It’s been a strange year and a half for many Oklahoma businesses, and the state’s two prominent zoos are no exception. As the country emerges from COVID-era restrictions, there’s plenty on the horizon.
With everyone trying to get back to normal, the Tulsa Zoo is more than ready for people to return for summertime activities. The newest addition to the park is the Helmerich Playground: Behaving Like Animals.
“Each area is carefully designed, based on age, to educate children while they play,” says Nick Walters, the zoo’s community engagement manager. The three million dollar add-on challenges kids to move like their favorite animal, “encouraging children to climb, slide, and soar,” he says.
During the brunt of COVID-19, the Tulsa Zoo took the necessary steps to keep people and animals as safe as possible, including limiting the number of on-site guests, minimizing touch points with animals and requiring all staff to wear masks.
“Safety of our animals, guests and employees is a top priority,” says Walters.
Popular events and programming, like WALTZ on the Wild Side and HalloZOOween, are right around the corner.
“WALTZ (We All Love Tulsa Zoo) is celebrating its 30th anniversary with Tulsa’s finest food, specialty drinks, up-close animal encounters and dancing,” says Walters. The event is scheduled for Sept. 17.
HalloZOOween underwent small changes during 2020 by adding daytime hours.
“The expanded options proved so successful that we are keeping that model this year,” says Walters.
The Tulsa Zoo has some new attractions in the works that leadership looks forward to sharing with the community soon.
“In the coming year, we will begin two major expansion projects – African Wilds: Carnivores, and Lost Kingdom: Elephants,” says Walters.
The Oklahoma City Zoo is looking to bring back guests in a big way. The park recently opened its Raptor Ridge (showcasing Andean condors and cinereous vultures) and Wetlands Walkway (showing off diverse tortoises). In addition, Asha, an adult Asian elephant, became pregnant and is due to give birth next February.
“This will be Asha’s forth calf to be born at the Zoo,” says Dwight Lawson, Ph.D., the Zoo’s executive director and CEO.
Since reopening in May 2020, the park has operated on a timed ticketing system, with masks required for all guests and employees. Although they saw a staggering loss of memberships during the height of the pandemic, things have been looking up in recent months.
“Good weather, a new limited Dino Safari experience and a very active spring break saw membership sales return to numbers not seen since 2019,” says Matt Burkholder, the zoo’s interim executive director.
Dino Safari is a new exhibit that allows guests to interact with animatronic dinosaurs that mimic the movement and sound of creatures long extinct.
“These amazingly life-like creatures were created by Jurassic Park advisor ‘Dino Don’ Lessem’s company, Dino Don Inc.,” says Lawson. The event runs through Oct. 31.
Along with the Safari, ZOObrew, an outdoor beer festival hosting more than 70 breweries, will return Oct. 1. Read for Adventure also kicked off on June 21st to “encourage literacy and library visitation.” For guests who check out the Zoo’s self-published book Junipers Butterfly Garden, they receive free admission to the Zoo, says Lawson