Zoo Knoxville battles back

Tom KingInside 640

“Zoo Lights” is a piece of  Zoo Knoxville Director Lisa New’s “Pandemic to Possibility” strategy as this dedicated professional leads our zoo out of the COVID-19 morass. New recently spoke to the Rotary Club of Farragut and was chock full of fascinating information about pandemic survival, the future and details about our zoo that you might not know.


When Covid forced the March 16 closing of the zoo, New said: “It was the worst possible time for us to close but we had no choice.” They were emerging from winter when they are typically financially strapped. Zoo Knoxville did not reopen until May 18 and they lost approximately $22,500 a day.

One of the beautiful Zoo Lights on display now at Zoo Knoxville through Jan. 3.

During those 63 days, they still had to care for the animals’ needs. Keepers’ schedules were changed. Payroll had to be met. New said pandemic donations of $250,000, the government’s PPP program, the CARES grant, plus city and county relief made all the difference and the zoo is back to about 85% of pre-Covid attendance.

Here are a few other things she shared:

  • The zoo’s three tigers are doing OK after testing positive for Covid. “No doubt a keeper or someone from the public infected them,” New said. “They were mildly ill.”
  • The zoo has a new male lion and a new female is about to arrive so the zoo will have a breeding pair.
  • The new North American River Otter area will open April 2021.
  • The new $18 million Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Center will open this coming spring.

Zoo Knoxville’s newest fundraiser has just begun – Knoxville’s newest light spectacular “Zoo Lights” – sponsored by Chick-fil-A.

“This is an incredibly beautiful light display that fits with our zoo perfectly,” she said. “It’s spectacular.”

This is an outdoor lantern light-up with a variety of colorful animal lanterns, tree lights and more scattered throughout the zoo. It began Nov. 27 and runs through Jan. 3 from 5-9 p.m. General admission is $15 and $2 off for zoo members. Children under 2 are admitted free. The zoo will be closed Dec. 24-25, Dec. 31 and Jan. 1.

To read more about Zoo Lights and purchase tickets, click here.

To explore membership in the Rotary Club of Farragut, email tking535@gmail.com or call 865-659-3562. Tom King has served at newspapers in Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and California and has been the editor of two newspapers.

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