Closed since mid-March, the staff at Austin Zoo in southwest Austin are preparing to reopen to the public beginning May 18.

According to Executive Director Patti Clark, the zoo is planning to reopen in a limited capacity May 18, with online ticket sales beginning May 13. To limit the number of guests at the zoo at a given time, she said, tickets will only be available online and to visit during specific windows of time.

While Austin Zoo will reopen, there will be changes to operations. Indoor buildings, such as the zoo’s Reptile House, education building and gift shop, will be closed, as will concession areas, excluding vending machines.

Clark said the zoo will also require everyone over age 2 to wear a mask when at the property. She said certain zoo animals, including felines and primates, could be susceptible to the coronavirus, and masks will help keep both animals and visitors more safe.

"The key is going to be to implement some fairly stringent restrictions on people because there are people who are kind of nonchalant about COVID-19, but there are many more people who would like to get out and do something if they were provided a safe environment," she said. "That's what we're looking to do. We're looking to protect out animals, and we're looking to make sure that everybody feels totally comfortable when they come to Austin Zoo."

May 18 will be the first opportunity guests will have to see the zoo’s newest addition: a 10-month old white tiger named Zulema, who was rescued by the zoo with the help of Texas Parks and Wildlife in late March after she was found during a Drug Enforcement Administration operation.

"She'll be on display in a newly built habitat, and this is the first time she has been on grass," Clark said. "She's like a kitten. She's had so much fun playing with balls and jumping in the pool and climbing her platform."

Austin Zoo was forced to furlough its front-end staff during the coronavirus closure, but some of those employees are now returning to work. Another challenge during the pandemic has been accessing food for the animals, which has occasionally been in short stock due to food supply chain shortages.

However, Clark said the zoo has been fortunate enough to not layoff off any of its animal care staff during the pandemic and has continued to receive community support.

"[For] most of those shortages, we've found workarounds, and we have had an amazing outpouring from people in the community who are dropping off fresh fruits and produce while the zoo has been locked down," she said. "Good things are happening."

Austin Zoo

10808 Rawhide Trail, Austin