The Lincoln Park Zoo’s entrance. Metal fences direct visitors into the zoo in an orderly fashion. (Photo credit: Julia Marks)
The Lincoln Park Zoo’s entrance. Metal fences direct visitors into the zoo in an orderly fashion.

Photo credit: Julia Marks

I Went to the Zoo During a Pandemic

My Experience Visiting the Lincoln Park Zoo

October 7, 2020

“I Went to the Zoo During a Pandemic,” by Julia Marks.

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  • The Lincoln Park Zoo, marked with arrows to show direction of traffic.

  • The gorilla exhibit at the Lincoln Park Zoo fenced off to avoid congestion in the area.

  • The Regenstein Center for African Apes closed off to avoid visitors inside buildings.

  • The line of visitors waiting to check in for their reservation at the zoo.

  • A sign reminding visitors to wear a mask during their visit at the zoo.

  • Signs and fences showing visitors the direction they should walk to avoid foot traffic.

  • The Regenstein Macaque Forest filled with many visitors, despite signs displaying social distancing.

  • One of the many signs reminding visitors to wear a face mask during their visit.

  • Signs and arrows painted on the ground to direct visitors.

  • The Helen Brach Primate House closed to avoid visitors inside the building.

  • A closed gate and signs reminding visitors of how to stay safe during their time at the zoo.

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Like many Parker students, I have been to the Lincoln Park Zoo many times. I’ve visited animals during field trips, sat down in exhibits during evacuation drills, and ran through the gates for field hockey conditioning. After spending months cooped up inside of my home and unable to do any fun Chicago-summer activities, I decided to take a trip to the zoo during the pandemic.

Unlike normal times, when visitors can come to the zoo at any time they want, I had to make a reservation (for free) in advance for my entry time for the zoo. Although the ticket did not have a restriction for how long I could stay, there was a strict one hour period for entry. For example, my ticket was for 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. I could not enter the zoo at 10:59 a.m. nor at 12:01 p.m., but any time in between was acceptable. Additionally, while selecting a ticket I also had to specify which entrance I would be using.

When I entered, I checked in with a worker at the entrance, who reminded me to maintain six feet of distance from other visitors and to wear my mask over both my nose and mouth during my visit. I booked my reservation for a Monday morning and was shocked that shortly after my booking, that time slot was sold out, and I was even more shocked by how many people I saw in the zoo. Throughout my entire visit (which was a little under an hour), I saw hundreds of people, however, on a “normal” summer day, there could be twice or even three times as many people.

While walking around the zoo, I had to follow white arrows painted on the ground directing traffic, as well as signs that indicated which way would lead to an exit or to more exhibits. Navigating the area was reasonably easy if I just followed the arrows and signs, although, as expected, it did take longer to navigate through the park to reach an exhibit, since I sometimes had to take an entire lap to reach an exhibit that was right behind me. 

Many exhibits and activities were closed completely including the Helen Brach Primate House, Regenstein Center for African Apes, Foreman Pavilion, and also play areas and miscellaneous stands (face painting, henna, etc.). Additionally, there was construction on many of the indoor exhibits. Concession stands were open as well as outdoor seating at the cafe. 

In some of the exhibits (the primate exhibit and gorilla exhibits), there is a nook in front of the glass window where the animals usually press up against the glass, and the area is covered so it feels like part of the exhibit. These areas tend to be the best for up close views of the animals and during normal times, tend to be congested with lots of people. At the gorilla exhibit, this viewing area was closed off completely to try and prevent lots of people from being in close proximity to one another. However, I was shocked to see that in the Macaque Forest monkey exhibit, this area was open. There were at least a dozen people all close together by the window to get a view of the animal. There were a few zoo workers roaming the park, reminding visitors of the distance, but I was shocked that no one told this group of visitors to spread out. 

Overall, I did have a pleasant experience in the zoo. Although the navigation was a tiny bit tricky, I did feel safe and protected from other visitors. I found that almost everyone in the park did follow the signs and arrows of what direction they could travel, but at the majority of the exhibits, visitors were not properly socially distanced. I was able to distance myself, however, if I wanted a better, closer view of the animals, I would have had to be less than six feet apart from others, and would not have felt safe. During my visit, I had prioritized my safety and maintaining six feet from other visitors in the park; however, if I had prioritized getting a good view of the animals, I’m not sure I would have felt entirely protected. I do, however, applaud the Lincoln Park Zoo for finding a safe way to open that still allows visitors to experience the fun that the zoo has to offer.

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