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Local zoos begin welcoming back visitors

Courtesy of the SB Zoo
Giraffe at the Santa Barbara Zoo.

Zoos in California are welcoming the public back after being closed since mid-March. The gates of Charles Paddock Zoo in Atascadero reopened Wednesday, and director Alan Baker said it’s great seeing visitors again, since it was a bit eerie being at the zoo without visitors for so long.

“Our job didn’t really change, the animals are still here, so our routines stayed the same,” Baker said. “But it was like being in a ghost town, it was just us and the animals, so it was just very surreal working here when it was closed.” With months of kids mostly staying at home, parents like Hailey Mac say it’s a relief to be able to take her two children out to attractions again.

“I asked my daughter, because she’s been dying to come back to the parks and come back to the zoo, ‘do you want to go the zoo today?’ Mac said. “And she jumped up and down and said I was the best, so that made me feel very good...wee are very excited to be here.” While walk-up admissions at the Charles Paddock are still welcomed, there are new procedures and guidelines for visitors to follow, including reduced capacity to forty visitors at a time.

Baker said adults, but not kids, will need to wear a facial covering and follow painted animal prints on the ground to ensure safe distancing from other visitors.

The tiger exhibit also has a new barrier, Baker said, because with tigers at the Bronx Zoo having tested positive for the coronavirus, he needs to be extra cautious.

“So we know our tiger could get it,” Baker said. “So we’ve added some new fencing to pull people back away from the tiger so if someone sneezed and didn’t have a mask on, they are far enough away we hope that it wouldn’t go to the tiger exhibit.”

While the Charles Paddock Zoo is open now, the Santa Barbara Zoo will reopen to the public starting Tuesday.

Rich Block, CEO of the Santa Barbara Zoo, said and he and the zoo staff have a number of changes, with the main one being before you even reach the zoo—since walk-up admissions are not being accepted for now.

“[Visitors] need to go to the website, because we are now using timed ticketing in order to control the number of people, so we can manage social distancing while people are visiting the zoo,” Block said.

Although the zoo experience along the Central Coast will be a bit different for now, Block said it’ll still be an important educational experience.

“It's a great opportunity for people to get out, make the connection to wildlife which is critically important at this time since it's in distress,” Block said. “So to come here and get a sense of why wildlife is important, and to connect. It’s terrific.”

Angel Russell is a former KCBX News reporter who started her career in journalism as a reporter and producer for KREX on Colorado's Western Slope; she later moved to the Central Coast to work for KSBY as weekend anchor and weekday reporter. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, and playing guitar and piano.