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Audubon Zoo reopens at limited capacity

Officials said in a statement that zoo staff will be required to wear masks when in public areas, and that strict cleaning procedure will be enforced.

NEW ORLEANS — The Audubon Zoo reopens to the public Wednesday with limited capacity and online reservations. 

The zoo will max out at 25% capacity. Attendees will be required to purchase tickets in advance to go to the zoo. 

Tickets are expected to go on sale Monday here.

Officials said in a statement that zoo staff will be required to wear masks when in public areas, and that strict cleaning procedure will be enforced. 

The zoo will only be open at 25% of its full daily capacity and signs reminding attendees about social distancing will be placed throughout the zoo. 

“We look forward to reconnecting the community with the animals in our care,” said Audubon Nature Institute President and CEO Ron Forman in a statement. “While our doors were closed to help stop the spread of COVID-19, Audubon’s dedicated staff continued to provide outstanding care for our animals and parks."

The Audubon Zoo closed its doors like many other businesses to slow the spread of COVID-19. But the closure has cut a massive chunk out of the zoo's operating budget. According to Forman, Audubon lost around 44% of its self-generated operating revenue because of the stay at home orders enforced throughout the state. 

From March to June, Audubon has lost about $21 million in revenue. 

The dried-up revenue stream has left Audubon "in an unsustainable position to care for our animals and parks," Forman said. 

The partial reopening will help, but isn't a magic bullet. 

According to zoo officials, the summer months typically bring around 750,000 people in to see the animals. But they are anticipating an 80% dropoff for 2020 because of coronavirus.

The economic pain can't be solved by the current government intervention plans either. Audubon counts itself among a handful of nonprofit zoos and aquariums with more than 500 employees. That, coupled with their annual revenue in previous years means the zoo is ineligible for any existing COVID-19 economic relief packages. 

“This crisis came at our busiest time of year, and the impact has been significant,” said Forman. “Securing the resources to continue to care for our animals and reopen our doors as New Orleans families return to normalcy is a priority for Audubon. This first phase of reopening is not the end of our journey, however, and we still have a long road ahead to recovery.”

Zoo officials urged supporters to ask their elected representatives to include zoos and aquariums in any future relief legislation and to contribute to the Audubon Recovery Fund

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