Virginia Zoo in Norfolk thankful for support and looking to re-open more areas on the property

Living Local

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – As COVID-19 restrictions loosen, things are starting to look up for the Virginia Zoo in Norfolk, even though Zoo Director Greg Bockheim says the facility is still more than $1 million in the red.

“Well, it’s been a tough road through the pandemic, as it has for so many folks,” said Bockheim

However, with the change of season, more people getting vaccinated, and the governor loosening restrictions, Bockheim is looking at the positives.

“We’ve been fortunate that we do have such a large property, you know, 50 acres for people to move about on.”

There is lots of room for social distancing while enjoying the views.

“It’s been a very exciting time with this change in weather, and as you know, the horticulture at the zoo is pretty spectacular. We have so many great gardens. We installed four new pollinator gardens in the zoo during our shutdown last March and April. So, we’ve got lots of great flowers for the insects and the butterflies and the bees.”

Posters also show when you’re approaching high touch areas and remind you to wear you mask. Bockheim says guests have “behaved well” when it comes to following COVID guidelines at the zoo.

“You can really tell a lot about a community by how people behave in these kind of public spaces. So, we’re very, very fortunate to have a well behaved Hampton Roads where people are following the rules and being careful. So, we’re keeping people safe and the animals safe, because some animals are more susceptible to COVID than others.”

Just last week, the zoo announced it was treating two of its tigers for COVID. Then, over the weekend it announced its third tiger also has COVID. During our interview, Bockheim described the most common COVID symptoms for most animals.

“In the cases that have been found so far, they have been kind of light cases of the sniffles, or cold symptoms.”

While the zoo focuses on care of the tigers, it also focuses on re-opening the Zoo Farm in the coming weeks.

“We’re hiring (seasonal workers) to not only care about the animals and teach people about the animals, but also to monitor how many people enter the Zoo Farm, and I’m sure there will come times where we will have to reduce the crowd, a line might form, but we’ll let so many people in and so many people out,” said Bockheim. “I’m sure we’ll have cases like that on the weekends. We’re intending to get goats, too, in a couple of weeks. We won’t give people immediate access to them. They’ll be able to get close to them like they can most Zoo Farm animals. As more people are vaccinated, and the governor’s policies change, that will, I would expect to lighten by that time, hopefully.”

More hand sanitizer stations will be added to the Zoo Farm area. Bockheim says as you enter and leave, you will be required to wear a mask in the Zoo Farm.

As for the World of Reptiles? Bockeim says that building has to stay closed for now.

“We’re thinking about how we can bring people in to that area in the future, but for right now it’s just going to have to stay closed, because of the amount of disinfecting we’ll have to do between large groups of people will just be really slow that down. It would be really disappointing.”

Over the course of the pandemic, a number of zoo babies were born in the World of Reptiles, as well as out in the zoo like Luther, the Malaysian Tapir, and three baby giraffes.

“We’ve got six giraffes on exhibit right now. That’s remarkable. That’s the most we’ve ever had,” said Bockheim.

Summer camps are filling up as well with limited numbers. Some signs of normalcy for this Hampton Roads staple.

“I feel like we’re really doing a good job recovering. The community has really helped out. We’ve had great donations to our emergency funds. So, I just really want to say thank you to everyone for helping us out during this time,” said Bockheim.

If you would like to apply to become a seasonal worker at the zoo, sign your kids up for one of its summer camps, or to donate to the Virginia Zoo to help bring its educators back, click here.

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