No more ‘lion’ around, the zoo is open again!
Ralph, Felicia and Twiga are ready to make new friends.
As the Santa Barbara Zoo’s long-awaited reopening finally arrives, the general public can now meet the two new lions and baby giraffe. Visitors saw the new animals when the zoo reopened to everyone Tuesday.
Residents and tourists alike were quick to hop on ticket sales online, resulting in a sold-out first day back.
Facing many guidelines that required big adjustments, the zoo has been working on its plan to reopen since March.
Needless to say, smiles were present under the masks.
“ ‘Excited’ is an understatement,” said Rich Block, the zoo’s president and CEO. “We are thrilled. It’s a big deal and we’re up to it.”
One of the largest changes the zoo made was requiring online reservations for both paid guests and zoo members, closing off the site to walk-in guests. In addition, guests have a 90-minute limit to spend admiring the animals, a measure enforced to limit foot traffic.
Now, guests are only permitted to walk a one-way path through the zoo, with white arrows indicating where to go.
The zoo also provides a number at the door where guests text “WELCOME,” and they receive a text including visiting information, a map of the zoo with the updated path, the link for train tickets and the membership application.
Signs all around the park remind guests to use their “Meerkat Manners,” including wearing masks, staying 6 feet away from other “flocks” and sanitizing.
After a soft opening for members only the past few days, the CEO said this allowed staff to identify areas that needed tightening up to prepare them for this day.
“Staff that was a little apprehensive about having more people at the site are actually reengaged and really excited they see guests again,” said Mr. Block. “As I look around and see guests come through, they’re not only respectful of the zoo and this opportunity, but they’re following the guidelines. I see masks everywhere, which is really what we want.”
Misty Gray, the zoo’s director of husbandry and welfare, said some animals have also expressed their excitement at the humans’ return, Felicia specifically enjoying the new attention.
“Her first time seeing guests here, she did not want to come in,” Ms. Gray said about the lion. “She wanted to stay with the guests.”
She said the giraffes and gorillas were a little more hesitant with the returning company, but the animals have overall been very interactive.
“We were curious to see how everything was going to work out with all the changes we’ve enacted, but it’s been really great,” Ms. Gray said. “People have been so happy to be back and so friendly.”
Guests of all ages delighted at the new arrivals and old classics: the gibbons, penguins, toucans, vultures, California condors and flamingos.
John Ambrose and his wife are zoo connoisseurs and traveled from Fresno for the zoo’s opening day.
“We’re happy to be here,” Mr. Ambrose said. “The setting in the zoo is spectacular. This is a zoo that has very natural, wide open spaces for the animals. It’s very, very nice.”
Jon Bryson and his two-year-old, Charley, are Santa Barbara Zoo regulars. Mr. Bryson said his daughter was “over the moon, beating her chest all the way to the gorillas.”
“Excitement is definitely in the air,” he said. “The place looks great. It’s clean and crisp.
“There’s a little more light and a little more love in the air here at the Santa Barbara Zoo.”