TORONTO -- Zoos across the country are preparing for the return of visitors and are hard at work making sure the animals are well prepared, too.

With so few people visiting due to COVID-19 restrictions, some of the animals have had behavioural changes and zookeepers are bringing in volunteers to help get animals used to the company again.

“It's safe to say many of the species actually missed having guests around,” Dolf DeJong, CEO of the Toronto Zoo, told CTV’s Your Morning on Tuesday.

For weeks they’ve been working to prepare the animals for the zoo opening for visitors again, adopting a gradual approach to avoid overwhelming them.

“We've had to take a few weeks actually and start bringing volunteers and staff in slowly, so they could readjust to having those thousands of people on site,” he said.

During the pandemic, zookeepers noted some behavioural changes in animals who were used to being viewed crowds of people on a daily basis.

“A lot of the carnivores, the polar bears, the hyenas, they'd often be right up at the front of the habitat checking us out when we walked by, and really curious and inquisitive and sometimes even vocalizing, to kind of say ‘Hey, where are you folks?’” said DeJong.

The Calgary Zoo and Edmonton Valley Zoo are offering timed tickets to be purchased in advance, while Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg is asking visitors to buy tickets in advance and to wear masks when visiting indoor exhibits.

But a zoo visit will still be a bit different this year with some added safety precautions in place to keep visitors and animals protected from COVID-19. It starts with pre-booking a timeslot to visit, so that they can keep control of the number of people in the zoo at any given time. But they’ve taken extra measures to keep animals prone to COVID-19 safe, too.

“When you're on site you're going to see with the gorillas, with the Red River hogs, and with some of the other cats, you're going to see additional barriers and fences, pushing people back even further,” he said.

In addition, visitors will be asked to wear masks around certain species, for an extra layer of protection for both the visitors and the animals.

“You need to wear a mask because they can't,” DeJong added.

Only outdoor pavilions will be open, the Toronto Zoo is waiting for the next phase of reopening before allowing visitors into the indoor exhibits, but he said there’s still plenty to see.

“We’re talking ten plus kilometres of outdoor trails[…]so you can still see the bulk of your favourites.”