Jackon’s Director of Parks and Recreation Ison B. Harris Jr. speaks Friday about zoo-reopening efforts. Zoo Interim Director David Wetzel stands besides him. Photo by Kayode Crown
The Jackson Zoo has undergone about $300,000 worth of transformations as it seeks a permanent exhibitor's license from the United States Department of Agriculture, Director of Parks and Recreation Ison B. Harris, Jr. said Friday.
The upgrades include providing barriers to limit contact with the animals, a new exhibition heating system for the primates, replacing plastic buckets with stainless steel and removing 30 trees.
"We did a lot of work (on) the animal hospital," Harris said at a press conference Friday at the zoo before its official reopening over the weekend. "(There are) more projects that we are actually still working on."
The zoo will be open on weekends until Sept. 30, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays. Attendance is limited to 500 per day, with social distancing and facial coverings required to stem the spread of COVID-19. Visitors must register online before arrival at jacksonzoo.org.
"This has been a long ordeal, working through the flood and through COVID-19, but we made it through," Harris said.
He said that the City will hold the license so that no matter what happens in the future, the zoo will continue to exhibit animals and not suffer any more disruptions [LINK: https://www.jacksonfreepress.com/news/2019/oct/11/hinds-supervisors-withhold-50000-jackson-zoo-due-c/ ].
"The City will actually have the license, and then we will have an agreement with the partner, the company, and we will add them to our licence," Harris said. "That way, let's say something happens down the line; the City will still always have the license, so we can actually still show animals and that type of things that we could not do without the license."
Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba announced last month that the City had obtained a temporary exhibitor's license paving the way for last weekend's opening.
"We feel confident that probably around next month, we should have that (full) license based on all the things we are doing to meet those obligations that they are requiring from us," Harris said. "We feel really good about that."
Zoo Interim Director David Wetzel said the limitation in the number of people allowed per day at the zoo and the limited hours are to enable the animals to get used to people again and also because of the declining staff number.
"We hope to be open more days of the week, but right now we are down a couple of keepers, and until I get those positions filled and trained, I have got to be sure that I have enough staff here to take care of (things)," he said.
Wetzel said processes are in place to keep the staff safe during the pandemic after looking into practices at other zoos.
"We are all a little nervous about being around a lot of people," he said. "We went and looked at what other zoos in our area, what other zoos throughout the state and country are doing, (and) took what we could from them to make sure that it is as safe as possible.”
"The biggest thing is the mask, social distancing. It's as safe as we can make it,” he added.”All of our buildings are closed. All those things are designed to make it as safe as we can, for our visitors, for our staff for these little creatures behind us."
At the time of the press conference, hundreds of people had already registered to come to the zoo for the weekend, Wetzel said.
Email story tips to city/county reporter Kayode Crown at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @kayodecrown.