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Front Page » Top Stories » Wildlife attractions ramp up virus safety measures

Wildlife attractions ramp up virus safety measures

Written by on July 1, 2020
Wildlife attractions ramp up virus safety measures

Miami’s wildlife attractions have ramped up safety measures and created new promotions and events to bring back guests, but a rise in Covid-19 cases in the county and state may affect these efforts.

The Miami Seaquarium, which reopened June 20, announced Sunday night that it would again be temporarily closing its doors starting Monday, June 29. “The health and safety of our guests, team members and the animals in our care is our top priority,” the park’s statement said before confirming that the Seaquarium had not seen any positive Covid cases.

While four Zoo Miami employees tested positive for Covid-19 last week, the Zoo does not intend to close its gates but has ceased animal feeding experiences. A statement released Sunday night confirmed that one of the employees worked in a public-facing position, and that contact tracing was initiated to identify other potentially infected individuals. Ron Magill, zoo communications director, said via email that the cases were probably not connected but that several employees were being tested and quarantined pending results, though none were symptomatic.

Carol Kruse, Zoo Miami’s director, told Miami Today that all CDC guidelines concerning positive cases had been followed and that the employees were immediately sent home.

“It doesn’t mean going forward that we’re not going to have some challenges ahead, especially with the spikes we’re seeing now,” she said. “But we’re doing everything in our power as an employer to keep employees safe and adhere to our operating guidelines while they’re here on the job.”

Ms. Kruse said the zoo’s spacious outdoor footprint offered guests a feeling of safety and plenty of room to social distance. Since reopening to the public June 1, she said, the Zoo had seen roughly 70% of last June’s attendance but had not set hard and fast attendance or revenue goals due to continued coronavirus uncertainty. Safety guidelines including temperature checks for employees who interact with guests and mandatory masks have been in place since reopening, she said, but will continue to be modified as “new normal” guidelines are released and updated by the county and CDC.

Cindy Castelblanco, director of marketing and integrated communications for the Zoo Miami Foundation, said promotions in the works would offer guests new experiences and incentivize visiting on days that typically don’t draw large crowds.

For example, she said, the zoo started “$10 Mondays” on June 15, encouraging visits on a “slow day” for a reduced price, as normally adult tickets cost $22.95. In addition, she said, on July 3 to 5 the zoo will celebrate its 40th birthday by offering 40% off tickets and featuring giveaways and “special surprises” throughout the day. However, she continued, “groupings” of people will still be discouraged, and the Zoo’s website states that tickets should be reserved in advance and may be limited.

According to Ms. Castelblanco, the zoo is also offering new Covid-friendly special events such as the “Dino Drive Through” July 25 and “Bike 305: Bike the Wild Side” July 18, which will allow guests to explore the zoo on two or four wheels and meet animals, zookeepers and lifelike dinosaurs from a safe distance.

Jungle Island, which reopened June 25, is also upping precautions and offering deals to encourage guests to reserve tickets online, said Jeremy Hauwelaert, the park’s vice president of sales and marketing. At the moment, he said, Jungle Island is running a “Buy a Day, Get 2020” promotion, which allows guests who purchase tickets online through July 4 to get an upgrade valid for free attendance through Dec. 31. 

After the Fourth, Mr. Hauwelaert said, the park plans to change the promotion to “Buy a Day, get the Summer.” For out-of-town guests who may not benefit from a season pass, Jungle Island offers a 10% discount on all tickets purchased online.

According to Mr. Hauwelaert, roughly 80% of the park’s attractions are open to guests, including outdoor animal encounters, but high-touch attractions such as the zip line and rock wall remain closed. At the moment, he said, the 18-acre facility is operating at 50% capacity and has added safety measures such as requiring guests to wear masks, providing animal-themed social distancing markers and signage explaining guidelines, and utilizing a speaker system to remind guests of safety rules every 45 minutes.

Opening day, Mr. Hauwelaert said, saw only a 25% decrease in guests from the same day last year. However, while Mr. Hauwelaert said he was looking forward to a good season, he doesn’t expect the park to be “overrun.” The growing number of Covid cases in Florida, he said, may well make some guests feel cautious about venturing out. The safety of guests, animals and employees, he said, is the park’s first priority.