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Empty wildlife parks in Quebec impatiently await approval to reopen drive-thrus
MONTREAL -- Doors are still closed at Parc Safari, the wildlife park in Hemmingford where visitors can wind through grassy plains alongside animals from the comfort of their cars.
In a press release on Wednesday, parks Safari and Omega urged the government to let them reopen their drive-thru areas, saying they don’t understand why they haven’t been allowed to reopen when so many other tourist attractions across the province are back up and running.
Since the pandemic hit, the parks have been collaborating on a reopening plan that would allow them to operate while respecting public health guidelines.
“Normally we open on May 15,” Jean-Pierre Ranger, Parc Safari’s president, told CTV News. “Regretfully, the government has given the opportunity to many businesses to open, but so far has not agreed to the fact that Omega and Parc Safari are no different in the way we would receive people than going to buy something at Tim Horton’s and paying with your credit card, and that is a little bit distressing.”
The parks wouldn’t open in their entirety just yet, Ranger said. The five-kilometre stretch of open-air fields would be prioritized at Parc Safari, which Ranger said still gives visitors access to over 30 species of animals. Tickets would be sold online or on the spot with card payments only, and at a reduced rate – nearly 40 per cent off – to account for the fact that several parts of the park would be off-limits.
Ranger pointed out that this would be no different than drive-in movie theatres, which the government allowed to reopen, nor would it differ from the Toronto Zoo, which has recently been turned into a drive-thru experience.
“We don’t encourage bad behaviour by anyone, on the contrary, we invite them in their own automobile to drive through the safari and to enjoy a great outing,” Ranger said, adding that he thinks activities like this could contribute to some sense of normalcy amid the chaos surrounding the pandemic.
During the summer season, when it welcomes guests, Parc Safari employs nearly 300 teenagers, Ranger said.
“We aren’t saying we want to open all aspects of the park, but we do wish to have the opportunity to open the drive-thru and maybe bring back 100 or so of the teenagers who work with us over the summertime,” he said.
On a typical weekend day, Ranger said the park receives about 1,000 cars – which are usually families – so about four people each.
“If you put that into perspective with 18 days (since May 15), that’s quite a few families who could have enjoyed a visit to Parc Safari or Omega,” he said.
And for every day that goes by, as the park remains closed, it goes deeper into unnecessary debt, Ranger explained.
“The revenue we could have received from having a partial operation – which is that of the drive-thru safari – would have brought in 18 days approximately $900,000 of revenue to Parc Safari.”
With costs associated to the upkeep of other parts of the park being nonexistent right now, that revenue would have kept the park alive to pay running expenses, Ranger said.
WHAT’S UP WITH THE ANIMALS?
When it comes to animal socialization, Ranger said there’s a team of caretakers who are still present at the park, but that visitors play a role as well.
“Not having this activity is something we cannot measure it’s impact,” he said. “But I can assure you that when I go walk by the (animal enclosures) – I don’t want to say they’re happy to see humans, but they do have behaviour that shows that there’s something going on between them and us humans, and they’re deprived of this right now.”
Ranger said all it would take to be able to reopen is for the health ministry to simply include Parc Safari and Omega’s drive-thrus in the same category as the rest of the Quebec parks that have been allowed to open already.
He has spoken to his member of parliament, and now he waits.