After pleading with public officials as its money reserves ran out, the Oakland Zoo has reopened to the public with many safety precautions in place — and it sold out its opening day tickets, and tickets for Thursday as well.
Earlier this month, Oakland Zoo staff told Alameda County that if it was not permitted a variance to open as an "outdoor museum," it was likely headed for insolvency within a few months. But as of Wednesday, after getting that variance, the zoo has reopened, and everyone sounds much relieved.
"Today is just a fantastic day for us," says Oakland Zoo Executive Vice President Nik Dehejia, speaking to KPIX. "We are thrilled. Everybody is having a really good time."
Like the San Francisco Zoo, which reopened two weeks ago, the Oakland Zoo burns about $1.2 million per month just in staffing and feeding its animals. And with cash reserves of about $3.2 million, the Oakland Zoo saw the possibility becoming more real that it might have to shut down operations altogether earlier this month.
"That’s why we had to let the city know right away… but we came that close," says Oakland Zoo CEO Joel Parrott to KPIX.
The zoo typically sees about 9,000 guests per day in normal times, but in order to create more social distancing it is capping attendance as 2,500 per day, and selling tickets for specific time windows.
Most all of the animal exhibits are open, but indoor spaces like the bug house and the reptile house are closed. The gondola is open, and it's getting cleaned after every ride, but the skyride is closed.
Parrott says that he's glad that the zoo is now "regarded more like a state park or regional park, and so the pathways can be kept safe."
And since outdoor transmission, especially when masks are worn, is seen as a low risk, zoos like this should be able to remain open even if cases surge, Parrott says.
As of today, Alameda County has had 10,773 cases of COVID-19, 140 more than were confirmed as of Tuesday. The county has the highest cumulative total cases, overall, of any Bay Area county.
Photo: Oakland Zoo/Facebook