The Zoo is a safe option, but only for those willing to comply

We all want to see lions, tigers, and bears, (oh my) but does it have to be this risky?
Kansas City Zoo

Visitors leave the Kansas City Zoo at approximately 3 p.m. // Photo by Hanna Ellington

On the surface, a day at the zoo seems like the perfect solution to a socially distanced summer day. The Kansas City Zoo is spacious, leaving visitors ample amounts of room to wander and spend time in the fresh air. That’s what I thought, at least.

The Zoo adapted to the pandemic in the ways it could after closing its doors for nearly two months. Limited ticket numbers, required face masks in spaces not feasible to distance, and scheduled reservations give the impression that the Zoo is a relatively low-risk option for those wanting to see the animals. On paper, it seems like a safe option.

The sea lion show case is cancelled

The sea lion showcase has been temporarily cancelled. // Photo by Hanna Ellington

A trip to the Zoo is one of my favorite activities, even as a 21-year-old. After months of indoor boredom, a day spent strolling outside and seeing glorious animals was something that brought me genuine excitement. Joyous thoughts of penguins and red pandas propelled me into linking up with a close friend and making a reservation for Monday morning. A day spent away from work and responsibilities could only be dampened by one thing—fear of coronavirus.

On my Monday trip, I witnessed time and time again people blatantly ignoring the distance from themselves to another group. A major issue that arises at the Zoo is that safety is dependent on the compliance of visitors. Sure, the Zoo can ask visitors to social distance in the park and set up properly-spaced queue lines, but will attendees listen? At one point, near the hippopotamus, a group of unmonitored and maskless children ran straight into my legs. Their maskless parents paid little attention.

Kids and parents gather to see a group of apes

Kids and parents gather to see a group of apes. // Photo by Hanna Ellington

A year ago, I would’ve thought little of it. Now, my mind darts to the potentially deadly germs they could carry now being on me. It’s a tough reality, but it’s important to be cognizant of. I would hope parents felt the same way, but that’s not something I was made aware of during my trip.

Zoo employees are wearing masks, and thanked me for wearing mine. But masks are not required throughout the entire park, only in areas where “social distancing may not be feasible,” according to the Zoo’s website. With the amount of people visiting the park, who were nearly all missing masks, that was essentially everywhere. I don’t remember one instance where I was consistently far enough from another group to where I felt safe enough to take my mask off.

Thus, it stayed on the entire time.

Prior to arriving, visitors have to schedule a time online. The website informs visitors that there are limited tickets available, which seems like a reasonable change to make. 

Masked woman

A masked woman snaps a photo of the elephants. // Photo by Hanna Ellington

Imagine my surprise approaching the Zoo on a Monday morning and seeing swarms of people outside. This would be perfectly normal for the Zoo on any normal Monday, but of course, we are not in normal times. The reservation doesn’t come with an end time. One could spend the whole day at the Zoo, which begs the question of how the capacity is monitored in accordance with ticket limitations.

In a likely effort to dispel crowds, animal shows, like the sea lion exhibition, have been temporarily cancelled. On-site restaurants have either limited or no indoor seating, with lines adorning stickers spaced 6-feet apart. Indoor attractions were metered by employees to ensure CDC guidelines were met. Various exhibits and rides, like the SkyTram, were open and sanitized, while others were closed.

In short, the Zoo has done what it can. As my own person, I too can only do so much. I yearn for the day where I can trust others will do their part too, but I don’t think we’ve gotten there yet. Our community will continue to be at risk until everyone wears a mask and is aware of giving adequate space to those around them.

Until then, I bid the hippopotamuses, the penguins, and the red pandas adieu.

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