Zoo’s Virtual Auction Offers Rare and Exclusive Opportunities

Words and Images courtesy of the Virginia Zoo.

November is here, the holidays are right around the corner, and it’s a puuurfect time to start your shopping with the Virginia Zoo’s Virtual Auction. The Zoo’s first-ever virtual auction contains two dozen works of art and experiences that are unique to the Virginia Zoo.

Virginia Zoo Keeper stands with a rhino flip flop animal, an item available in the Zoo’s Virtual Auction. The auction runs November 9 to 20 and benefits the Zoo’s Emergency Operating Fund.
Virginia Zoo Keeper stands with a rhino flip flop animal, an item available in the Zoo’s Virtual Auction. The auction runs November 9 to 20 and benefits the Zoo’s Emergency Operating Fund.

Exclusive orangutan, gila monster or rhino “skin print” paintings, one-of-a-kind experiences like a sloth photoshoot, behind-the-scenes encounters with exotic birds, private tours and more. The auction is a one-stop-shop for those who have it all. All proceeds from the auction will support the Virginia Zoo Emergency Operating Fund that has enabled to Zoo to continue its outstanding visitor experience, uninterrupted since its reopening in June.

A “Dung Dood” sculpture is made from elephant dung! Just one of the rare and unique artwork items available in the Zoo’s Virtual Auction. Proceeds to benefit the Zoo’s Emergency Operating Fund.
A “Dung Dood” sculpture is made from elephant dung! Just one of the rare and unique artwork items available in the Zoo’s Virtual Auction. Proceeds to benefit the Zoo’s Emergency Operating Fund.

Don’t miss your chance to bid on these incredible gifts and experiences of a lifetime!

  • Animal skin prints, paintings and footprints
  • Behind-the-scenes tours
  • Wellness Campus Tour & Vet Meet and Greet
  • Crocodile Training Experience
  • Backyard Makeover by the Zoo Horticulture Team
  • Rhino Hornbill Experience
  • And MORE!

The auction begins November 9 at 9 am and concludes November 20 at 8 pm. Visit bidpal.net/virginiazoovirtualauction  to begin your bidding.

Virginia Zoo auction offers exciting behind-the-scenes tours and opportunities like a sloth photoshoot. Bid on them at bidpal.net/virginiazoovirtualauction.
Virginia Zoo auction offers exciting behind-the-scenes tours and opportunities like a sloth photoshoot. Bid on them at bidpal.net/virginiazoovirtualauction.

About the Virginia Zoo 

The Virginia Zoo, located in Norfolk, Virginia, is home to more than 700 exceptional animals representing over 100 fascinating species. Founded in 1901 and residing on 53 beautifully landscaped acres, the Virginia Zoo has demonstrated a commitment to saving and protecting the world’s wildlife by inspiring a passion for nature and taking conservation action at home and around the world. The Virginia Zoo is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and is recognized as a global leader in education, recreation, science, wildlife conservation, and animal care and welfare. For more than a century, the Zoo has connected adults, families and school children with the natural world and its wildlife. To learn more, visit www.virginiazoo.org

YMCA & Virginia Zoo Swap Members for Second Year

Courtesy of Virginia Zoo.

NORFOLK, VA – The Virginia Zoo partners with both the YMCA of South Hampton Roads and the YMCA of the Virginia Peninsulas to swap members during the month of August.

More than 60,000 YMCA members will enjoy free, unlimited admission to the Virginia Zoo during August, plus 10 percent discounts in the gift shop and foodservice locations. Not valid for special events and education programs.

Members of the Virginia Zoo can visit any of the 22 YMCA of South Hampton Roads locations or 14 YMCA of the Virginia Peninsulas locations in August to enjoy a safe place to exercise with state-of-the-art fitness equipment, indoor and outdoor pools, group fitness classes, and child care while you work out. Pre-registration is required for pools and fitness classes, but not to visit the Y. Zoo members can also take advantage of discounted member pricing on programs such as personal training and summer camp in the month of August.

Zoo members show their valid Virginia Zoo membership card, photo ID, and complete a guest waiver form upon visiting any YMCA of South Hampton Roads or YMCA of the Virginia Peninsulas location. Y members will reserve timed tickets before they arrive at the Zoo and will need to show a valid YMCA membership card and email confirmation. For more information, visit ymcashr.org/zoo-swap.

YMCA members who join the Virginia Zoo during the month of August can take advantage of two extra months – free – on a Virginia Zoo membership. Zoo members who join the Y in August or September will pay no joining fee, a savings up to $100.

Both the Zoo and the Ys have modified operations due to the current covid-19 health crisis. Expect occupancy restrictions, limited access to certain programs or exhibits, and safety guidelines for visitors. Please visit the respective websites before scheduling your visit for further details.

About the Virginia Zoo

The Virginia Zoo, located in Norfolk, Virginia, is home to more than 700 exceptional animals representing over 100 fascinating species. Founded in 1901 and residing on 53 beautifully landscaped acres, the Virginia Zoo has demonstrated a commitment to saving and protecting the world’s wildlife by inspiring a passion for nature and taking conservation action at home and around the world. The Virginia Zoo is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and is recognized as a global leader in education, recreation, science, wildlife conservation, and animal care and welfare. For more than a century, the Zoo has connected adults, families, and school children with the natural world and its wildlife. To learn more, visit www.virginiazoo.org.

About the YMCA of South Hampton Roads

The YMCA of South Hampton Roads is a nonprofit, community-based health and human services organization that serves over 250,000 children and families throughout Coastal Virginia, Northeastern North Carolina and as west as South Boston/Halifax County in Virginia. More than 30% of those families receive financial assistance through the Open Doors program, whose funding is made available by the generosity of donors, helping them achieve their full potential in spirit, mind, and body. The Y’s doors are open to people of all ages, backgrounds, abilities, and incomes. To learn more, visit www.ymcashr.org.

About the YMCA of the Virginia Peninsulas

The YMCA of the Virginia Peninsulas is a cause-driven charity, strengthening communities on the Virginia peninsulas for over 120 years, through youth development, healthy living, and social responsibility. Across the Association, 18 facilities engage 50,000 + men, women and children — regardless of age, income or background — to nurture the potential of children and teens, improve our community’s health and well-being, and provide opportunities to give back and support neighbors. The YMCA of the Virginia Peninsulas has long-standing relationships and physical presence not just to promise, but to deliver, lasting personal and social change. To learn more, visit ymcavp.org.

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Pandemic and Heat Wave Causes Zoo to Alter Operations

Courtesy of the Virginia Zoo.

Norfolk, Va. – The Zoo has seen many visitors since its reopening in late June, however attendance numbers have started to decrease as COVID cases and temperatures increase in Hampton Roads. The Zoo will adapt new operating procedures Saturday, August 1, 2020.

“We can ensure you the safety of our staff, animals and guests are our number one priority,” said Greg Bockheim, Executive Director of the Virginia Zoo. “As we learn more about the virus, watch local trends and deal with the circumstances Mother Nature gives us, we decided to make these proactive changes to our daily operations,” Bockheim added.

During its second stage, the Zoo is adhering to these guidelines:

  • The Zoo will still limit capacity – about 30 percent of its normal visitorship. All tickets must be purchased and reserved in advance for a specific time slot – this even applies to Zoo members. Reservations are available beginning at 10 am with the last reservation at 2 pm.
  • The Zoo will return to its original days of operation, opening to the public seven days a week. However, the new hours are 10 am to 4 pm. This allows for an added hour of deep cleaning without the public on grounds, in addition to the increased sanitizing measures the Zoo has already implemented. Member Mornings are happening through September 6, 2020 and allow Zoo Members an early 9 am entry to the Zoo on Saturdays and Sundays. Reservations are still required.
  • To help ensure the safety of all guests, and to comply with all state and local regulations, all Zoo staff and volunteers continue to wear masks while on grounds. Per mandated regulations in Virginia, all visitors ages 10 and up are required to wear a mask upon entry into the Zoo and indoors. When social distancing cannot be maintained on Zoo grounds and when within 6 feet of those from a different group, visitors are required to wear a face mask or face shield to protect all visitors, staff and volunteers. 
  • Newly opened amenities with limited capacity include: Gift Shop, Africa Restaurant and the Zoo Train when weather permits. The Membership Office will soon offer a walk-up window to purchase memberships, allow pickup of cards and offer other assistance.
  • Other closures or cancellations: The World of Reptiles, ZooFarm, Enrichment Playground and Water Plaza are all still closed. Keeper Chats, ZooLive! Stage presentations and other animal encounters are postponed until further notice. Senior Wednesdays have been cancelled.
  • Food and beverages can be purchased throughout the Zoo. Strollers and wheelchairs will also be available for rent on a first-come, first-serve basis. Run Wild! Nature Discovery Zone is open.

Please visit virginiazoo.org/reopen for opening status, updates and to reserve or purchase tickets.

About the Virginia Zoo 
The Virginia Zoo, located in Norfolk, Virginia, is home to more than 700 exceptional animals representing over 100 fascinating species. Founded in 1901 and residing on 53 beautifully landscaped acres, the Virginia Zoo has demonstrated a commitment to saving and protecting the world’s wildlife by inspiring a passion for nature and taking conservation action at home and around the world. The Virginia Zoo is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and is recognized as a global leader in education, recreation, science, wildlife conservation, and animal care and welfare. For more than a century, the Zoo has connected adults, families and school children with the natural world and its wildlife. To learn more, visit www.virginiazoo.org

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Adult Night at the Zoo

Or, an excuse to post more cute animal photos…

Words by Moriah Joy.
Images by Moriah Joy and BA Ciccolella

As the Hampton Roads area is beginning to open up again, there are lots of businesses trying to make up for lost time. Sometimes it can be difficult to navigate which activities are high risk or low risk, what’s safe to bring the kids to, or good for a fun night out. Recently, the Virginia Zoo has begun to help make socializing safe and fun by introducing a new event called “Adult Night at the Zoo”.

Last week on July 24th, I had the pleasure of going and checking out this unique event. I love going to the zoo, as many adults who admire beautiful creatures do. However, going with children can sometimes be overwhelming and comes with it’s own challenges; strollers galore, chasing after the toddler distracted by the otters, or the inevitable tantrum. Sometimes you want to be able to admire the beauty and intrigue of the animals without these distractions and this is the perfect event to do just that.

Merekats eating grass
Photo by Moriah Joy taken July 2020.

With the event being for those age 21 and older only, there were many people enjoying the perfect date night, girls’ night, or just a night out of the house. Also, the event took place in the evening so the air wasn’t stifling like it is during the daytime. Tickets had to be purchased in advance to limit how many people are in the zoo at one time. This also included staggered entrance times allowing for shorter lines, making it much easier to social distance.  

Once I made it past the entrance gates, I realized how big the zoo really is. I had only been once before and forgotten a lot of the cool exhibits they had. For the most part, people were really good about standing six feet apart and wearing their masks. I also really appreciated that the bar carts around the park had a really good variety of canned alcoholic beverages, and were pretty inexpensive. Refreshing spiked lemonades, wines, beer and seltzers not only made drinking lower risk but also made the drinks more environmentally friendly with recycling bins throughout the park. They also had food for purchase with outdoor dining tables if you got hungry during your adventure. 

The red panda eats leaves.
Photo by BA Ciccolella taken February 2020

One other aspect of the event that I enjoyed was the signage throughout the park. To help people who are not always the best judge of distance, the Zoo displayed quirky and educational signs with animals approximately six feet long near their exhibits as a fun way to keep people mindful of personal space bubbles. I also really appreciated the fact that they had different displays and features labeled as “high touch points” meaning that if you choose to engage with that area, you might strongly want to consider washing or sanitizing your hands afterwards. 

Merecat posing on a rock
“I’m ready for my closeup!” Photo by Moriah Joy taken July 2020.

Unfortunately, some of the exhibits were shutdown, such as the Australian Walkabout and Reptile Exhibit, but the exhibits that were open still allowed for lots of animal enthusiast fun. My personal favorite was the meerkats, with one of them especially enjoying the attention and posing for pictures.

Tree Frogs in the Reptiles exhibit
“It’s ok, we’ll be here once the reptile exhibit opens again.” Photo by BA Ciccolella taken last February.

Overall, the experience was thoroughly enjoyable and I would recommend it to any animal lovers, or anyone wanting to do something unique yet still low risk.

Fear of missing out on looking at cute and exotic animals while enjoying a refreshing beer or wine? The Zoo will be hosting another Adult Night on August 28th, so make sure to reserve your tickets in advance!

Miss the Zoo and want to bring the kiddos along? Don’t worry they’re still open Monday through Thursday from 10am to 5pm, with Tuesday and Wednesday being member only days.

For more upcoming events at the Zoo, please visit https://virginiazoo.org/events/.

Second Phase for the Places We Love in Hampton Roads: Your Guide to What’s Open and What’s Not

Words by Penny Neef.
Images courtesy of Penny Neef.

I’ve kind of lost track of the pandemic reopening phase we are in right now. I’m pretty sure we are in Phase II. I do know that our Governor is slowly allowing public places to reopen. Restaurants can begin opening inside dining. Hair salons are reopening. I even notice the TJ Maxx by my house is doing a brisk business. I’m happy to continue cooking at home with an occasional carry-out. My hair can just keep growing until fall. I do not need one single thing from TJ Maxx.

What I really miss (besides my grandchildren’s hugs) are the places we love to visit around Hampton Roads with the grandchildren – Virginia Zoo, Virginia Aquarium, Chrysler Museum, Mariners’ Museum, the Virginia Living Museum and so many others. 

Here’s a list, in no particular order, of some of our favorite places in Hampton Roads and what you can expect right now. Check the websites before you go. Things can change at any time. Let’s hope we can continue to visit the places we love.

Two paths diverge at the Norfolk Botanical gardens. Well kept flowers line the triangle created, and a statue of a lady can be seen a bit farther down one trail.

Norfolk Botanical Garden
Very happily, one of our favorite places has remained opened throughout this crazy time. Walking through Norfolk Botanical Garden Norfolk Botanical Garden has been good for my body and soothing to my soul. For a while, none of the buildings in the Garden were open, not even the restrooms, but now there are a few restrooms open throughout the Garden. Check the website before you go. It is online ticket sales only. The children’s splash pad and the butterfly house will remain closed, but tram rides start back up again June 12.

Colorful giraffe statue at the Virginia Zoo

Virginia Zoo
Virginia Zoo opens the gates June 25 with capacity limited to 25%. It will be an advantage to have a Zoo membership. Tuesdays and Wednesdays will be for Zoo members only. The public will have to purchase tickets online and reserve a time to enter. Zoo members will also have to reserve times.

Some of the buildings, like the World of Reptiles, will be closed. The splash pad at the entrance of the Zoo will not be splashing. There will be a one way, one-mile loop around the Zoo.

“The staff and animals have missed seeing all of our visitors, so we are anxiously waiting to welcome everyone back through our gates,” said Greg Bockheim, Executive Director of the Virginia Zoo. “Your next visit to the Zoo will look different, but the health and safety for our animals and human friends is our top priority, which is why we have created our own staged opening approach to ensure a safe environment, positive and fun experience for everyone.”

A child at the glass at the aquarium watches the fish.

Virginia Aquarium
The aquatic animals at Virginia Aquarium will welcome us back on June 19. Like the Zoo, capacity will be limited, online tickets and a reserved time will be necessary. There will be a one-way path through the Aquarium. The Aquarium will be providing hand sanitizing stations throughout. They will not take any reservations from 1:00 – 2:00 each day so that staff can do a sanitizing sweep throughout the building. The giant screen theater and the café will remain closed.

“We are excited to begin reopening to guests and members, and we are pleased to implement these new policies to help protect our guests, members, staff, volunteers, and animals. Their safety is paramount, and these procedures will ensure that their only focus during a visit to the Aquarium is to enjoy themselves,” said Cynthia Spanoulis, President and CEO of the Virginia Aquarium. “We are proud to be a continuing community resource and pillar of marine science, even during our closure, and we appreciate all of the support from our friends.”

Dr Haley Neef blowing glass at the Chrylser Glass Studio
Easter Egg Time! Dr Haley Neef is the one blowing glass in this photo!

Chrysler Museum of Art
We all love the Chrysler Museum. It’s a place of beauty and serenity for me. My grandchildren love the interactive Wonder Studio, which sadly, will remain closed. I’m happy to report that most of the Chrysler is opening for members only June 16 – 19 and to the public June 20. The Chrysler is always free (free parking too), but you will have to reserve timed tickets online, as they also will be limiting capacity. 

The Café will remain closed, but you can reserve tickets online for the very popular Perry Glass Studio demonstrations at noon each day. The Chrysler is an interior space, so everyone, staff included, ages three and up, will be required to wear a mask.

Virginia Living Museum
Virginia Living Museum in Newport News is open right now. The Virginia Living Museum has both indoor and outdoor exhibits. You can purchase tickets at the door and masks are required indoors. Some of the “experiences” remain closed, like the Touch Tank, Dinosaur Discovery Trail and the playground, so know before you go.

The Museum will be limiting capacity. The visits are not timed out and reserved, so there may be a wait at the door. The Café is not open, but the Museum will allow you to bring your own snacks and eat outdoors at picnic tables.

Statue of a lion at the trailhead of the Noland trail. it is wearing a wreath as a necklace.

Mariners’ Museum and Park
Mariners’ Museum in Newport News will remain closed until we get to the Governor’s Phase III plan. My favorite part of this complex will reopen on Monday, June 15. That is the park surrounding the Museum and the Noland Trail. 

Noland Trail is the closest thing to a “real” hike to my home in northern Suffolk. There is free parking at the trailhead. Noland Trail is a 5-mile loop through woods and over and around Maury Lake. I think I’ve counted thirteen bridges. It’s a dirt trail, not something for a stroller, with plenty of tree roots to watch out for. Towards the end of the loop, hikers emerge out of the woods onto the Lion’s Bridge on the James River. It’s quite a nice view.

There are no restrooms, food or water available, so come prepared. The Museum is encouraging social distancing on the trail, which shouldn’t be a problem. Check here for updates on the Museum and Park.

A child looks down from the battleship Wisconsin.

Nauticus and Battleship Wisconsin
Nauticus and Battleship Wisconsin will remain closed until further notice. They have Virtual Adventures live on Facebook every weekday at 11:00 am. They range from tours of different areas of the Battleship Wisconsin to tips for World Environment Day by a staff member.

A child playing with light on a screen at the Children's Museum.

Children’s Museum of Virginia and other Portsmouth Museums
The Children’s Museum of Virginia, Portsmouth Art & Cultural Center, Lightship Portsmouth, and the other Portsmouth Museums are also closed until further notice.

The Children’s Museum has lots of online learning and activities on their website, including virtual tours of some of the best places in the Museum.

Let’s hope that the public continues to wear masks and practice social distancing at the appropriate times, and that we will be able to visit some of our favorite places in Hampton Roads sooner rather than later. Let’s also hope that I can give my grandchildren some hugs real soon, or at least see them in person, six feet away.

The Virginia Zoo

Words by Penny Neef.
Images courtesy of the Virginia Zoo.

I miss going to the Virginia Zoo with my grandchildren. The Zoo is definitely in my top 100, out of about a million things, I miss during this pandemic. I have virtual visits with my grandkids almost daily and once a week, we drive up to their house and have a curbside visit. It’s just not the same.

I wonder what’s going on at the Zoo without all those animal loving children and their caregivers. Are the animals enjoying the peace? Do they miss us as much as we miss them? Are they healthy and safe? We’ve all heard the stories about the big cats in NYC getting Covid -19.

Hailey, a zoo staff member, works with Boris, who is some kind of large black bird with a blue head. Boris looks kinda confused.
Hailey at work with Boris.

Ashley Mars, Marketing Manager for the Virginia Zoo, reassures me that the big cats, and all the other animals are all doing well.  ”Animal care and vet staff wear personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks and gloves, when they need to work within close proximity to each other for animal needs. They also are wearing appropriate PPE when working directly with certain species such as big cats, based on developing information and recommendations from Taxon Advisory Groups within our accrediting organization, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.”

The keepers and the staff at the Zoo continue with regular training sessions, feeding and vet care. “The health and welfare of the animals have remained a top priority for the Zoo!” Whether the animals miss us as much as we miss them is a tough question to answer. Maybe they’re enjoying this break from the public eye. Maybe it depends on the species.

Virtual Voyage is an excellent resource for Zoo activities, an augmented reality tour of the Zoo and one click links to the Zoo’s social media pages. 

Many school field trips to the Zoo were canceled this spring. The Zoo has Zoomed with over 100 students from kindergarten through fifth grade. Norfolk Public Schools has been using the animal videos in the curriculum where applicable. You and your children can take your own virtual field trip to the Zoo here.

A baby giraffe looks at the camera, while a giraffe adult looks at the baby.

There is a new baby giraffe at the Zoo. If you click on the Zoo’s Facebook page, there are details about the baby naming contest. This little guy weighed in at 146 pounds at birth. The top five names submitted will be announced on June 8, so get out that baby naming book.

If you’ve got nothing else to do and want to amuse yourself and/or your kids, be sure to try out the Selfie Station where you can turn yourself into a tiger, lion or orangutan. I know that tigers are all the “thing” right now, but I think my out of control, can’t get to a hairdresser’s hair, looks rather like a mane. This may be my new profile pic.

Penny Neef, except her face is a lion.

Of course, all this is not the same as putting my grandkids in the car with snacks and spending the day at the Virginia Zoo, but then nothing is the same. Here’s hoping “normal” is coming. We can still do our part to support the Zoo, it’s animals and the staff.

The Virginia Zoo has launched an Emergency Operating Fun to help them get through these tough times. If you love the Zoo and want to donate to a place that is special in Hampton Roads, go to click here.