BALTIMORE — Typically, this time of year, the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore would be flush with field trips and 4,000 visitors per day, but only 400, including 9-year-old Vera Cromwell, will show up today to see what they’ve been missing during the pandemic.
“I like things like the Safari thing over there and all of the giraffes and stuff,” said Cromwell who is a third grader at Warren Elementary School in Cockeysville.
A special treat lies in store with two new Southern white rhinoceros, thought to be extinct a century ago, and a pair of great white pelican new to the zoo.
Vaccinated or not, visitors must don masks as they maneuver 40 acres of trails to view the animals, because here both man and beast could be at risk of contracting the virus.
“There’s three species in particular that we were about the most,” explained Zoo President & CEO Kirby Fowler. ”The cat species, because we’ve got cheetahs, we’ve got leopards and lions. We’ve got to worry about those. The Bronx Zoo had a case where the tigers contracted it. The primates we have to worry about, because they’re so closely affiliated with humans and I believe gorillas in San Diego contracted COVID and then otters, believe it or not. A population of minks in Scandinavia contracted it.”
The pandemic forced the zoo to close down entirely for three months last year, and it’s still operating at a fraction of its capacity to keep down foot traffic to protect the animals even though its revenue is down by 25 percent.
With set costs of up to $50,000 per day just to feed and care for its animals, it has become creative in trying to stay afloat without putting its star attractions at risk.
“We have these new events for adults, as well as children---particularly the Sip & Strolls where people can come into the zoo and enjoy the animals, but also have a glass of wine or a beer and learn about the zoo, but also we have these special animal experiences for people now. We’ve added so many more,” said Fowler. “There’s a penguin fish toss. There’s a goat trek. There’s, of course, the giraffe feeding station. There’s so many ways to interact personally with animals, and I think that’s the best part of the whole zoo.”
Those wishing to visit the zoo must purchase tickets online and they are booked in 30-minute intervals to keep visitors spread out.
The Maryland Zoo is open 10am to 4pm daily, seven days per week.