With zoos in San Francisco and Oakland reopened, attracting sold-out weekend crowds and droves of giddy weekday visitors, spending an afternoon mesmerized by macaws is quickly proving to be a cathartic source of familiarity for many; that's been the case for us, as well.
Zoological facilities across the nation have suffered (and continue to suffer) en masse as their main revenue sources — read: paying patrons and visitors — all but dried up when the pandemic began. That was much the case here in the Bay Area, where the San Francisco Zoo and Oakland Zoo were losing millions... and falling toward financial ruination. But now that both are open and again welcoming crowds, a Saturday stroll through the zoo is something of a socially distant salve (and a needed episode of escapism) these days.
Sure, go ahead and keep on scrolling if you don't need to see one of the coolest pics ever of Lucha the jaguar on #InternationalCatDay which also happens to be a #Caturday— Oakland Zoo (@oakzoo) August 8, 2020
📸: Steven Gotz pic.twitter.com/9RBU6xrbz4
(A recent trip I took to the San Francisco Zoo, too, proved to be an incredibly safe outing — one perhaps even more guarded than picking up groceries. There were hardly any present crowds during our visit and those that were there all donned masks and actively practiced social distancing; lions roaring delighted those who passed through the one-way viewing areas, bookended by hand sanitizing stations; the zoo's famous free-ranging peacocks fluffed thier feathers and had no problem ignoring families dining atop well-spaced picnic tables.)
For example: KTVU's Gasia Mikaelian and their family recently went back to the Oakland Zoo this week to assess the pandemic safety measures. And, well, to also gawk at playful brown bears pawing at one another, making for what would later be one of the "loveliest afternoons" they'd had since the pandemic started.
Though it’s been a struggle for the Oakland Zoo to open its doors again — but they're striding in the right direction.
"For us, it's one step back towards normal,” says Dr. Joel Parrott with the Oakland Zoo to Mikaelian. “And even the animals are glad the public is here, to see the activity at the zoo, absolutely thrilled to have them back.”
Just like the San Francisco Zoo, soon-to-be visitors of the Oakland conservation hub must purchase tickets online before heading out.
(Before I secured my ticket to traverse SF Zoo's 100-acre faunal wonderland, I had to preselect a time slot and review the zoo's new COVID-19 safety protocols.)
Though the Oakland Zoo is permitting 66 percent of the usual number of visitors each day, the San Francisco Zoo is taking that measure one step further, capping traffic during any given time frame to 50 percent of its normal foot traffic. Effusive staff saddle each zoos’ entranceways, explaining what's changed — and what hasn't.
They made it! Congrats to our six Magellanic chicks for graduating Fish School. Today they waddled their way to their home on Penguin Island!— San Francisco Zoo (@sfzoo) August 8, 2020
We are thrilled to announce that the winning name for “Blue Band” is Rookie! Keep your eye out for him swimming around at Penguin Island. pic.twitter.com/ziPHaHVocN
For one, you can still fork over $6-plus for a large fountain drink; vending machines, however, are not currently operating at both facilities... because, well, the whole touching thing.
Bathrooms are still accessible and cleaned regularly. And all “high-touch” areas are either cleaned frequently or off-limits entirely.
Nowadays, guests of both zoos are required to wear masks, remain six feet apart from those not in their immediate parties, and, of course, respect the on-display animals.
"We have to make sure when guests are here we ask that they don't congregate,” Parrott continued to the news outlet. “What we really don't want is for people to clump up.”
Like the San Francisco Zoo, the Oakland Zoo isn’t operating trains, rides, and other high-traffic or high-touch attractions.
"All the high touch areas, rides, the train, carousel, and the play areas in California trail [are closed],” Parrott adds. “Hopefully, as things loosen up, we'll be able to open up different parts of the zoo.”
Until indoor vivariums open again — like San Francisco's Insect Zoo and South American Tropical Rainforest and Aviary, and Oakland's Reptile and Amphibian Discovery Room — to the public, you can find some solace while walking along the wide pathways around each zoo's outdoor exhibits.
Enjoy the fresh Fogust air. Admire the stress-free lives of the vociferous ringtail lemur troops. Don't be an iteration of a Karen or Ken who believes it's, somehow, entertaining to pound on the viewing glass.
For more information on the San Francisco Zoo and Oakland Zoo, visit sfzoo.org and oaklandzoo.org, respectively; general admission tickets for adults at the SF Zoo are $23/person and $24/person at the Oakland Zoo.
Image: Courtesy of SFist/ Matt Charnock