After nearly a three-month closure because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo has started the process of reopening to the public.
From Saturday to Wednesday, the zoo is welcoming back members as the first part of the reopening.
The zoo, which closed March 17 because of the coronavirus, expects to open its doors again to the public Thursday. Both members and other visitors are required to reserve or purchase tickets online at cmzoo.org.
There will be a limited number of advance tickets available each hour, and spaces and activities that would prevent physical distancing and frequent sanitization of high-touch areas have been closed, the zoo said.
Guests are strongly encouraged to wear masks, which will also be required for staff who work within 6 feet of others and in guest areas.
A variance request to open the zoo, submitted to the state last month, was approved by Gov. Jared Polis and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on Friday night, the zoo said. It was supported by local governments and three local hospitals "to shepherd the variance through the complex process and ultimately facilitate approval at the state level," the zoo added.
The variance, or waiver from the state's Safer at Home order, is in effect for the next two weeks, until June 19. Operations at the zoo could change after that date and visitors are encouraged to check back with the zoo at that time.
“We’ve been encouraged by the amount of support our local government has given us as we have navigated these uncharted waters,” Bob Chastain, the zoo's president and CEO, said in a statement. “I have worked hand in hand the last few weeks with El Paso County Public Health, the mayor, the city manager, the heads of our three great hospitals and the El Paso County Commissioners. There are real people behind those titles, and they care about the people of Colorado Springs and Colorado.”
While the zoo was closed, the public missed out on a few things — including the return of two Nile hippos, Zambezi and Kasai, who were temporarily housed at a Missouri zoo and the completion of the Water's Edge: Africa exhibit.
"Many of our guests mention that they miss being able to feed the giraffe herd," Jenny Koch, the zoo's marketing director, said in an email. "Other favorites are the grizzly bears, the wolves, walking alongside wallabies in Australia Walkabout and hand-feeding the budgies."
She added, "But the biggest thing that will be new for people as they return is the opening of Water's Edge: Africa, which features African penguins, hippos, lemurs, warthogs and more. Our reopening is the first time anyone will be able to see the new exhibit."
The zoo staff remained at work during the closure, providing animals with top-notch care and human interaction, Rachel Wright, the zoo's public relations and social media manager told The Gazette in April. The animals, she said, missed the attention and affection that visitors offered.