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2020 Unexpectedly Good For Wildlife Safari

Wildlife Safari

When Governor Brown announced a state-wide lockdown in March 2020, Wildlife Safari was headed into the height of their busy season - Spring Break.



“You’re always excited for the beginning of the year. All the fresh faces coming in. We’ve put all this prep work into the new exhibits and getting things looking nice,” said General Curator Dan Brands. “And here we are. We just don’t know if we’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

The day after, staff, including the new summer hires, were told the park would be closing indefinitely. That’s when some creative thinking happened.

“And by Saturday night we were calling each and every one of them back saying, ‘Hey, we changed our mind,’” Brands said.

The drive thru created a natural, socially distanced experience from people’s cars. So, the administration decided to close the pedestrian area of the park and moved the gift shop to the parking lot. Guests would only interact with staff from a distance while in their cars.

“We just had to get creative about our whole business model,” said Brands.

It took a couple weeks, but then cars were bumper-to-bumper down the mile-long road into the park, and another mile down the adjoining highway. 

Unlike many businesses in 2020, Wildlife Safari had a better year than they expected. Going into the year, they anticipated 200,000 visitors. They had 320,000. 

The average wait to enter the drive thru was about two hours. 

Brands went up and down the line thanking people for their patience. 

“People were actually thanking us for being open that day and not saying, ‘Oh. We’ve hit our quota. You need to go home. Sorry,’” said Brands.

As the summer went on, the park made adjustments to enhance people’s experience. This included adding porta potties for those waiting in line and shortcuts through the park in case people had hit their limit of being in the car.

And when many businesses were laying off staff, Wildlife Safari was able to hire more. 

With such high numbers of people working at the park and visiting last year, Wildlife Safari reported no staff being infected with COVID-19.

“We kinda hope we’re through it,” said Brands. “But, you know, if we have to go back into that situation, we’re set up for that.”


Aubrey Bulkeley co-created FLUX podcast, a three-part series to accompany award-winning UO School of Journalism and Communication publication, FLUX Magazine. Bulkeley finished her Master's degree in Journalism at the University of Oregon in 2019.
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