By Sarah CR Clark
While the Como Park Zoo & Conservatory this spring and summer has been closed to the public due to coronavirus restrictions, construction is continuing on Como Harbor, a new seal and sea lion exhibit.
“Como Harbor is progressing well,” Matt Reinartz, Como Zoo manager for marketing and public relations, said in an email in July. But he added the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed construction due to disruptions in the supply chain and the need for construction crews to practice social distancing on the job.
Upon completion later this year, Como Harbor will provide year-round indoor and outdoor spaces for marine mammals that will be accessible for public viewing. Its features will include: a large, tented amphitheater, two exhibit pools with multi-level viewing, new restrooms and shaded cafe seating.
The amphitheater will be home to “The Sparky Show” featuring Sparky, a California sea lion. Each year more than 500,000 students learn about nature, conservation and animal care from Sparky and her show. Project cost is about $20.4 million and construction began in early 2019. To see a video version of the artists’ rendering of Como Harbor, visit: comozooconservatory.org/como-harbor-opening-2020
As COVID-related restrictions have eased, Como Park Conservatory recently has welcomed back visitors to experience the gardens on a one-way path beginning at the Japanese Garden gate. Reservations are required for visitors, as are face masks/coverings.
Reinartz said, “We are happy that the visitors have been really following the new overall experiences with the protocols of social distancing and face masks, along with the one-way experience. We have similar plans for the zoo and hope to reopen soon.”
Apparently, some zoo animals are also eager for a reopening soon. “We have been doing some new enrichment to keep the animals engaged that have shown some signs that they are missing the guests,” Reinartz said. Zoo staff, walking across the campus, have noticed animals paying full attention to their presence.
For example, Reinartz noted, “The great apes are used to having people there so the zookeepers have been adding extra enrichment for them, even doing yoga in front of their exhibit.” Other ways to stimulate the animals have included new activities in their habitats, sounds, videos and scents, he said.