New rules for nation's museums, galleries, zoos and aquariums as venues reopen

Posted at 8:19 PM, Jun 16, 2020

California just gave museums, galleries, zoos and aquariums the go-ahead to reopen, but the way they operate won't be the same. There are a lot of new rules across the nation and new changes that will affect your entertainment experiences as everyone adjusts to a new normal amid the pandemic.

Executive Director Jason Jacobs can't wait to let people back in to the Sacramento, California Zoo. They'll be greeted by alligators, like little Ronnie, a 9-month-old American gator.

“He made his way to California during the pandemic as we had scheduled an alligator habitat to open in April of 2020,” said Jacobs.

The alligators were on their way from Florida when things shutdown. Since then, veterinarians and scientists from the University of California at Davis have worked with zoo staff. They were ready for the pandemic. As people started the lockdown, officials at the zoo were ordering extra food and supplies for their animals.

“We have to have emergency management plans,” said Jacobs. “I’ve worked at zoos threatened by hurricanes, by earthquakes, by wildfires, you just have to be prepared and that’s part of operating a zoo.”

And they also knew what they'd need to do to safely reopen.

“Shutting down the reptile house, shutting down the playground which kids love, but it’s a high contact area, not having animal education demonstrations,” said Jacobs.

The guidelines from California officials are specific. There's a long list of stipulations, things like limited capacity, disinfecting, no large events, no big in person fundraisers. The Sacramento Zoo got creative with some of those new rules.

“Things like – stay within your own flock, because our flamingoes flock together, so if you come as a family, stay together,” said Jacobs. “We have other reminders that say to stay an alligators length away, not like little Ronnie alligator, but the big ones that are over 6 feet long.”

They've hired more cleaning crews and strongly encourage face coverings. Those masks are a sticking point for the Memphis Zoo, which reopened about a month ago.

Chief Marketing Officer Nick Harmeier says, “The biggest pushback on the new policies was the facial covering. People are either for it or completely against it. They didn’t seem like anyone was really in the middle there.”

Harmeier says they wanted as many precautions as possible and didn't want to take any risks with their animals either, as there are so many unknowns about COVID-19. They've employed one-way traffic, pulled their gift facilities outside and like everywhere else, they have extremely limited capacity.

“That was a big a hah for us,” said Harmeier. “We were like people have been in their houses for three months, we’re going to be slammed but that wasn’t the case and we’re still seeing that today numbers aren’t anywhere close to where they were last year and previous years.”

Financially, all zoos and nonprofits have taken a hit. For Memphis, this is fundraising season. And while they're slowly opening back up, the money isn't where it needs to be.

“This zoo has been through a lot of hard times – Great Depression, Spanish flu – there’s a lot of things this zoo has withstood. We feel good we’re going to push through it all."

And other zoos, like Sacramento, have that same energy, reopening with a strong sense of community and survivability for the animal species they love so much.