Moving forward, Tulsa Zoo President and CEO Terrie Correll and other zoo professionals may be wise to be careful what they wish for.
"Every zookeeper's dream is to have the zoo to yourself," Correll said Tuesday during a virtual meeting of the City of Tulsa's Parks and Recreation Department, "and we've got it now."
Closed since mid-March due to restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic, the zoo has faced its share of difficulty , Correll said.
"We went through a period where we laid off all our part-time and seasonal staff," Correll said. "Coupled with our food service providers, that was over 146 people." Many full-time staff were also furloughed, she said.
Correll also said zoos present unique challenges to public health during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We have a problem here at the zoo that others may not have: that's the fear of cross-contamination to our animal collection," she said.
"At first we were worried about our chimpanzees and other primates, but we also are concerned now with large carnivores," Correll said, "so staff is maintaining social distancing even from the animals, wearing masks." (Big cats in the Bronx Zoo in New York were confirmed to have contracted COVID-19.)
Correll said the zoo has taken advantage of a bad situation by accomplishing some major maintenance tasks that would normally have to be done during hours with no visitors, and added that the zoo's education department is serving schoolchildren still adjusting to remote learning in their homes with virtual programming.
Correll did not share a date for when she expects the zoo to reopen, but said that whenever it does, it's likely that visitors will have to practice precautions like covering their faces and maintaining physical distance.