Female red panda cub Keti peers between two boughs in her habitat at the Detroit Zoo Jan. 23. The Detroit Zoological Society recently announced that it would reopen to members and the general public June 8 and 12, respectively, so visitors will once again be able to get their in-person dose of Vitamin Z.

Female red panda cub Keti peers between two boughs in her habitat at the Detroit Zoo Jan. 23. The Detroit Zoological Society recently announced that it would reopen to members and the general public June 8 and 12, respectively, so visitors will once again be able to get their in-person dose of Vitamin Z.

File photo by Deb Jacques

Detroit Zoo to reopen with new safety measures in place

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published June 9, 2020


ROYAL OAK — On June 4, the Detroit Zoological Society announced that it would once again welcome visitors through its gates — members beginning June 8 and the general public beginning June 12.

Guests must make reservations in advance of their visit, as well as adhere to new safety guidelines and protocols in place that aim to protect the public, staff and the animals.

Reservations can be made up to two weeks in advance, and the zoo will limit capacity to 1,000 visitors per day with fewer than 500 inside of the zoo’s 125 acres at any one time in order to maintain physical distance among guests. After the first phase, the zoo will increase the capacity limit to 2,000 visitors per day.

“Our goal is to provide the great zoo experience you love, while also creating an environment that is safe — not only for us humans but also for the animals who may be susceptible to contracting this virus,” Ron Kagan, Detroit Zoological Society executive director and CEO, said in a prepared statement. “We all have a part to play. A shared responsibility is necessary in order to maintain the health and safety of everyone who enters the zoo and the animals who live here.”

Lions and tigers in one U.S. zoo have contracted COVID-19 infections, and a number of academic studies of the novel coronavirus and related viruses suggest that other species in zoos may also be susceptible, according to the zoo.

The zoo erected some temporary barriers in areas that might present a risk of transmission of COVID-19 from guests to an animals, and zoo staff are wearing personal protective equipment while caring for certain species.

In order to prevent the inadvertent spread of the virus, the zoo expects all visitors — ages 2 years old and up unless otherwise prevented by a medical condition — to wear a face mask or shield. Face masks will be available for purchase outside of the main admission gate entrance.

The zoo installed more than 50 — soon to be 100 — hand sanitizing and hand washing stations throughout the grounds, and guests will be prompted to maintain physical distance with ground markers and other safety signage along circulation routes.

Most outdoor habitats will be viewable, and guests can purchase merchandise at gift kiosks and take advantage of walk-up options for dining. Select restrooms will remain open, with their doors propped open and staff maintaining capacity limits and disinfecting regularly.

“We developed our safety guidelines after reviewing scientific data, consulting with health experts, local officials and the community, and learning from zoos around the world that have already reopened,” Kagan said in a statement. “We view these guidelines as fluid and they will continue to be updated and revised often as new information is available.”

Ticket reservations opened to members June 5.

On June 5, the Detroit Zoo posted on its Facebook page that, due to the high volume of people trying to make reservations, some members were having trouble getting through to the system.

“We are actively working to resolve this issue,” the post reads. “We appreciate your patience and we apologize for the inconvenience.”

According to the zoo, it lost roughly $2.5 million in revenue each month of the closure. While the zoo was closed to the public, animal care staff continued to provide care to the animals at the Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Center.


Virtual Vitamin Z
After the Detroit Zoo decided to temporarily close due to the spread of COVID-19 across Michigan in mid-March, the DZS education department quickly began the task of “bringing the zoo to you.”

Through digital programming, social media and live camera streams, zoo educators worked to provide animal lovers of all ages with educational, entertaining and interactive content. The public can still watch live footage of the North American river otters, penguins, peregrine falcons, snow monkeys and prairie dogs at detroitzoo.org.

Claire Lannoye-Hall, Detroit Zoological Society curator of education, said the desire to remain virtually connected to the community led to a slew of new ideas and content that the zoo will continue to provide after reopening.

“We were able to provide updates on what was going on with the animals, and it was also an opportunity for us to share more information than a general zoo visit might allow,” Lannoye-Hall said. “We were able to tell more stories about our animals and our conservation work. It was really an opportunity for us to be more thoughtful about our messaging, and with everything going on in the world, it was just a bright spot in the day.”

Zoo educators provided live content on Facebook multiple times a day, and zoo staff also recorded videos at the Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Center to post on the zoo’s website.

“At first, we started doing one or two (videos) a day,” she said. “We got a lot of positive feedback in the comments and emails, and so we started doing three a day Monday through Friday.”

The zoo also created design challenges and solicited artwork from young people.

On the zoo’s website, the education team has posted content for young learners differentiated by age group, and it has developed digital programming for the summer.

“I think we have 11 weeks’ worth of content in place,” Lannoye-Hall said. “(The live cameras) have also been a huge hit. The big news is it looks like all four peregrine falcon chicks have fledged and are flying. The nest box (on the iconic Detroit Zoo water tower) is empty.”

While working remotely to develop virtual content has its learning curve, she praised her team for developing their skills to provide fun and exciting learning opportunities, as well as the team of animal care staff and zookeepers for sharing individual animals’ stories and video clips.

“We are incredibly grateful to the community, not just for their support during this tough time, but for their active engagement with us over the last few months,” Kagan said in a statement. “We’ve loved seeing all of the notes, posts and participation on social media. The Detroit Zoological Society loves our community and we can’t wait to welcome everyone back to their zoo.”

For more information or to make a reservation, call (248) 541-5717 or visit detroitzoo.org.