Animals, staff welcome guests back with open, socially distanced arms
The sound of laughter and delight is back at the Santa Barbara Zoo, after another long month of silence during the lockdown.
Several cars were lined up at the zoo on Saturday morning just in time for the sunshine after the rain storm, and both the animals and the zoo staff welcomed guests back with open, but socially distanced, arms.
As an outdoor destination, the zoo was able to reopen following all state and local guidelines on Saturday, with limited daily attendance, high-touch area closures and typical sanitation procedures.
“We’re so happy to safely welcome guests back to the Santa Barbara Zoo again,” Rich Block, Santa Barbara Zoo president and CEO, told the News-Press.. “It was heartwarming to see the zoo filled with people again today, and I think I can speak for both the entire zoo team as well as our animals, that it’s really nice to have our guests back. We remain committed to protecting our community and have gone through extensive planning and preparation so that everyone can feel safe and comfortable while visiting.”
Melinda Morgan-Stowell, manager of guests services and recently named employee of the year, told the News-Press that being able to reopen again is simply “amazing.”
“We have been so missing our guests,” she said. “As you look around, you see the kids are happy, the parents are thrilled to be out and about, and we are so pleased to have them again with us. It has been a very quiet zoo for the past month.”
She said that this shutdown was different from the last since it wasn’t their first rodeo.
“We had hoped we would find an answer a little quicker — the first time, we really did not know how long this was going to run. There was a great deal of uncertainty,” the manager said. “This time around, the hope of the vaccine gave us a lot more clarity as far as what we would expect going forward.
“I hate to say it, but we learned a lot from the first shutdown, so it gave us a bit of perspective on how to improve the zoo while we’re unable to operate with the public.”
Over the past month, the zoo worked on construction projects, some of which are still being worked on, including a new walkabout and other housekeeping projects.
Ms. Morgan-Stowell said the zoo’s animal care staff has been keeping the animals quite entertained in the meantime.
“Animals are like people — some are a little more thrilled to have people back and some are like, ‘Eh, OK, hi human,’” she said.
In addition, over the lockdown, animal care staff began introducing the zoo’s new female African lion cub, Pauline, to her father, Ralph, in hopes of having the entire lion family available for the public to view in the near future, including Felicia, Pauline’s mother.
When asked what she is most excited about as the zoo reopens, Ms. Morgan-Stowell said, “As you can tell by every child that I’ve waved at that I’ve gone past, it’s just the sound of children in the zoo again and having them enjoy seeing the animals, and having their parents able to interact out in the world again. We’ve all been locked down for so long, but this is really a great opportunity for folks to come out in a safe environment. We’re doing everything we can to keep our guests, staff and animals and safe, and we hope to offer our community the opportunity to get up and get out in the world.”
The zoo was quite busy on Saturday, with numerous families in attendance, enjoying the outdoor exhibits, the Zoo Train, the giraffe feeding deck and food and drinks from the Ridley-Tree House Restaurant and the Wave, along with the specialty food carts.
Lauren Neinhuis and her 3-year-old daughter attended the zoo on Saturday and made sure to check out the new pink flamingos.
“Our family loves the zoo so much and a lot of the animals feel like a big part of our life as locals in this community,” she told the News-Press. “To be able to come back and visit them after all this time is such a warm, happy feeling for us.”
Erica Holtgrewe brought her two sons, 4-year-old Hudson and 2-year-old Jordan, to the zoo on Saturday as well.
“We came here because our boys love the zoo, and we feel super safe since they reopened,” she told the News-Press. “We just feel they’ve done a great job with social distancing and cleaning and making sure everything is really well laid out. It’s a great family outdoor activity.”
“I love looking at their cute faces,” 9-year-old Eva told the News-Press. “The animals are so exotic, and it’s really amazing that we have a zoo not too far just to run in and feel like we’re all over the world.
“There’s stuff from Antarctica to Peru or something, or Europe. It’s just really amazing that we basically have the entire world in our backyard.”
It was Shaina Macey’s first time at the Santa Barbara Zoo, and Robert Belleville hadn’t been in around 10 years.
“I think it’s beautiful because it’s so green and open,” Ms. Macey told the News-Press. “I love how it’s not so caged in — it’s just peaceful here and feels nice to be here.
“We just came for fun, but it’s nice to be out because we’ve all been trapped inside. The animals make us feel good and it’s perfect weather too. I’m glad it’s open.”
Mr. Belleville said the minute they heard the zoo was reopening, he booked tickets.
From the African lions, to the Masai giraffes, the Humboldt penguins, and the California condors, the Santa Barbara Zoo is welcoming back all members and visitors who want to get out and enjoy the outside world and the exotic animals.
Zoo personnel also encourage visitors and animal lovers to donate to its Emergency Operations Fund, which will help the zoo make up for several months of being closed and losing 97% of its revenue sources. There are also many programs available to support the zoo, including saving local wildlife, sponsoring an animal, donating for medical equipment, sponsoring a class and more.
Visit sbzoo.org to learn more about donation options or to purchase online tickets in advance, which are required for all guests, including members.