May 20, 2020 / 12:43 PM / in 3 months

Roll up, roll up: Hungarian circus beats virus by becoming safari park

SZADA, Hungary (Reuters) - Like many business owners, Jozsef Richter has had to shut his circus during Hungary’s lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, but he has found another way of entertaining visitors while respecting social distancing rules.

People sit in a car as the Hungarian National Circus opens a drive-in Safari Park during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Szada, Hungary May 19, 2020. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

People can now see around 100 circus animals from the comfort of their own cars in his Szada Safari Park, which opened its gates on Wednesday. The five-acre park is a short drive east of Budapest.

The animals include camels, elephants, giraffes and even two “zonkeys” - a cross between a circus zebra and a donkey.

“I have long dreamed of creating such a park but it would have been very hard to operate it alongside the circus,” Richter said. “Now... we have had to close for several months so I thought this would be the time.”

Visitors are queuing up already to see the animals, which Richter said are all accustomed to human proximity and attention.

Camels poke their heads through car windows for sticks of carrot. Giraffes and elephants also reach in to help themselves to veggie treats.

“People stay in their cars, there is no (human-to-human) contact,” Richter said. “The animals are docile and used to people.”

The park also throws a financial lifeline to his business. The entrance fee for adults is 2,000 forints ($6.25) and for kids 1,500 forints.

“This helps us survive (closure),” said Richter. “Reserves could run out... This is better than relying on charity or asking for help, and we keep our audience entertained.”

“I think the animals also enjoy getting little treats and being in the limelight again.”

One of the first visitors to the park, seven-year-old Ildiko Nandori, said she enjoyed the visit: “It was good because we could go near and even touch the animals.”

Writing by Marton Dunai; Editing by Gareth Jones

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