Oakland Zoo’s latest reopening a sign of hope and normalcy

The Oakland Zoo, closed twice since the pandemic, reopened Wednesday for the second time.

The zoo was forced to close in March, then reopened in July, then closed again in early December when the stay-at-home order was announced.

But with the Bay Area now in the purple tier, outdoor attractions can reopen with certain safety protocols.

Visitors were once again able to get acquainted or re-acquainted with the zoo residents.

"I was doing jumping jacks. I was super-excited. We love coming here," said one visitor.

The question is how did the animals feel about it.

"Some animals are outgoing, like the chimpanzees, the big cats. I think they really missed people on the pathways. Some are more reclusive and probably enjoyed the break," said zoo CEO Dr. Joel Parrott.

About 1,400 people, many with strollers, visited Wednesday. The turnout was less than half on a typical pre-pandemic day.
But the pent-up demand for tickets was so great the website crashed Monday. It is now up and running again.

For COVID safety reasons, tickets come with a set time to avoid crowding.

Visitors must wear masks and practice social distancing from other households.

The gondola is running. But rides, restaurants, and indoor exhibits including the insect and reptile displays are closed.

"As long as people are outdoors, in the fresh air, keeping on the pathways and keeping apart, it's a very safe environment," Parrott said.

For some visitors, the reopening is a sign that perhaps life is inching back to some sort of normalcy.

The San Francisco Zoo reopened last weekend.

"It lifts my mood. Just seeing the animals and other people having fun here," said Natalie Thoryk.

But the road to re-opening has been anything but easy here. Following the initial pandemic shutdown beginning the last March, the zoo announced it was losing so much money it was in danger of closing. The community raised $3.5 million in donations from 13,000 donors.

"We learned how important the community is to us when we went through this crisis," said Parrott.

And perhaps how important the zoo is to the community.