The theater and rides at San Jose’s Happy Hollow Park & Zoo may be closed, but that didn’t dampen 4-year-old Zayden’s excitement for her first time at the zoo.
“I’m so excited!” Zayden said as he walked from the ticket office to the exhibits.
Happy Hollow is owned and operated by the Parks, Recreation, and Neighborhood Services Department in San Jose and supports the department with income from tickets, memberships, food and beverage services, parking, and more.
With COVID-19 shut the popular San Jose attraction for most of last year and several months this year as cases soared, officials are looking for new ways to meet an expected budget deficit. Happy Hollow is now open Tuesday through Sunday with timed reservations, where visitors can walk a one-way through the zoo.
While city officials couldn’t say exactly how much money the zoo lost – they are still calculating – recent budget documents show a $ 525,000 reduction in the park’s budget, some of which is attributed to Happy Hollow.
The documents also show a loss of $ 70,000 to special events, makeup and celebrations.
“There will be a loss compared to previous years, but the overall impact will not be determined until the end of fiscal 2021-2022,” said Charlotte Graham, spokeswoman for the parks department.
In the current phase of the reopening, visitors can walk through the zoo via a one-way route. Photo by Patricia Wei.
During the pandemic, Happy Hollow was supported by the parks department and city donations and is not at risk of closure, said Caitlin O’Hara, a zoo spokeswoman.
“One thing that has helped support our business is Happy Hollow’s annual membership program,” said O’Hara. “We’re also grateful to be supported by our non-profit partner, the Happy Hollow Foundation.”
The park is also looking for new ways to lure people back – including the introduction of two new lemurs that were born on April 16th.
Twin lemurs, born in Happy Hollow. Photo courtesy Happy Hollow.
The twins were born to Vintana, a 7-year-old woman, and Nify, a 19-year-old man, who have had four offspring since 2018.
Black and white lemurs are only found in Madagascar. They are classified as critically endangered due to habitat loss and demand for them in the illegal exotic pet industry.
“While their antics can be amusing, the important thing to remember is that our zoo animals are not here for entertainment,” said Kevin Hertell, manager of Happy Hollow Zoo. “Very few people will actually bring their families to Madagascar, but when you see our lemurs up close, it’s much more likely that they want to protect their wild counterparts and habitats.”
Later this month, the public will have an opportunity to name the lemur pups through a competition.
Happy Hollow officials are also looking into how to convince customers that the facility is safe.
O’Hara said workers protected animals from disease during the pandemic through quarantine requirements for new animals, foot baths before entering exhibits, and daily health checks.
“With the pandemic restrictions lifted, the department anticipates that Happy Hollow will return to ‘normal’ operations in the long term,” said Graham, adding that the parks department expects funds to be fully restored in fiscal year 2022-2023 .
But the new reservation system brought silver linings to visitors, including short lines, and they didn’t have to huddle around exhibits to get a look at the animals.
“Visitor numbers have been consistently high since we reopened in February and often reached capacity within many reservation windows on a given day,” said O’Hara.
With many public attractions closed over the past year, Zayden’s mother, Rebeca Silva, found joy in providing her son with a new experience and seeing his excitement as he gazed at animals like Sophie the jaguar.
“We’re glad we can bring him here,” she said.
Contact Patricia Wei at [email protected]