Jackson Zoo hoping to open before end of summer

Inspection needed for license on hold because of coronavirus pandemic

Jackson Zoo hoping for USDA variance to open before end of summer

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - The Jackson Zoological Park could be back open soon, even without an exhibitor’s license from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The zoo has been closed since October 1, 2019, after money troubles, an aborted effort to move across town, and finally the end of the management contract with the Jackson Zoological Society, which had operated the zoo since the 1980s.

Ison Harris, director of parks and recreation for the city, says much has been happening behind the scenes to get the zoo back open.

Ison Harris, Jackson Parks & Recreation
Ison Harris, Jackson Parks & Recreation (Source: WLBT)

“We probably have a list of about 30 projects that are actually going on,” Harris told WLBT. “We have a full staff that’s out here every day, seven days a week, feeding and taking care of the animals. They’re doing a great job holding this thing together while we work through this process.”

Much of their effort is still focused on getting the USDA license. The zoo had one before, but it was held by the now-disbanded Zoological Society. Any new operator would have to get its own license. Both the city and ZoOceanarium, a management company that has been in negotiations with the city to operate the zoo, have applied for the USDA license.

New fencing being installed at Jackson Zoo
New fencing being installed at Jackson Zoo (Source: WLBT)

Interim zoo director David Wetzel says they’re just about ready for the USDA to inspect all the improvements the agency requires, including new chain-link fencing being installed around the exhibits housing animals like ostriches and zebras. Wetzel says they have also painted more than two dozen buildings, installed or upgraded air-conditioning systems in others, and cleared brush and other growth from the zoo’s perimeter fence.

The USDA, however, has suspended all such inspections during the coronavirus pandemic.

David Wetzel, interim director
David Wetzel, interim director (Source: WLBT)

“We’re not the only ones trying to open that needed to renew or replace their license,” Wetzel says, so the USDA is letting zoos apply for a variance that will enable them to operate without a license on an interim basis. If the Jackson Zoo is granted a variance, and if the city approves, Wetzel said it’s possible he could have the zoo ready to open by sometime in August.

“Obviously, with Covid, there would be things we’d have to do,” Wetzel says. “Our buildings would be shut down, there would be a one-way path through the zoo, water fountains would be shut down.”

But something is better than nothing in terms of both revenue and company for the animals who have grown accustomed to the quiet.

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