ROYAL OAK, Mich. - It's been almost two-and-a-half months since the Detroit Zoo allowed its last customers to gawk at the great apes and peak at the prairie dogs. The Red Panda picnic site has been left empty while otters enjoying their 9,000-gallon aquatic tank swim and socialize alone.
As the world has turned upside down amid America's worst pandemic in a century, life for Royal Oak's animal inhabitants has remained quiet. Without pointing fingers and gaping mouths bordering the edges of animals' enclosures, many might be wondering where all the annual commotion has gone.
On June 8, the other kind of life returned to the zoo. Members of the Detroit Zoo were granted access as part of the establishment's soft opening, which will utilize a phase-in approach as it adapts safety measures for customers and restricts capacity.
"It's really important to us to make sure we're as safe as possible for people and the animals," said Ron Kagan, CEO of Detroit Zoological Society.
Members looking to visit the zoo will need to make a reservation before coming to its gates. Operating at a capacity of only 1,000 people per day, the DZA plans only allowing and only 500-600 visitors in the zoo at any single time.
When members go to book a time to visit, they'll be digitally shuttled into an online waiting list where they can select what time they'd like to come. Once a spot has been confirmed, members will receive an email with the ticket and an online map. The DZS wants to limit all unnecessary possibilities for transmission of the COVID-19 virus.
Upon arrival, plan on showing your ID, membership card and digital, (or printed) timed ticket receipt at the zoo admission booth.
Once inside, visitors will find themselves around a new environment that will sound a lot like the changes other businesses and companies have deployed when they sent their workers back.
Face masks are a must. All visitors 2 years old and up will be required to wear one. However, the zoo will allow for "open, grassy areas" that are designated for visitors to take a brief break from wearing their masks.
Social distancing rules will be recommended throughout the park. More than 100 hand sanitizing stations will also dot the pathways around enclosures.
While all outdoor locations are open, many indoor locations will remain closed for the time being. Buddy's Pizza will be open with outdoor seating that allows for physical distancing of at least 10 feet between groups. Patrons will also find walkup locations selling Pure Greens, Dippin'Dots, and ice cream open as well. The Zoofari Market will remain closed, however, shopping is available online.
Non-members will be allowed to make their own reservations and enter the park following the four-day soft opening time span.
For more information, go to the DZS's website here.