On March 13, the Brevard Zoo was in full swing.
Attendees enjoyed the newly opened Rainforest Revealed exhibit, with children laughing and playing with giant otters through the glass.
But just a few days later, on March 18, the families, laughing children, volunteers and animal enthusiasts were nowhere to be seen. Due to COVID-19 and CDC recommendations, the Brevard Zoo ultimately decided to close until further notice. Except for necessary staff, the zoo was empty; March typically marks the zoo’s busiest season of the year. For many of the zoo’s animals — who thrive off of social interactions with people — the zoo’s closure was a tough break.
“Certain animals were desperate for attention,” said Andrew Batten, Director of Safety & Risk Management at the Zoo. “If I walked through 20 times, [echo the bobcat] would run up to me 20 times.”
But staff members worried that going from zero to one hundred when reopening could be dangerous for the animals. So, in an effort both to protect the animals and ease into the zoo’s social distancing framework, as restrictions loosened, the zoo opened just to staff members, volunteers and members. This gave the animals the adaptation period they needed.
On May 23, the zoo fully reopened again. Well — sort of. Masks are required to enter the zoo, and although it isn’t necessary that they be worn everywhere, various signs indicate potential high-concentration areas where attendees must use them. Social distancing is enforced, and bright arrows on the ground ensures that attendees cross paths as little as possible. Attendees are allowed into the zoo at 30-minute intervals to prevent masses of people clumping together, and they must register online beforehand.
Plus, since so little is known about the virus, the zoo’s staff aims to take extra precautions to protect the animals. Certain animals appear to be particularly susceptible to COVID-19, including cats; the Brevard zoo houses jaguars, cheetahs and bobcats among others. So, zoo staff have implemented further barriers at exhibits without a plexiglass separation between people and the animals.
Overall, Marketing & Communications Director Andrea Hill said she has been highly impressed by the way the Brevard Zoo community came together to allow for people and animals to interact while remaining safe and following CDC guidelines.
The Brevard Zoo is located at 8225 N Wickham Rd and is open daily from 9:30 a.m. until 5:00 pm. You can make an appointment online at https://brevardzoo.org/support/opening-guidelines/