SAN ANTONIO — While the San Antonio Zoo has adapted to unusual times and financial strain by temporarily transforming into a popular drive-thru attraction, the zoo plans to reopen to traditional foot traffic on May 29.
Even then, the experience of greeting lions, tigers and bears out the wonder of your family's car may not be gone for good.
Since closing to the public on March 14th, the San Antonio Zoo just hasn’t felt the same for CEO Tim Morrow.
“The first couple days were...a peaceful quiet. And then it became eerie very quickly,” he said. “There are some species that really enjoy engaging with our guests. The primates are the ones that stand out to me.”
Opening as a drive-thru zoo did more than solve the problem of a park full of animals starved for human attention. They also had to worry about keeping them alive.
“We can’t just close the doors and walk away," Morrow said. "We have to stay and maintain the property, take care of the animals."
Morrow said that when they closed, staff at the zoo had to be reduced down to the minimum: animal care staff, maintenance and security. Meanwhile, it was still costing $300,000 a week to operate the park.
Operating as a drive-thru meant they were at least able to bring in some money, but there was another benefit they didn’t see coming.
“We started getting comments from not only people that are physically challenged that this was a great way for them to experience the zoo, but some of the older population that can’t come and get around because of heat or cold or the hills and things like that," Morrow said.
The drive-thru option will be available for another week. On May 29, the zoo will reopen to foot traffic with new safety guidelines., including recommending that visitors wear masks while employees operate from behind plastic shields at registers.
The zoo is also considering keeping some hours open to continue operating as a drive-thru attraction.
“We have not ruled out yet that the drive-thru zoo will stay a little bit longer to still give accessibility to those people that are not comfortable coming out into the public yet,” he said.
One option, according to Morrow, after the lockdown is over? Keeping the drive-thru experience as an annual event.