Zoo Knoxville prepares for reopening with new safety protocols


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Zoo Knoxville is preparing to open its gates on Monday, over two months after it closed to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Zoo Knoxville is reopening to the public on Monday, May 18, with carefully planned protocols to ensure the safety of their guests, staff and animals.  The zoo closed to visitors on March 16 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The zoo is open for passive outdoor use only, meaning no indoor areas or interactive experiences like animal offers can be offered at this time. Playground areas, including the splash pad, will also remain closed in this phase. 

Physical distancing and one-way directional signage have been placed throughout Zoo Knoxville to prepare for re-opening on May 18th as part of Phase I in in the City of Knoxville. The Zoo will reopen for “passive use” and with daily capped attendace during this phase.

More than 30 additional hand sanitizing stations have been added throughout zoo grounds and restaurants have modified their ordering and delivery systems to minimize contact.

Officials ask guests follow CDC recommendations to wear a mask or face covering, wash hands or use hand sanitizer stations frequently, maintain six feet of physical distance between groups, observe ground markings and directional signs to maintain safe distancing in areas where people may gather and staying home if you are sick or high risk.

Tickets purchased in advance are required to control the number of guests in the zoo daily. Circle of Friends members and annual passholders will continue to receive free admission but will be required to make a reservation online for a timed entry on a specific date.

Physical distancing and one-way directional signage have been placed throughout Zoo Knoxville to prepare for re-opening on May 18th as part of Phase I in in the City of Knoxville. The Zoo will reopen for “passive use” and with daily capped attendace during this phase.

Zoo Knoxville will be offering tickets at a reduced price of $14.95 for adults and $11.95 for children ages 4-12 and seniors over 65.  Ages 3 and under are free.  Tickets and entry times can be purchased and reserved at zooknoxville.org.  

“We have been very, very deliberate in our planning,” said President and CEO Lisa New.  “We are reopening responsibly so our guests have a safe, secure environment to return to and they can feel confident their safety is our top priority.  We also need to keep our staff healthy so the care of our animals is not impacted.  We are grateful for the support of our community and we hope we can give our guests the opportunity to experience some feeling of normalcy during this time.”

The zoo operates as a non-profit and makes up to 75 percent operating dollars from guests. The zoo loses an average of $22,500 every day they are closed, according to New.

“We still lost hundreds of thousands of dollars… over a million dollars in our closure. We can’t make that up because as we ramp up during the next 80 days, as we go through the city and county’s phasing and easing of restrictions, we will still be operating at greatly reduced capacity.”

Lisa New, Zoo Knoxville President and CEO

Ahead of Monday’s reopening, Zoo Knoxville invited Circle of Friends members, annual passholders, and donors to visit.

The “soft opening”, according to New, was an opportunity for zoo staff to prepare for guests to return, while also testing the new entry and safety measures.

“We live at the zoo. When school’s out, it’s been very hard staying at home, not being able to get out and do anything. As soon as they opened, we knew we had to be here,” said Amanda Fuehrer, an annual passholder who brought her 5 and 7-year-old daughters to visit Friday.

Many guests taking advantage of the invitation-only opening Friday wore masks, followed social distancing guidelines, and used hands-free entry by scanning tickets from their phone.

While they were closed, the zoo raised funds to support its Emergency Animal Relief Fund by auctioning off art created by animals at the zoo like elephants, tigers and chimpanzees.

Zoo Knoxville President and CEO Lisa News speaks to Anchor Madisen Keavy

New said the Emergency Animal Relief Fund has generated $250,000. She says she is grateful for the community’s support that allowed Zoo Knoxville to continue work even during the closure.

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