May 4, 2020
By Greg Moon, Mammal Swing Keeper
Greetings Akron Zoo family! My name is Greg, and I’m one of the animal care staff here at the Akron Zoo. Since the zoo has been closed, we've been receiving a lot of questions from the community about the staff and the animals: How are the animals doing? Are animal care staff still there? What changes at the zoo on days when guests are not around? Today I wanted to answer all of those questions and give you a look into the workings of the zoo, both when we're open to the public and when we are closed.
First things first: yes, our animal care team is working every day to take care of the animals at the Akron Zoo. All of our animals require a significant amount of care on a daily basis, including preparing and providing their diet, cleaning their habitats and night areas, and providing enrichment and training sessions. All these tasks need to be completed every day, 365 days a year, so our animal care staff is on grounds daily. Like your local mail carrier, we will show up every day and take care of the animals, regardless of weather, weekends or holidays. Good luck STOPPING us when one of our animals needs anything!
Now that we've got that covered, what's different? Surely without guests some things must change, and they have! One big change has been in how staff are providing enrichment for our animals. Enrichment is a term used to describe anything we give to our animals to stimulate their brains and get them to interact. If you've ever visited the zoo and seen a large plastic ball in our snow leopard habitat, or rolls of paper stuffed with food in the grizzly habitat, that's enrichment! Enrichment can be as simple as spreading cinnamon or spraying perfume around the habitat for the animals to smell, or as complex as placing diet items inside a feeder that requires the animal to manipulate things to get the diet out.
Guests who visit the zoo also act as enrichment for our animals. This is where your absence has the greatest impact on our animals. Staff can get creative in providing a wide variety of enrichment items to our animals, but we can’t compete with the hundreds of combinations a group of guests can provide. The number of people outside the habitat, the color of their clothing, what they are carrying and what they are doing are all important variations that you help us provide to all the animals at the zoo. Without you here to provide this enrichment, animal care staff have to be even more creative. To give our animals some truly unique experiences and make up for the lack of guests, we have tried to take advantage of the empty grounds to provide enrichment we usually couldn’t. For example, those who follow us on Facebook will have already seen our Galapagos tortoises, Pagos and Boxie, roaming around the empty Komodo Kingdom building (under supervision of course). This was a great experience for all involved; one we could only provide on a day when no guests were on grounds.
Another change we made was to our training schedules. Training sessions help us keep track of our animals' health, and they serve as another form of enrichment! Win-win! On days when the zoo is open to guests we do our best to make sure all the animals are in their habitats by the time we are open to the public. This means that most training needs to take place before we open. Without guests on grounds, however, animal trainings can now take place all day. We've taken advantage of this, shifting animals like the lions and grizzly bears inside during the middle of the day for training sessions before shifting them back out onto their habitats. Not only are they enriched by the training itself, having the session at an atypical time also provides another layer to that enrichment. Again, win-win!
So that’s what’s new at the Akron Zoo. We'll continue to give the animals the best care we can during this time. If you have more questions, please feel free to let us know! We love hearing from you through our social media channels, and we want to be sure you can still connect with our animals in this time of separation. Have a great day, and we can't wait until we can see you again here at the Akron Zoo!