"If you've ever wanted to meet some of the animals I share my life with, this is your chance. The animals are special to me. I share my world with them. They are not like most others of their species as they're are incredibly friendly and thrive with human interaction.

"I've made the decision to offer private visits with any of these guys in your own home. There will need to be a charge to try to keep things going, to help keep the animals fed and safe: £55 for the first two of your choice, £10 for each additional animal of your choice, or £100 for all eight.

"If you want to just make a donation of a smaller amount than that you of course can. Every single penny will go into this 'cushion fund' to get us through the inevitable coming."

That means people could enjoy a unique treat for a special occasion with a visit from Nemo the meerkat, Willow the skunk, Sheldon the armadillo, Otis the owl, Timothy the opossum, Barney the boa, Conkers the hedgehog and Nala the raccoon dog - the fascinating creatures Casey has spent his life devoted to caring for.

"You can plan your visit for any time within the year, but preferably after this outbreak has started to die down," he said.

"I myself will not be cancelling any bookings, unless I end up sick, too, in which case I will give as much notice as physically possible."

You can find out more by visiting Casey McKinney's Facebook page.

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