Niabi Zoo in Coal Valley reopened to the public on Monday.

“We are very excited to be able to welcome guests back to the zoo,” Niabi director Lee Jackson said in a Friday release. “Moving into the 2022 season, we have a lot of new things in the works. It is going to be an exciting summer!”

Guests will notice a number of changes this season, many of them positive. These include far fewer COVID- related restrictions, Jackson said. Visitors are no longer required to wear a mask in most areas including rides.

“We also no longer have restrictions on the number of people we can allow into the park,” he said, noting hours of operation will return to the pre-COVID schedule, with the zoo being open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (last entry at 4).

Niabi will continue its use of online ticket sales, but you will also be able to purchase your tickets at the gate.

There will be a $2 discount available for those purchasing their tickets online, Jackson said. “As with many businesses around the country, we have found it challenging to fill all of our staff positions this season. Some services may be limited for a few weeks,” he said.

Visit the zoo website for a complete list of visitor guidelines, and note that masks will still be required or visitation limited in several areas.

Niabi’s new baby leopards, Nyura and Antin, are bound to be very popular with visitors.

“The most exciting news, however, involves our animals,” Jackson said. “Several big projects are going to be underway this year, including work on a new prairie dog exhibit and a new exhibit for African painted dogs.

“There are also some exciting new additions to the zoo. Nyura and Antin, our Amur leopards that were born earlier this year, will make their debut later this spring, along with several other new youngsters that will be announced in coming weeks,” he said.

Niabi research ongoing

The zoo also is taking part in several important national and international research programs involving animals at Niabi, and in the wild.

“The role of zoos has changed radically over the last few decades,” Jackson said recently. “A zoological park that does not contribute to the conservation of species and contribute to the overall pool of knowledge regarding animal welfare, veterinary science, animal nutrition, or animal behavior, is not fulfilling its true mission in the 21st century.”

“Zoos and aquariums are and always will be places where people go to experience first-hand some of the most remarkable and awe-inspiring parts of our world,” he said. “But by our very structure we are not only in a position to do more, we have a moral and ethical obligation to do so.”

The projects, all ongoing or beginning soon, will help answer questions ranging from veterinary care, basic animal welfare, to the effective tracking of endangered species in the wild.

A full list of the zoo’s reopening guidelines and closures can be found at NiabiZoo.com. The zoo is open from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. seven days per week, with last entry at 4 p.m.