Ginny Barret recalled bringing swarms of kindergartners through the Happy Hollow Park & Zoo in San Jose years ago, as she watched a pygmy goat use its horn to scratch itself during a Senior Safari event Thursday morning.
“That was crazy,” said Barret, 70, of San Jose and now retired. Unlike her teaching days, Barret’s trips to the zoo now involve no kids.
The Senior Safari program at the park, which drew about 500 people Thursday, aims to combat social isolation by getting older adults out to the park for a fun day of zoo tours, animal meet-and-greets, amusement rides and other activities. The event is hosted an hour before the zoo opens to the public and invites seniors (age 50-plus) to the park on the fourth Thursday of every month from May through October.
Senior Safari program participants Nick Cheng, center left, and Bianca Guerrero, center right, enjoy a tour at Happy Hollow Park & Zoo in San Jose, Calif., on Sept. 22, 2022. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group)
“I enjoy seeing the animals and it’s usually not as crowded in the morning. It’s a nice park to walk around,” Barret said as she pet the pygmy goat. “This has been fun; this is the best part,” she said of the petting zoo.
Caitlin O’Hara, communications manager at Happy Hollow Park & Zoo, said the Senior Safari is also about encouraging older folks in the community to come out, be social and get some exercise.
A ring-tailed lemur sunbathes at Happy Hollow Park & Zoo.
Senior Safari program participants Bianca Guerrero, left, and Adrienne Harber, pose with the Happy Hollow Park & Zoo mascot, Danny the Dragon.
Karie Bennett, left, a volunteer docent, leads a tour for a group of Senior Safari program participants.
Parma Wallabies are seen at Happy Hollow Park & Zoo.
Senior Safari program participant Zori Sanchez, 70, of San Jose rides a merry-go-round.
A tortoise is seen at Happy Hollow Park & Zoo.
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“We met some people today who had never been here before, so we’re encouraging that section of the community that may not otherwise come if they don’t have kids or grandkids at the proper age anymore,” O’hara said, adding that Santa Clara County officials also show up and set up resource tables to share information with the seniors. “We encourage them to come to the zoo to make use of this great community asset that we have here.”
The idea for the Safari came from discussions zoo officials had with the San Jose Rotary Club and visitors who said that San Jose needed more safe places for seniors to get out and be social, according to Heather Lerner, former executive director of the Happy Hollow Foundation.
The next Senior Safari will be Oct. 27. Admission and parking for seniors are free that day, according to the Happy Hollow & Zoo website.
Senior Safari program participants walk during a tour at Happy Hollow Park & Zoo in San Jose, Calif., on Sept. 22, 2022. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group)