Austin Zoo reopens, looks to protect both visitors and animals from COVID-19


AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Zoo will reopen Friday after being closed for more than two and-a-half months.

Zoo leaders said visitors can expect to see some changes, including additional fencing to maintain six feet distance between people and animals, and visitors must wear a mask.

“(We) obviously want to allow people to get close to the (animals), safely, but also keep them safe,” said Scott Chambers, the zoo’s director of animal care and veterinary services.

Chambers said most of the railing in place is already six feet from visitors, but for areas where it is not, they will add the orange fencing to ensure a safe distance is maintained. This is especially important because Chambers said there are some animals who are more susceptible to COVID-19 than others, and that includes their newest animal — an 11-month-old white tiger, Zulema.

“Felines, particularly the big cats, primates and a small group of Asian and African mammals small group of mammals called viverrids – the binturongs, the civets and the gents, they’ve been found to be particularly susceptible,” he said.

Zoo visitors must follow a one-way path throughout the zoo. Along the path, visitors will notice portable handwashing stations. Those interested in visiting are asked to purchase tickets online.

“I think a gentle, steady flow throughout the day will be better than just like 2,000 people at once,” Chambers said.

For now, Chambers said the zoo’s reptile house and petting corral are closed. They do not plan to let visitors in a confined space, or touch and feed animals, until further notice.

The white tiger, Zulema was rescued from a compound in South Texas during a DEA raid.

“She’s 11 months old now and as you can see, she’s super playful. She’s having a blast getting muddy after that lovely storm Wednesday night,” he said. “She turns one-year-old next month, so we’ll have a big birthday party for her to make a big deal out of it.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said at this point they “do not know the exact source of the current outbreak of COVID-19,” but said they “know that it originally came from an animal source.”

The CDC said, “At this time, there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading the virus that causes COVID-19.” They also said, “Based on the limited information available to date, the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is considered to be low, and we are still learning about this virus, but it appears that it can spread from people to animals in some situations.”

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