Animal magic has Edmontonians hurrying to visit the beasts as Valley Zoo reopens

If the rush to buy admission tickets is any indication, Edmontonians are pretty excited about the Valley Zoo’s reopening. And if the animals could talk, they’d probably say the feeling is mutual.

And the animals are equally excited to see the humans return, says zoo director

The red panda exhibit at the Edmonton Valley Zoo. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

If the rush to buy admission tickets is any indication, Edmontonians are pretty excited about the Valley Zoo's reopening. 

And if the animals could talk, they'd probably say the feeling is mutual, says Edmonton Valley Zoo director Lindsey Galloway.

"Of course they've had lots of love from our animal care team," Galloway told CBC Radio's Edmonton AM on Monday.

"But I've noticed when I have walked around, they certainly are curious. So I expect that when people come, they'll see them looking lively and excited to see people, as much as the people are excited to see them."

Monday marked the zoo's first day of normal operations, after being closed on March 14 as part of the city's response to reduce the spread of COVID-19. But like everything that is reopening these days, normal looks markedly different from before, Galloway said.

"We've put in place a number of important features just to make people feel safe, our staff safe and our animals safe, of course," he said.

The zoo will operate at 50-per-cent capacity, allowing a maximum of 1,500 visitors per day. On-site ticket sales have been replaced by online ticket purchases that specify a 30-minute window during which the ticket-holder can enter.

Once inside, people can stay as long as they like but Galloway expects there will never be more than a couple hundred on the grounds at a time.

On site, signs will direct visitors on a one-way route through the park, further reducing the likelihood of people "bunching up," he said.

There have also been measures taken to promote physical distancing around some of the animal enclosures, which is important for the guests, staff and animals, he said. 

In late March, a number of tigers and lions at the Bronx Zoo in New York City were found to have COVID-19. After that, Galloway said Valley Zoo staff adopted safety procedures including personal protective equipment and distancing measures to keep the animals safe.

"It's the snow leopards and it's the lynx and even some of our primates that we're being extra cautious with," he said.

Online ticket sales have been brisk, with most of the morning slots for this week already sold out and Father's Day tickets going fast, he said.

"It's been exceptional. We think that there is some pent-up demand," Galloway said with a laugh. "Even today, even with this weather, I think there will be some hardy souls out this morning for reopening."

On Monday afternoon, a group advocating for the retirement of Lucy the elephant is expected to hold a rally at the zoo.


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