Wednesday, July 17

NC Zoo Welcomes Spring And Future Changes

ASHEBORO NC– Just over a year after the NC Zoo was forced to close for several months under the first wave of restrictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the NC Zoo is officially open for the spring season. That was the message from Reid Wilson, Secretary of the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources last Friday at the North Carolina Zoo. With the official spring opening comes the return of attractions, an announcement of a new animal, an update on Asia, and updates on the proposed increase in admission.


The initial phases of the state’s stay-at-home order went into effect between March and June last year, when attendance is typically at its highest. The Zoo reported a record low attendance for 2020 of only 350,039, the lowest yearly attendance since they started keeping track in 1980. “It’s really hard on a place where you are used to thousands of people coming every day and then boom, you’re shut and that was tough on our staff who just love working with zoo guests, it was tough on the zoo’s revenue,” said Secretary Wilson while addressing local elected officials and members of the Zoo’s board.

ICYMI: NC Zoo – Price Increases, Asia Update, And More (Feb 2021)

Admission Increase

Earlier this year the NC Zoo Council voted to increase the cost of admission by $2. Now, two months later there is still no timeline on when that increase might take effect. Diane Villa, the Zoo’s Director of Communications and Marketing says she thinks there may not be any movement on the admission price for at least a few more months. “I think the sentiment is our citizens have been impacted by COVID so much, we just think now may not be the right time,” said Villa, “we’ve been successful in trimming other costs and containing our expenses, so it’s not as critical that we increase the gate price at this at this time”. With no concrete timeline, admission prices are likely to remain where they are at least through the rest of the summer.

North American Porcupine
Photo provided by NC Zoo

A New Animal

The NC Zoo will soon be getting a North American porcupine which is different from Kelly, the Zoo’s current porcupine who is a Cape porcupine, a species native to South Africa. The new porcupine habitat should be open by the end of the month and will be in the Rocky Coast located in North America.


Concept overview of Asia (Provided by the NC Zoo)

Having been fully designed, construction for Asia is on hold until the Zoo can fully fund the project. The original estimated budget of $65 million has had to be increased. “When we did a lot of these estimates, it was several years ago. We’re starting to see inflation in construction costs” said Diane Villa. “Right now we’re looking at $75 million for Asia, and our hope is to complete Asia all in one fell swoop rather than phase things. That’s why we’re really requesting from the legislature and from the state to go ahead and get those monies committed to Asia. Then we would use the societies fundraising to help supplement because we know it’s probably not going to cover everything.”

Attractions Re-Opening

The official opening for spring brings the return of many of the Zoo’s attractions, many of which have not been open to the public for well over a year. “There are exciting things to do at the zoo this year that maybe you couldn’t do previously,” said Reid Wilson, Secretary of the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.
New to the Zoo this year are Rydables, animal-themed electric-powered mobility carts. Carousel, Treehouse Trek, Kaleidoscope Butterfly Garden, and Acacia Station Giraffe Deck are back open. Air Hike is planned to reopen soon, with new staff being hired and trained.

ZooFari reopened on April 24th but is instead more of a private tour available by reservation only. Tours are limited to 10 people from the same friends and family groups, unlike the single tickets offered in the past. The cost of $250. “We don’t know at this time if/when we will go back to single ticket buyers. Our attraction’s protocols and capacities are based on how safely our guests can experience them” said Deborah Fuchs with the Zoo’s Public Relations team in an email. With money from the state bond, the Zoo has completed construction on the Zoofari Road. However, at this time Zoofari is still not accessible to those in wheelchairs.

Rydables are animal-themed electric-powered mobility carts
Rydables are animal-themed electric-powered mobility carts. Rydables will be available year-round and are available for rent at the North America and Junction plaza. (Scott Pelkey / Acme News)

A new addition to the Zoo this year, Rydables are animal-themed electric-powered mobility carts. Rydables will be available year-round and are available for rent at the North America and Junction plaza.

Restrictions Coming To An End?

Despite the official opening of spring the spring season and most attractions re-opening, the Zoo remains under COVID-19 restrictions. Reserved timed tickets, mandatory masks, and a limited capacity of just 4,000 guests per day will remain in place, at least for now. On April 21st, 2021 Governor Cooper laid out a timeline for lifting the state’s COVID-19 restrictions. The NC Zoo remains hopeful that COVID restrictions will be lifted soon allowing some return of normalcy. The staff at the NC Zoo is working on details of what a Zoo experience would look like under lifted restrictions proposed for June 1st adding they will follow the guidance of N.C. Dept of Health and Human Services.

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