By Marissa Parra

BROOKFIELD (CBS) — The Brookfield Zoo is not immune to the challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic has brought, and it’s meant some tough decisions and some improvising.

CBS 2’s Marissa Parra took a tour to see for herself.

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“It’s a little lonely out here,” admitted zoo Director Stuart Strahl.

The occasional call of a nearby animal breaks up the silence. The financial loss has been massive.

“Normally this time of year, we’d have a full house. That means 8,000 to 10,000 people on a weekday, and 20,000 on a weekend day.”

The financial loss has been massive.

“Being closed for April, May, it’s a tough hit, there’s a huge deficit because of that.”

Strahl said 70% of the year’s revenue is usually earned between now and September

It’s a big loss for an industry with a demanding and unyielding daily budget. “It costs us about $41,000 a day to feed our animals and care for them,” Strahl said.

The deficit has meant layoffs and furloughs roughly a third of their employees

Strahl said they have tried to keep morale up in and out of the zoo by bringing the animals into homes with online “Keeper Chats.”

For over two months, we’ve missed the animals. It turns out, they miss us too

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“They’re used to seeing dozens and dozens of people,” Strahl said.

On the flip side, the quiet days have allowed for more time for research and bonding.

“It gives keepers a lot of time with their animals,” Strahl said.

Brookfield Zoo spokeswoman Sondra Katzen told CBS2’s Parra there is no approximate date yet for when the zoo might reopen.

“We have been closely monitoring COVID-19 developments, the significant increase in reported cases, and recommendations from local, state, and federal government agencies. We do not have a reopening date at this time,” Katzen said by email.

Brookfield Zoo representatives said zoos do not know which phase of the state’s reopening plan they are included in, so they are waiting in limbo – though they have plans in place when the day comes.

When the zoo does reopen, visitors will find it will look a little different. 

There will be fewer people, with a lower capacity. Visitors will be asked to wear a mask, and in an effort to keep people spread out, buildings will be closed. The zoo will be switching to a timed ticket system to manage crowds.

The zoo noted that it will be closed for half its high visitation months – May and June – and anticipates half of its normal attendance for July and August. That means a 60% reduction in attendance-based revenue for the year.

 The zoo is also waiting on more direction from the governor and the Illinois Department of Public Health. For updates on Brookfield’s plan, click here.  

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To learn more about ticketing, adopt an animal, or make a donation to the zoo to keep it going, you can also go to the Brookfield Zoo website.