The World of Birds Wildlife Sanctuary and Monkey Park in Hout Bay, Cape Town suffered a devastating blow to its financial recovery after robbers overpowered the owner and made off with his takings.
Walter Mangold, 81, told News24 on Monday that it had been the facility's first good weekend in six months with more visitors ahead of the school holidays.
The 45-year-old park faced closure after feeling the impact of the economic climate, an avian flu outbreak and the water crisis.
"We still owe R850 000 from last year that we couldn't pay and the money now that was stolen yesterday (Sunday) was R70 000 in cash," he said, still sounding a bit shaken.
"It was so unexpected and happened so quickly. They knew exactly where to go and so, to some extent, it is inside information."
Mangold was in his office when two men entered just after the front entrance to the park closed at 16:00.
'You don't have to hurt me'
"Before I realised what was happening, they rushed at me, knocked me down with a chair, backwards on the floor, face down," he recalled.
"They were looking for my keys. I said: 'You don't have to hurt me, I will tell you.'"
They found his safe key in his trouser pocket, took out the money and tied him, using all the cables in the office.
The men wanted to stuff an old blanket in his mouth to silence him, but he convinced them that nobody would hear them because his office was far away.
"They tied me up badly and it was very painful. I called on Jesus Christ. When they left, I was on my face and struggled to get on my back. I inched myself towards the door and shouted: 'Help, help, help!'"
Five tourists rushed to his aid and untied him.
'I can only be grateful'
Because the men took his telephone, he had to rush down to the sanctuary entrance to call authorities for help.
"I have gone through a lot of things in my life. I can only be grateful that they didn't stab or shoot me... or knock me out."
On social media, people reacted to the news with shock and outrage.
Many were relieved to hear that Mangold escaped serious injury and said they would donate money or visit soon.
The private sanctuary's 40 staff members care for 2 000 permanently injured birds and small mammals. They have been working reduced hours to save costs.
"We are already insolvent for the last six months. Our monthly overheads are down from R750 000 to R600 000. We were counting on getting into December to recover," Mangold said.
'We need all the support we can get'
A crowdfunding campaign that was set up this year to help with operational costs, has received a welcome boost since the robbery.
Around R160 000 has been raised to date.
Mangold thanked everyone for their support and asked others to open their hearts.
"We need all the support we can get so we can keep the employment of our staff members, look after our birds and carry on into next year."
Provincial police confirmed they were investigating a business robbery that took place at the sanctuary around 16:15.
"The suspects fled the scene with an undisclosed amount of cash. No arrests made at this stage," said Warrant Officer Joseph Swartbooi.
Anyone who has information about the robbery can call Hout Bay police on 021 791 8660 or Crime Stop on 08600 10111.