NEW ZOO still working on its reopening plan

SUAMICO, Wis. (WBAY) While we're starting to see many businesses open their doors, the NEW Zoo in Suamico is taking a little more time to finalize its reopening plans.

African Lions at the NEW Zoo in this undated file photo (WBAY photo)

"We get the impression they are a little lonely without the constant flow of humans to watch," Carmen Murach, curator of animals, said.

A pronghorn ran across its enclosure to greet us, as if eager to find out when and how the zoo will reopen to visitors.

"It's easy to close -- really easy to close. It's really difficult reopening," zoo director Neil Anderson said.

The zoo is one of only eight across the country that's self-sustaining. The closure couldn't have come at a worse time.

“This all happened at probably the prime time we generate revenue,” said Anderson. “Our reserve fund at the end of the year is roughly around $650,000. April I would say, we probably lost somewhere around $180,000; May it's going to be about $290,000.”

Anderson says any revenue lost will come out of that reserve fund, which took 17 years to build.

“This will have a lasting and long impact on the zoo. Just trying to recover from this is going to be very, very difficult,” said Anderson.

A specific date for reopening is still in the works, but zoo staff plans to open in phases.

Normally, the zoo would see between 1,000 and 3,000 visitors per day depending on the time of year. With social distancing guidelines in place, staff says that number will be cut in half.

"We're going to go ahead and plan on having a certain capacity level," Anderson explained. "We'll also have online ticketing so we can spread the visitor ship across the day."

Visitors will also enter the zoo from the outside gate instead of through the main building. The whole zoo will be set up like a safari walk.

High touch points such as the playgrounds, discovery tubes, carousel and train will all be closed.

Staff is also taking extra care to keep the animals safe because some could contract the virus.

“Being really careful with black-footed ferret, and otters, and red pandas are so endangered we don't want to take any chances there,” said Murach.

Zoo keepers are also keeping a bit more distance than usual between themselves and the lions, which have been known to contract COVID-19

“We're wearing masks and being very cognizant about touch points...while cleaning the lion exhibit,” said Murach. “We typically do training with the lions right up against the fence so you're only inches away from them with the protective barrier between you, but we've cut all of that out right now.”

Anderson says the gift shop would be the first to open and staff anticipates setting an official opening date after Memorial Day weekend.