From the zoo to you, welcome back!

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Words by Michelle Bruggeman, Melbourne Zoo director

What a joy it is to be able to say that Melbourne Zoo is back open to visitors!

For me, as Melbourne Zoo director, some of my favourite moments are seeing the looks of joy on the faces of children and their families as they surge through our iconic front entrance, giggling and talking excitedly about what special animal they want to visit first.

I have so missed those moments during the many months we have been closed since this pandemic began. And so, to reopen the zoo and see those smiling faces once more is a delight.

It became clear to me as soon as I joined the zoo that it really is a sanctuary – both for people and wildlife – in the heart of Melbourne. And I believe the zoo’s importance has only grown in this regard while we have been closed. We have all spent so much time at home that rediscovering the joy and wonder of nature is more important now than ever.

We know how valuable time outdoors among wildlife is for our mental as well as our physical heath. And the Melbourne Zoo team is so thrilled to be able to offer our Zoo Members and visitors the opportunity to reconnect with our amazing animals and our glorious gardens again.

To the 280,000 Zoos Victoria members, many of whom live locally around the zoo, who have supported us throughout, I want to say an enormous thank you.

The level of interest from the community in our reopening has been awesome. A ticket to the zoo is among the hottest tickets in town right now. We appreciate the patience and understanding of our members and visitors as we have reopened with limited capacity. More tickets will become available as we carefully move through the staged phases of our reopening.

COVID has presented us with some incredible challenges. The zoo has been closed for more than 290 days since the pandemic began, and we have closed and reopened the zoo six times during that period. But I am now incredibly hopeful that we will not need to close again.

Our staff have been amazing throughout. While we haven’t been able to welcome visitors to our zoo, our keepers, veterinary team and other essential property staff have continued to care for our animals and our grounds. Our healthcare programs have continued.

Our enrichment programs have continued. Our animal rescue work has continued. Our vital conservation and threatened species breeding programs have continued. Despite all the disruptions, all the challenges, all the impacts, the passion and dedicated of our staff has been a constant. As director, I couldn’t be prouder.

Animal lovers of all ages have been on our mind this whole time. Our “Animals at Home” livestream service has been an incredible success. Millions of people have tuned in from home to spend time with the otter family, snow leopards, giraffes, zebras and penguins.

Our virtual keeper tours and online zoo tours have been watched and re-watched in many thousands of households across Victoria and Australia. Hundreds of thousands of school students have engaged with our education resources online, and I do hope this has brought some joy to children studying from home and some relief to their parents through the many months of remote learning.

And now, finally, these animal lovers can return to our zoo and reconnect with their favourite animals in person. What a thrill it has been for so many people to come back to the zoo and say hello to the otters, snow leopards and other animals that they have spent so many hours with online during the past 18 months. What a joy it has been to see children exploring our new nature play spaces.

Spring has sprung, summer is near, and the zoo grounds are looking amazing. We have 22 hectares of adventure, learning and excitement right in the heart of Melbourne. It is such a privilege to be director of this extraordinary place. Next year we celebrate 160 years since the zoo opened, and I truly believe it has never been more relevant and more vital.

Thank you for your support through the pandemic, and we look forward to welcoming you back! •

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