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Animal Houses 

Planning your summer visit to Utah's zoological facilities

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  • Jeffrey Meigs

When most businesses and public spaces closed in spring 2020 for the COVID-19 pandemic, they sent employees home, because there was nothing for them to do if there were no customers. It was quite a different scenario, however, for local zoological attractions like Hogle Zoo, Tracy Aviary and The Loveland Living Planet Aquarium. While the rest of us wrestled with anxiety and uncertainty over what came next, animal caretakers had to keep their swimming, flying and crawling charges healthy and happy.

"The staff—especially the animal care-givers—have done an amazing amount of heavy lifting during the pandemic," says Chris Barragan, Director of Advancement for Hogle Zoo. "We had to reduce staff size, and others had to shoulder that burden. And we had to reschedule staff so we were careful not to have an outbreak, and we accomplished that.... If we lose those people, it's not like Lagoon or a theater; we have animals we have to care for at a very high level, and we had to keep that going."

"I'm not sure if the Aviarians taking care of our living collection are first-line workers," adds Tim Brown, President and CEO of Tracy Aviary, "but they are certainly essential workers. Their absolute dedication to the animals they work with went beyond making diets, creating enrichment, and cleaning exhibits. They also took great personal responsibility to stay healthy during the pandemic."

Now that more normalcy is returning as case numbers stabilize, operations at these facilities are returning to something resembling pre-COVID operations, as well. For those who might not have visited in a while, here's an overview of what to expect if you're considering checking them out this summer.

Utah's Hogle Zoo (2600 Sunnyside Ave.,
The Current Visitor Experience: While the zoo has been reopened for more than a year, operations continue to evolve as guidelines change. Currently, masks are encouraged for unvaccinated individuals but not mandated, according to Barragan, and operations are mostly back to normal with the exception of one on-site restaurant that remains closed. Timed ticketing remains in place, and is expected to remain for the foreseeable future, according to Barragan, "to maintain a more even flow of zoo-goers throughout the day, and frankly provide a better experience for everybody."

What's New: "We just have an onslaught of new animals," Barragan says of additions to the zoo's animal family over the past year. Those additions include a new baby zebra, Archie (pictured); an 1100-pound male polar bear; Georgia, a baby gorilla who turns 1 year old on July 6; and a new orangutan coming from Wisconsin. The zoo also recently added ADA-accessible feedings for elephants and rhinos, available daily for an additional charge.

Summer Activities: While Barragan says that the zoo's summer day camps are sold out at press time, there are still special season events like July 17's "Ice Block Day," when animals (and human visitors) can receive cold treats.

  • Courtesy Photo

Tracy Aviary (589 E. 1300 South,
The Current Visitor Experience: "We are pretty darn near back to normal," Brown says. "The Aviary is primarily an outdoor facility, and we don't get overly crowded. We have a lot of different exhibits spread out over 8-1/2 acres, so we don't have one congestion point where people end up elbow to elbow." Masks are still advised on the honor system for unvaccinated guests, and the only current operational closure is the absence of the indoor bird show, which would at times replace the outdoor bird show in certain weather conditions.

What's New: The Bird Show Sunning Yard is a new exhibit that showcases the stars of the Aviary's live bird show, including crowned cranes and white-faced ibis.

Summer Activities: Summer full-day and half-day camps for children still have wait-list spaces available as of press time, and parents can get their young visitors to the Aviary "Avian Adventure Kits" so supplement their exploration of the facility. You can also get your hands dirty experiencing "International Mud Day" at the Aviary on June 29, among other upcoming events.

  • Mika Miller

Loveland Living Planet Aquarium (12033 Lone Peak Parkway, Draper,
The Current Visitor Experience: According to the Aquarium's Director of Marketing and Communications, Layne Pitcher, timed ticketing remains in place for the facility to avoid excessive crowding, so buy tickets and register for a time online. Masks are not required for vaccinated guests, and recommended for unvaccinated guests, with no proof of vaccination required. There is a two-hour window on Wednesday mornings reserved specifically for visits from higher-risk individuals.

What's New: Last summer, Loveland Living Planet Aquarium opened its Rio Tinto Kennecot Plaza, offering an outdoor space for interactive exhibits, play structures and walking paths. "It was a happy accident" this it was in progress already, Pitcher says, at a time when the otherwise fully-indoor facility would not have had a place for safer outdoor experiences.

Summer Activities: Summer youth camps sold out on the first day under capacity limitations, but Pitcher says it's possible additional spaces might open up, so visit the website for ongoing updates. The Aquarium will also continue its monthly seasonal "Nights Under Lights" outdoor parties on the new plaza through September; all previous events have sold out, so watch the calendar for your chance to buy tickets. CW

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About The Author

Scott Renshaw

Scott Renshaw

Scott Renshaw has been a City Weekly staff member since 1999, including assuming the role of primary film critic in 2001 and Arts & Entertainment Editor in 2003. Scott has covered the Sundance Film Festival for 25 years, and provided coverage of local arts including theater, pop-culture conventions, comedy, literature,... more

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