TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Reid Park Zoo will open its gates to the public the first time in more than five months on Friday, Aug. 28. New additions, including a baby elephant and five baby meerkats, will greet families, but so will new policies.
On Wednesday, Aug. 26, zoo members got to see the animals over a fence instead of on a computer screen. Several families were treated to a sneak preview of the “Wildlife Walk”.
Born during the stay-at-home order in April, Mapenzi; a baby elephant, was the star attraction.
“We have reduced capacity to less than 10%,” said Nancy Kluge, the President and C.E.O. of Reid Park Zoo. “We are starting off at a really low number of 450 people. We have had as many as 10,000 people out to the zoo in a day [before the pandemic].”
The decision made it all too easy for zoogoers, like Matthew Noble, to keep lots of space between his family and next group over. Reid Park Zoo spans 24 acres.
Noble, a long-time zoo member, remembers visiting Nandi when was first born. Six years later, he was thrilled to take his three-year-old son, Ryan, to meet Nandi’s little sister, Mapenzi.
“We have a deep connection with the elephants here,” said Noble. “We think they are just the best.”
The two also love the giraffes and would normally have stopped to feed them, however, that’s no longer an option.
The zoo has implemented several new safety measures;
-employees are screened daily for COVID-19
-staff members and visitors must all wear masks
-water fountains have been turned off, guests are encouraged to bring water bottles
-rides are closed
-the gift shop and café are closed, several food kiosks are located along the trails
-tickets must be purchased in advance
“We are calling this the ‘Wildlife Walk’ to emphasize this is a modified zoo experience,” Kluge said.
The modified experience will still help the zoo bring in some much-needed revenue.
“Being closed for five months has been a challenge,” said Kluge. “The zoo has lost over $1.5 million in revenue.”
Yet, the cost of operation has remained the same. Kluge says staff continued to make feeding, cleaning and care a top priority. She says the zoo might have gone under without a bond passed by voters in 2017 and recent community donations.
“Reid Park Zoo was built by the community and that has really come through,” she said.
The zoo is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tickets are sold out through Sunday, but people can reserve a spot up to two weeks in advance. To buy tickets, click HERE.