After celebrating 50th anniversary, St. Louis Children’s Zoo set to close in October

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Photo courtesy of Abby Reitz

Junior Abby Reitz made her initial memories at the St. Louis Zoo as a young child. In high school, she has spent her time there as part of a volunteer program. In late October, the Emerson Children’s Zoo is closing permanently.

Sophia Scheller, Staff Reporter

The coronavirus pandemic has caused many economic struggles for small businesses and families alike, and while the St. Louis Zoo is taxpayer funded, they recently decided to close the Children’s Zoo for good. 

In a statement, St. Louis Zoo president and CEO Jefferey Bonner said, “It was a heart-wrenching decision to close the Children’s Zoo, however, safety is our highest priority. The Children’s Zoo was designed for high-touch and interactive experiences, which is not conducive to a COVID or post-COVID environment.”

The original permanent Children’s Zoo opened in 1969. It had woods and tunnels and featured the goat yard that became a permanent feature of the Children’s Zoo and one of its most popular locations.

In 1997, the Children’s Zoo temporarily closed for expansion work. Emerson Electric made a $3 million donation and on May 16, 1998, the new, 3.5 acre Emerson Children’s Zoo opened in the same location as the original Children’s Zoo. It is home to over 300 animals.

The zoo initially closed in March due to the virus; reopening happened in June, without many of the same memorable experiences such as the animal shows, water bubblers, playground and the goat yard. 

Photography teacher Meghan O’Donnell has taken her family to the zoo since it reopened over the summer.

“We went there one time over the summer and it was strange, but it was nice to enjoy something that we love to do before we went back to school,” O’Donnell said. “When I heard the Children’s Zoo was closing I was upset because it is one of our favorite spots to go to at the Zoo.  My whole family has wonderful memories at the Zoo.”

Abbey Freund, senior, has made fond memories at the zoo and all that it has to offer.

“I remember going with my family when I was really young and getting my face painted and I loved walking in and seeing the seal statues,” Freund said. “I have photos near them. I also loved going into all the different houses with my friends or for field trips.”

“I especially loved the penguin exhibit and I remember getting stuffed animals [from the zoo],” Freund said.

Junior Abby Reitz volunteers at the Zoo. Her jobs include helping out with stingrays, birthday parties, classes, camps and more. She typically worked three-four days a week, but she said the volunteer program is temporarily shut down due to COVID-19.

When she heard the Children’s Zoo was closing she was upset. 

“I was really sad. Even now when I’m 16, I just like to go brush the goats and [even just] walking around. I love the pot belly pigs, they are so cute,” Reitz said. 

The Children’s Zoo will remain open with free admission until the end of October. Animals currently house there are being moved to other locations throughout the zoo or moved to other facilities. A dinosaur exhibit including animatronic dinosaurs will take the space of the Children’s Zoo starting in Spring 2021. The new exhibit will be called “Dinoroarus” and there will be an admission fee charged. 

Financial struggles and the conditions that the virus have imposed on exhibits like the Children’s Zoo have only expedited the process of closing. There were plans to create a new experience in the space within five years, due to new research regarding early childhood development, but the virus sped it up to this year. 

Despite the Children’s Zoo closing, the rest of the zoo and the other special exhibits are still active in figuring out how to get citizens involved in nature. 

“We are planning a conservation action workshop,” Reitz said. “I’ve also been attending seminars learning about animals and conservation. We can do citizen science which could be frog watch and things for box turtles. [We can] even [do] iNaturalist.”