Xiao Qi Ji, a 9-month old male giant panda cub, is seen Thursday playing in a tree at the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington, D.C. The zoo reopens to the public Friday after six months of closure. Photo by Tasos Katopodis/UPI | License Photo
May 21 (UPI) -- The Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute in Washington, D.C., will re-open to the public on Friday with multiple new animals on display, including a 9-month-old giant panda cub named Xiao Qi Ji.
The zoo will reopen for the first time since shuttering on Nov. 23, 2020, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with updated protocols to prevent the spread of the virus.
"As the zoo prepares to reopen to the public, updates have been made to its hours and entry requirements," the zoo said in a statement.
"In addition to limiting the number of visitors, the zoo is once again implementing required safety procedures and guidelines."
"I hope [Friday will] be a symbol of a return to normal," Director Steven Monfort told The Washington Post. "That's really why I think people are excited.
"We're on track. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel."
The zoo said it will "open conservatively" and limit visitors throughout the day from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and then work up to allowing 5,000-6,000 guests per day, roughly 20% of full capacity.
In accordance with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, all visitors over the age of 2 who aren't fully vaccinated will be required to wear masks, except while eating.
Exhibit entry will also be limited in some cases with the indoor Reptile Discovery Center, which is open only on weekends. Exhibits such as the small mammal house, gibbon ridge and Amazonia and the carousel, train rides, tide pool and all playgrounds "where social distancing is impossible" will remain closed in the first phase of the opening.
Following the unexpected birth of Xiao Qi Ji last summer, the zoo noted that access to the giant panda exhibit will be "extremely limited" to 620 guests per day, with visitors asked to limit their viewing time to 15 minutes.
"The giant pandas always have a choice of where to spend their time, including off-exhibit areas where they may be out of visitors' view," the zoo said. "Xiao Qi Ji tends to be active early in the morning and early afternoon. At this age, he takes frequent naps and his activities may vary from day to day."
Other new animals who will be available for viewing when the zoo opens Friday include an Amur tiger named Metis, a Przewalski horse named Barbie and her son Cooper, a year-old Komodo dragon named Onyx, a new wallaby joey and a kudu calf.
"It's going to be fun for people to come back and see what's new," Monfort told the Post.
"I think it'll have a psychological effect on people when they see that, 'Okay, I can go to a museum again. I can go to the zoo again.'"