On May 23, the Calgary Zoo reopened its doors to the public. Offering a “safety-minded one-way experience,” the zoo worked in collaboration with Alberta Health Services to develop and implement extensive health and safety measures.
Efforts to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus led the zoo to develop and put into practice a plan prioritizing the safety of visitors and striving to maintain a pleasant experience.
According to Megan Douglas, senior manager of communications & engagement at the Calgary Zoo, the reopening was the result of a consultative and lengthy process involving AHS and the City of Calgary to understand the situation around the province and the requirements to keep people safe.
“We also went out and surveyed the public at large, so our members, the public, our donor base, to really understand if these were the safety measures that we wanted to take based on health guidelines and our own guidelines around what we think we needed to put in place to make sure people were safe [at the] park,” explains Douglas.
At the entrance, you can see employees handling sanitizer, wearing masks, guiding the way around the park in a one-way direction and also clarifying the recommended physical distance.
Security measures implemented by the zoo include access only through the north entrance, physical distancing supported with directional paw prints safely distanced to keep people apart, extra hand sanitizer stations placed throughout the park and crew members spaying and sanitizing high-touch areas regularly.
Extra care was taken in relation to the recommended physical distance. Instead of two meters apart, the zoo encourages three meters, seeking to maintain a safe space for families and children.
For Michelle Russell, on her third visit since the reopening, the experience has been positive.
“I definitely feel like the zoo has done a good job at spreading things out and setting things up the best that they could to be open,” said Russell.
Russell considers the negative points the struggles to buy tickets online and the closing of indoor exhibitions. However, she understands the gravity of the situation and pointed out a positive: the reduced numbers of visitor to the park means the chance to enjoy it in a more intimate, almost exclusive way.
“It’s been nice to be back and seeing the animals and outside,” said Russell.
The flow of visitors has been drastically reduced to minimize the chances of contagion. According to Douglas, the Zoo received, in high season, an average of 2,000 people per hour and is now limiting the number of visitors to just 4,000 per day.
“Basically what it does is it gives our visitors a really exclusive feeling when they’re here on the ground so they’re nicely spaced out. There isn’t the threshold of crowding that we would typically have in a high season. And at points, you almost feel like you’ve got a lot of the habitats and viewing spaces almost to yourself,” said Douglas.
Despite all the zoo’s care and planning around reopening, not all visitors follow the distancing and guidelines and the lack of masks is noticeable, including families with toddlers.
According to Douglas, wearing masks when visiting the zoo is not mandatory but encouraged.
“We’re encouraging everybody to follow the guidelines from AHS, which currently does include wearing a mask. And while we are not mandating it, we are definitely encouraging it,” she said.
With the current reduced number of visitors, as well as two months of closure and new costs involving in the reopening, the zoo’s budget was impacted significantly. To continue functioning and serving the public, the organization relies on fundraisers, donors and government support.