Memphis Zoo would admit only 3,000 people at a time under COVID-19 reopening plan

By , Daily Memphian Updated: May 06, 2020 9:18 AM CT | Published: May 06, 2020 4:00 AM CT

The Memphis Zoo’s reopening plan would limit crowds to 3,000 visitors at a time, preferably wearing face coverings and staying six feet apart.

Visitors wouldn’t be able to see such animals as the azure poison dart frog, a denizen of the Herpetarium, or the two-toed sloth, resident of Animals of the Night, because indoor exhibits would be off limits at first.

The zoo won’t accept cash for payment, only credit card or Apple Pay.

High-touch areas such as rides, playground and seasonal activities also would be off limits.

Those are highlights of the zoo’s reopening plan, basically to go in reverse from how it closed down in mid-March after the COVID-19 pandemic hit Memphis.

City could allow some tourist attractions, museums to open in Phase 1

The zoo was still waiting Tuesday to hear when city officials would allow it to reopen pending a review of COVID-19 safeguards.

The city last week told Memphis area tourist attractions and museums they might be allowed to reopen during Phase 1 of the Back to Business framework, which began Monday, May 4.

As of Tuesday, the city hadn’t approved any attractions or museums to reopen.

“We do not have an official opening date yet,” zoo spokeswoman Amanda Moses said.

The Back to Business plan officially classifies museums and attractions in Phase 2, beginning at least 14 days after the start of Phase 1, pending approval of individual plans to comply with COVID-19 safeguards.

The plan says museums and attractions can be open at 50% of capacity during Phase 2 and Phase 3.

Tourism industry marks milestone sans visitors

The zoo reduced operations starting March 16, then shut down to the public completely on March 19. It temporarily laid off about 120 seasonal workers but kept the core of some 100 full-time employees working on animal care and maintenance.

The zoo’s $18 million a year budget has taken a big hit from the loss of traffic during spring break, school field trip season and the general influx of visitors who come from around the region each spring. About 1.3 million people visit the zoo each year.

Partially offsetting the loss of visitor revenue is a $1 million forgivable loan from the Paycheck Protection Program, one of the federal coronavirus relief measures, as part of a nationwide application from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Moses said when the zoo reopens, it will ask guests to wear facial coverings and strongly encourage individuals and groups to stay 6 feet apart.

Signs are posted at the entrance and throughout the zoo and in front of exhibit viewing areas.

There also are hand sanitizing stations throughout the 76-acre park.

The zoo, owned by the city and operated by a nonprofit, has been soliciting donations to the Emergency Animal Support Fund during the closure.

Donation information can be found at

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Memphis Zoo COVID-19 reopening plan Memphis tourist attractions Association of Zoos and Aquariums
Wayne Risher

Wayne Risher

Business news reporter, 43-year veteran of print journalism, 35-year resident of Memphis, University of Georgia alumnus and proud father and spouse of University of Memphis graduates.


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