After more than four months with the place to themselves, the animals at St. Paul’s Como Zoo are preparing for an influx of socially distanced human visitors. They’re getting ready by listening to music, viewing videos and watching staff members do yoga.
The zoo will reopen to the public on Wednesday, with new guidelines including reservations, social distancing and mandatory masks to keep visitors and animals safe from the spread of COVID-19.
“We closed on March 16, and we started thinking about reopening on March 17,” said Michelle Furrer, Como Park Zoo and Conservatory director. “I think we have a really good plan in place to provide an experience that might be a little different, but still allow people to connect with nature, which is what we’re all about.”
A zoo reopening task force started meeting weekly in March, Furrer said. In addition to following guidance from the state, they worked with other accredited zoos and aquariums across the country to figure out what works and what doesn’t, she said.
The zoo and conservatory will each be open to 250 people at a time, with reservations available every 30 minutes to space out arrivals. Visitors will be required to wear masks and will follow a designated, one-way path through the exhibits. The Como Town amusement park will also be open, with reservations and tickets required for entry. (The conservatory has already reopened.)
Zoo staff will be cleaning the campus every two hours, and interpretive carts, tactile signage and water fountains will not be available, Furrer said. There will also be extra distancing in place for big cats and primates, which are at risk of contracting COVID-19, she said.
The Minnesota Zoo, which reopened to the public on Friday, has taken similar steps, including requiring reservations and face masks. The zoo has also added barriers to protect lemurs, snow monkeys, tigers and other animals from infection, said spokesman Zach Nugent.
“A lot of zoos have been working together on this and have open lines of communication, really have been collaborating,” he said. “We really have taken measures to ensure that what we’re doing is not just keeping our guests and our staff safe, but our animals safe as well.”