Dublin Zoo has opened its gates to the public for the first time since the Covid-19 lockdown, and the animals are as glad to see the visitors as the visitors are to see the animals.
With restricted visitor numbers and a one-way system, most of the animals will be accessible. However, some animal houses as well as the shops and restaurants will remain off-limits until restrictions are lifted further.
"It has been very peaceful here and the animals are very comfortable and have been looked after very well," said zoo director Leo Oosterweghel as the Phoenix Park facility reopened yesterday morning.
"It's interesting that when you walk around, the animals are startled because they are not used to visitors any more, so it will take a few weeks to get settled into the 'new ordinary'."
Mr Oosterweghel said having people in the zoo provided an enrichment and stimulus for the animals.
"They like to see movement and change. The animals react with great curiosity."
A team of staff has been looking after the animals since the zoo's closure in March along with government guidelines on restrictions.
"It's a seven-days-a-week workload looking after the animals, so it has been busy," Mr Oosterweghel said.
"We're a fully outdoor facility now. It's really a different zoo but still a fantastic zoo," said Emma Kiernan, head of marketing at Dublin Zoo.
"We have a significantly reduced capacity, it is probably around 10pc. We have a morning slot and an afternoon slot with 500 tickets in each and customers book online."
Outside the gate in the early-morning summer sunshine, the first visitors started to arrive with great anticipation yesterday.
"We're very excited. It's the first thing we have done since lockdown - it's the most exciting thing that we have planned," said Erin O'Toole, from Tallaght, who was visiting with her son Thomas. "It was difficult to get bookings but we were lucky. We were trying for next week and the week after but the page came back to today."
Lavinia McClelland and her son Matthew (2), from Castleknock, were also waiting for the gates to open at 9.30am.
"We're very excited. It was the best thing ever when I heard yesterday that it was opening," said Ms McClelland. "The first thing we did was go online and book our slot, so this is really like heaven for us, he has been asking five times a day about going to the zoo.
"He loves the zoo and he was so excited when we told him. We were doing the monkey dance all the way up," she said as Matthew did his best elephant and monkey impressions.