Zoo World still open during coronavirus pandemic

Nathan Cobb

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PANAMA CITY BEACH — Although beaches are closed and restaurants are limited to takeout, Zoo World is still open for business.

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In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the local sanctuary recently imposed regulations to keep guests healthy. Until further notice, the zoo will have limited hours, a 50-person capacity and only accept credit-card payments. Separations are also in place so waiting patrons maintain social distancing.

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“We decided to just take all of these responsibilities on ourselves because we truly believe this is going to keep our guests the absolute safest,” said Erika Newell, curator of animal care. “This is a good place for people to get out of their homes without feeling like they are going to contaminate each other.”

According to Newell, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the coronavirus can only be passed between animals and humans if people are eating exotic animals.

“Nobody’s consuming our animals, so we are not worried about that,” she said. “We still want to give our guests a fantastic experience by seeing animals up close.”

Just like many other local businesses, the zoo heavily relies on tourists to make money.

Newell added that while other businesses might be able to close down and not suck funds during the pandemic, the zoo needs income to feed and look after its more than 100 species of animals.

“It’s really important that people come in and help support the zoo,“ she said. “We’re hit (by the virus) just as hard as every other tourist organization. We hope to absolutely stay open, and we plan to stay open unless we’re told otherwise.”

Along with some new rules, Zoo World has installed additional hand-washing stations and hand sanitizer around the facility.

Zoo hours are everyday from 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m. with last admissions at 2 p.m.

“The zoo is a very safe place to be because we are five acres of open air,” she said. “(We) have sunlight, which is a natural sterilizer, so It’s a really good place to be to kind of take your mind off of everything that’s going on, while still practicing social distancing.”