Diablo, Micke Grove Zoo’s “retired” iguana, was strolling the grounds of the Lodi zoo Friday. Soon to be 18, he was in no immediate hurry to return to his enclosure at the end of his daily hour-long walk. His human caretaker, animal care specialist Colleen Mullikin, stood nearby as he moseyed over to a nearby sprinkler head, where he settled for a moment, slightly perching on it. After giving himself a little scratch with it, he continued down through the planter bed to the nearby footpath.
“Come on! Come on!” Mullikin gently urged him on as he slowly made his way past the spider monkey enclosure, pausing often to rest in the shade.
Diablo’s life has gone on, mostly unchanged, after the zoo closed down due to the coronavirus pandemic in March. Caring for the animals has remained unchanged, with staff feeding them and making sure they remain active. What has changed is the quiet that has settled over the zoo, as no visitors are strolling through the pathways between exhibits to see their inhabitants. Some animals seem to miss their human visitors, said new zoo manager Trish Jackman, while others do not.
“We have hawk headed parrots — they look out over the parking lot to see anybody coming through the park. They love attention,” said Jackman, adding that the bobcat and snow leopard seem to miss the visitors too, as well as the spider monkeys.
“They enjoy the stimulation from the public, so it’s been a little quiet for them. We like to observe their behavior, they like to observe our behavior!,” Jackman said with a laugh.
So the staff takes sure to provide the animals some extra attention.
What has also changed is that the staff is always masked up as they interact with their animals, and also each other. During the morning cleaning of the enclosures, and during close contact with certain species in particular, staff will wear N95 masks. The rest of the time they wear lighter masks.
They also wear other protective equipment, all in an effort to protect the animals from the coronavirus, which infected some tigers at the Bronx Zoo in April. The zoo follows guidelines issued by the American Zoological Association and the CDC. The cats, the primates and the fossa can be at risk for infection, she said, but the staff wears masks around all animals and each other, to be safe.
The staff was curious as to how the animals would react to them wearing masks, but there have been no issues, Jackman said, adding “we’re still the person delivering the food.”
The unexpected closure has given staff an opportunity to tackle projects around the zoo, such as draining ponds and making needed repairs. And there is always a need for cleaning.
Staff salaries are paid by the county, but with revenue down due to the closure, Jackman said the zoo is need of donations to help with maintenance costs.
“It’s an old zoo, so it is at a point where it needs some upkeep and some TLC before we start to do any kind of expanding or new exhibits,” she said.
The zoo was looking at reopening in a couple of weeks, but the recent spike in coronavirus cases has put that plan on hold.
Once zoo staff have been given the notice they can reopen, it will take two weeks to establish the safety protocols to open the doors.
In the meantime, the care and conservation effort at the zoo continues. Some exhibits are not full at the moment, and the coronavirus has made filling them more complicated. Some transactions with partnering zoos are currently on hold, Jackman said. A couple of the male animals are waiting for their breeding partners.
“The coronavirus has interrupted some matchmaking for conservation of the species,” she said.
Jackman said she and zoo staff are looking forward to the reopening.
“We’re looking forward to be able to share our knowledge and the animals with the community once again in the future. We do miss them, all of us, animals and staff. We are looking forward to a time when we can interact again.”