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Covid 19 took the 'oo' out of my zoo!

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As I write this in late June 2020, Zoos Victoria has re-opened. After receiving assurances regarding safety procedures, I returned to work.

The zoo experience is not the same. The Werribee Park woolshed is on our site: this is closed. “Ranger kids” indoor display/play area is closed. Bandicoot hideout is closed.

Social distancing rules mean WZ has a limit of 1500 persons per day. Instead of 140 persons per bus, only 60 are permitted. Off-road safari tours with a capacity of 20 per vehicle: cancelled. Behind the scenes animal encounters: cancelled. Overnight Slumber Safari: cancelled. Bookings restricted to online only, to minimise cash handling. Between the public tours a small army of staff swarm the vehicles, spraying sanitizer and carefully wiping down seats and handrails. Drivers spray and wipe radios, gate openers and their cabins between shifts, and must be especially careful near newborn animals, who lack vehicle sense.

Some zoo staff have not yet returned to work. Those who rely on public transport are reluctant to use it. The restrictions on entry numbers mean there are only short shifts to allocate among available staff. Some older colleagues are yet to return.

I feel ambivalent. Will seniors be reluctant to enter the zoos? Will large groups, e.g. bus tours, not eventuate? What will happen to excited school-age children – surely day excursions would not occur? The atmosphere on tour is unlike that of the past. Will there be a restriction on the number of people on overnight stays, when they re-open?  

I was particularly interested in the aspect of emotional loss: many zoo visitors, world-wide, own pets, they value and care for them, and often sponsor zoo animals. These visitors particularly like the interpretation and commentary provided by knowledgeable staff.  They welcomed the opportunity to return, with bookings, to the maximum allowed, quickly reached. Restricting visitor numbers leads to monitoring spatial distance between people. But what happens when the cheetah Kulinda decides to sit alongside her viewing window – that does attract a crowd!

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