By Kirsten Rintelmann
Capital News Service
Michigan zoos say they aim to provide a safe and educational experience for individuals and families this year.
John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids and Potter Park Zoo in Lansing are planning to offer most spring, summer and fall events this year, but with less extensive programming than in the past, zoo officials said.
John Ball Zoo, which opened in 1891, is currently closed but opening day is set for Saturday, March 27.
“We are not closed due to COVID-19—we are traditionally closed during the winter,” marketing manager Darci David said.
There is a capacity limit on the number of guests who will be allowed inside, and the zoo recommends reserving an online timed-entry ticket. Tickets can be purchased at the zoo but, immediate entry cannot be guaranteed, the zoo says.
David said reopening will allow visitors to enjoy BRICKLIVE Supersized! and let them catch a glimpse of the female red panda triplets that were born last July.
“There are 2,500 red pandas left in the world, and they are becoming more endangered,” David said.
BRICKLIVE Supersized! is an “international exhibition that supersizes natures small and mighty. It includes sneaky predators such as the fearless honey badger and the venomous blue-ringed octopus. There are over 30 toy brick sculptures,” the zoo said.
“BRICKLIVE Supersized! originated in Great Britain,” David said. “This is the first time that it will be exhibited in North America.”
According to David, the zoo will continue to follow the safety requirements issued by the state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All guests 5 years and older must wear a mask, social distancing will be highly encouraged and thorough cleaning and sanitization will continue.
Some areas, such as outdoor play zones, will remain closed. Traditional zoo field trips have also been stopped, she said.
“The highest priority is the safety of everyone,” David said. “We want to stay open and we want to stay safe.”
In anticipation of the COVID-19 pandemic easing, John Ball Zoo has plans for this spring, summer and fall, she said.
“We are continuing to move forward and are also providing virtual safaris,” she said.
According to David, summer plans are not fully decided but will include educational opportunities and special events.
In the fall, John Ball Zoo expects to take part in the annual Zoo Goes Boo!
“For over 20 years, we’ve participated in the Zoo Goes Boo! It is a longtime tradition that John Ball Zoo, and other zoos, take part in.” David said. “It is an opportunity for kids and their families to come in their costumes, to see the animals and for us to hand out candy.”
Lansing’s Potter Park Zoo, which opened in 1920, sees nearly 175,000 guests a year, said Amy Morris-Hall, the executive director of the Potter Park Zoological Society.
While the zoo didn’t shut down during the pandemic, it closed indoor exhibits to visitors.
“Visitation has been down compared to a normal year. It is largely due to capacity limits and the sale of timed tickets,” Morris-Hall said.
The zoo is following all state and CDC requirements she said. It also offers timed-entry tickets to ensure that its capacity limit is not exceeded.
Tickets are available for purchase at the gate, but admission isn’t guaranteed if the maximum capacity is required.
Masks are required except to eat or drink.
Even in anticipation of the pandemic easing, Morris-Hall said the zoo will only change its yearly plans if COVID-19 cases significantly decrease. In addition, plans will be altered only if state and federal safety requirements change.
“Until then, things will still stay the same as they are,” she said. “I do think that Potter Park is as safe as a destination that you can get for family entertainment.”
There are plans to reopen the reptile and bird house this summer, but the indoor enclosures of both the feline and primate houses will remain closed, she said.
“Guests will not miss out on the animals with the spaces being closed,” she said. “The animals will be outside for the summer and there will be opportunities to see them.”
Potter Park Zoo expects to host traditional school field trips, Morris-Hall said.