At a zoo typically bustling with shrieking children and excited adults, the most notable noise in the middle of 2020 was the hum of the cicadas.
Three months into the coronavirus pandemic at The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, any human passing by the enclosures was a curiosity. The animals, accustomed to the buzz of a crowd, missed the stimulation of visitors.
"I definitely think our giraffes have missed their giraffe feed," said Ashley Hicks, the Animal Care Supervisor of the Behavioral Husbandry Department. "It's definitely a crowd favorite with our visitors but it's also really fun and interacting for our giraffes, so we have been working very hard during this time to still make it reinforcing and rewarding to come over to that giraffe feeding platform so that way they don't forget or have to re-acclimate to that location."
But with the zoo set to reopen Monday, these creatures are in for a wild ride. Some are new residents to The Living Desert, added during the shutdown and unexposed to the throng of people. Emus and wallabies (who you can walk right up to in the open roaming area) are among the new additions at the new Australian Adventures exhibit, which had its original debut scheduled shortly after the shutdown. Staff here told KESQ they can't wait for the public to come back to an entirely new exhibit.
But as these animals get used to the public again, the public will have to get used to the new safety measures. Paths are only one-way now, and tickets are sold on a timed entry system.
The limited capacity will hurt; because of the coronavirus pandemic, the zoo will start the next fiscal year at about a $750,000 deficit. The financial red will hurt because the daily upkeep costs aren't cheap: It costs $22,000 per day to feed the animals.
"During this time we've been closed, we've lost more than $3.5 million of revenue,which for us is a super large chunk of money we use to get us through the next part of our season, which is the summer visitation when our numbers go down substantially," said Allen Monroe, the president and CEO of The Living Desert.
The Living Desert has been surviving by digging into its savings and relying on the generosity of animals lovers through donation in its symbolic adoption program. The hope is to nurse the zoo's financial health back to a mighty stature again by showing off the majesty of the planet's incredible creatures.