TYLER — Brenna Barnhill and her 2-year-old daughter, Paislee, spent part of Monday afternoon watching thin-legged pink flamingos stomp around their lagoon at Tyler’s Caldwell Zoo, which opened nearly two weeks before the governor’s latest executive order allowed it to do so.

“She just loves animals,” Barnhill said.

A teacher from Lindale, Barnhill said her family has been spending a lot of time at home out of concern about the novel coronavirus. The opening of the zoo was an opportunity to enjoy a beautiful day with her daughter.

“We just had to get out,” said Barnhill as her daughter began to climb out of the stroller. “This gives us something to do.”

On Monday afternoon, dozens of families, many with young children, were seen watching the elephants, giraffes and other animals.

The zoo closed in March when Gov. Greg Abbott ordered many nonessential businesses to close as a strategy to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The zoo’s website says it reopened Monday, though Abbott’s Phase 2 for business reopenings — announced Monday — says zoos are not allowed to reopen until May 29.

Executive Director Hayes Caldwell called the zoo’s Monday unveiling a “soft opening,” in which the zoo tried out its newly designed one-way pathways and its reservation system.

“We’re glad to see people coming out (to the zoo) again,” Caldwell said.

His attention was then drawn to a toddler who screamed in delight after spotting a colorful bird.

“That (sound of joy) is what it is all about for us,” he said.

Some restrictions and precautions are in place.

“Some adjustments have been made in response to COVID-19,” a message on the zoo’s website says. “The primary modifications have been made to provide adequate social distancing.”

To restrict capacity, the zoo is requiring guests to go online and make reservations for a specific time slot. Visitors must follow arrows that guide them in the same direction. Signs ask visitors not to touch some surfaces and to practice social distancing. Hand-sanitizing stations have been placed throughout the zoo.

Dining inside the zoo’s Chakula Cafe is not allowed. One family on Monday was eating outside the cafe in the Africa exhibit overlook, where some tables are blocked off to help guests observe social distancing.

Health officials have said that limiting the size of crowds, frequently disinfecting hands and keeping about 6 feet from strangers help reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Zoo employees were wearing protective masks. One was sanitizing handrails near the otter exhibit.

The petting pen, rhino house, penguin house, reptile building and a playground — areas in which guests often come in close contact with one another — were marked off limits.

Barnhill said she was happy to comply with the social distancing requests and that the restrictions were reasonable.

“I am comfortable that the zoo is taking precautions,” she said.

The zoo will lift restrictions “as soon as it is feasible,” Caldwell said.

Paul Swen, a marketing representative for Caldwell Zoo, said the goal is to make as much of the park as accessible as possible.

“You can see almost every animal,” he said. “Even though you cannot go into the rhino house, you can still see the rhino (in its enclosure). The vast majority of animals are still on display.”