Brenna Barnhill and her 2-year-old daughter, Paislee, spent part of Monday afternoon watching thin-legged pink flamingos stomp around their lagoon at Caldwell Zoo.
“She just loves animals,” Barnhill said of her daughter.
A teacher from Lindale, Barnhill said her family has been spending a lot of time at home out of concern about catching the coronavirus. The opening of the zoo was an opportunity to enjoy a beautiful day with her daughter that she couldn’t pass up.
“We just had to get out,” said Barnhill as her daughter began to climb out of the stroller. “This gives us something to do.”
On Monday afternoon, dozens of families, many with young children, were seen watching the elephants, giraffes and many other animals.
The zoo closed in March when Gov. Greg Abbott forced many nonessential businesses to temporarily close as a strategy to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Attractions have been allowed to reopen if they limit capacity and increase sanitation efforts.
“We’re glad to see people coming out (to the zoo) again,” Executive Director Hayes Caldwell said.
His attention was then drawn to a toddler who screamed in delight after spotting a colorful bird.
“That (sound of joy) is what it is all about for us,” he said.
Some restrictions and precautions are in place.
“Our No. 1 goal is to make your visit to the zoo a good experience for all,” said a message to visitors on the zoo’s website. “Some adjustments have been made in response to COVID-19. The primary modifications have been made to provide adequate social distancing.”
To restrict capacity, the zoo is requiring guests to go online and make reservations for a specific time slot. Visitors must follow arrows that guide them in the same direction. Signs ask visitors not to touch some surfaces and to practice social distancing. Hand-sanitizing stations have been placed throughout the zoo.
At the zoo’s Chakula Cafe, in-dining is not allowed. One family on Monday was eating outside the cafe in the Africa exhibit overlook, where some tables are blocked off to help guests observe social distancing.
Health officials have said that limiting the size of crowds, frequently disinfecting your hand and keeping about six feet from strangers help reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Zoo employees were wearing protective masks. One was sanitizing handrails near the otter exhibit.
The petting pen, rhino house, penguin house, reptile building and a playground — areas in which guests often come in close contact with one another — are for the time being off limits.
Barnhill said she was happy to comply with the social distancing requests and that the restrictions were reasonable.
“I am comfortable that the zoo is taking precautions,” she said.
The zoo will lift restrictions “as soon as it is feasible,” Caldwell said.
Paul Swen, a marketing representative for Caldwell Zoo, said the goal is to make as much of the park as accessible as possible.
“You can see almost every animal,” he said. “Even though you cannot go into the rhino house, you can still see the rhino (in its enclosure). The vast majority of animals are still on display.”
Caldwell praised the zoo staff for working “diligently during this entire pandemic to ensure the safety of themselves, the well being of our animals and now providing safety measures to ensure a safe, fun experience for our guests. We have all missed seeing our guests and providing a fun filled experience for them.”