LOS ANGELES — Seven-year-old Leah doesn’t just like wolves.
“I love them!” she chirped enthusiastically, wearing a furry hat and clutching a new plush wolf she’s named 'Reese.'
It’s not just wolves. Leah has a soft spot for animals in general but on this bright Tuesday morning, she didn’t seem to care what exhibit she was in front of. She was just glad to be out.
“It’s fun to be back at the zoo,” she said, “and I’m happy because, like, we never really got out of our house because of COVID.”
“We’ve been waiting to get out and do something,” her mom Chelsea Tsuda explained, “and we’ve all been really into animals lately, so I thought it was the perfect place to come.”
Tuesday was the official re-re-opening of the 54-year-old Los Angeles Zoo. The facility was closed for 130 days before reopening in August. In December, the gates were closed again for another two months.
“So it’s been a total of nearly six months of the zoo’s closure,” Denise Verret calculated, adding that in that time the zoo has lost about $7 million in revenue.
Verret has worked at the zoo for 20 years and is now CEO and director of the facility. She said guests can expect a number of changes, big and small, as they return to the space.
Masks are required for everyone over the age of 2. Tickets must be purchased online in advance, with visitors choosing a specific date and time of entry. Some of the indoor facilities like the LAIR are closed along with high touch areas like the carousel and playground.
Also, there will be no performances or programming on the grounds to avoid gatherings in one area. And while most of the animals are out in the open air, the staff at the gate is behind plexiglass.
There are markings on the ground and signs to help keep people spaced apart – not as wide as the 10 foot wingspan of a condor but about the length of one zebra or three flamingos. Plus some pathways have become one-way lanes to manage the flow of the crowd.
The zoo is limited to 25% capacity. That’s 2,400 visitors a day or 400 guests per hour. Verret is thrilled to see each and every one of them.
“I’m so excited that we can provide a safe outdoor opportunity for people of all ages to come and connect, see animals, and really try to bring some normalcy back into their lives,” she said. “I walk around saying 'thank you' to all them for coming back and they’re telling me 'thank you' for the opportunity to come back.”
As for the animals themselves, they seem blissfully unaware of the pandemic or the closure. They still had employees caring for them every single day so Verret suspects they didn’t miss the public as much as the public may have missed them.
“It really wasn’t like it was just quiet as a mouse,” she said, describing the campus during the closure.
As for the possibility of closing again, Verret is optimistic, especially now that the vaccine is being administered.
“I am hoping that there is light on the horizon, right?” she explained, "but you can’t take anything for granted and you just want everyone in the community to do their part. It’s all about keeping them safe, our staff safe, and obviously the animals safe.”
For information about COVID-19 precautions or changes at the Los Angeles Zoo or to purchase timed tickets, visit: lazoo.org/reopening.