What do pygmy hippos, clouded leopards, spider monkeys, nilgai antelope, sarus cranes and stingrays have in common?
They’re all among the 6,000 animal species waiting for visitors to return to Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium and Safari Park in Litchfield Park when it reopens to the public at 9 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 3 after a five-month hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This has been an unprecedented time in the zoo’s history, as both the closure and the challenges caused by the economic downturn and pandemic, impacted our ability to serve the community,” Kristy Morcom, director of media relations, said in a prepared statement.
Several safety measures and operational changes will be in place when the zoo reopens, including required masks for staff and visitors, informative signage throughout the zoo encouraging safety/social distancing, distanced ride seating, sanitation after every rider and dozens of sanitizing stations installed throughout the 100-acre facility at 16501 W. Northern Ave.
“We are grateful for the continued support from the public, even while our gates have been closed. It brings me much joy, that the time has come that we can responsibly reopen and provide our guests with a safe environment to bring their loved ones,” zoo Director Mickey Ollson said in a prepared statement.
The Sky Ride, African Tram, Safari Train, all indoor exhibits, petting zoo, the giraffe feeding station and stingray touch tank will be open. Wildlife World’s standards are subject to change based on recommendations from the state and municipal public health officials. The first 100 visitors to come through the doors on opening day will receive a free donut and free donut coupons will be available while supplies last, compliments of Alien Donuts.
When the park closed, the long-awaited, five-acre expansion that brought the Safari Park to nearly 30 acres had only been open for a couple of weeks.
With the reopening, visitors can check out the park’s two endangered pygmy hippos, as well as several other new species including Grevy’s zebras, nilgai, onagers, caracals, clouded leopards and many more.
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For the first time in the state’s history, pygmy hippos now call Arizona home. Hippos are threatened by habitat loss due to logging and human settlement and recent population estimates indicate there may be fewer than 3,000 pygmy hippos left in the wild. Although conservation initiatives are ongoing, without more information on the species’ status and a coordinated conservation strategy, the animals may disappear from the wild entirely, according to a zoo press release.
The expanded area includes dozens of new exhibits tailored to the natural habitats and needs of each species, incorporating pastures, ponds, islands and water features. Other new species making their debut include nilgai antelope, sarus cranes, and other rare and endangered African bird and hoof stock species.
Several areas also have been completely remodeled, including aviaries and primate exhibits, and construction on the park’s new tiger oasis is under way and expected to be completed in 2021.
New arrivals at the zoo include a young giraffe, penguin chick, young lemur, colobus monkey, spider monkeys, olive baboon, capybara and several hoofed animal species that include a kudu, baby zabra and baby goats.
For directions, tickets and other information, visit wildlifeworld.com, call 602-321-5478, and follow the facility’s social media media pages for updates.