Although we’re closed to the public and missing our members and guests, things aren’t slowing down at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. From daily animal care and enrichment to veterinary procedures, special projects and COVID-19 management, we’re operating with energy and passion to prepare for the day we can welcome you back.
“Our organization is unique because although we’re considered an attraction, we are exempt from the stay-at-home order as a critical service, so we won’t halt or slow operations in the absence of guests,” said Jeff Halter, vice president of animal care. “We have animals to feed and care for and a huge mountainside campus to keep up. Our team is enthusiastic and flexible. They’re doing a great job embracing the new responsibilities and fulfilling their normal day-to-day roles, which helps provide a sense of normalcy for our animals and for our staff.”
Animal care is always a top priority. CMZoo keepers are finding creative ways for the animals in their care to stay enriched while guests aren’t visiting. Sometimes, they can enrich two groups of animals simultaneously, by inviting them to visit each other.
“Human guests can be a form of enrichment for our great apes, who often like interacting with our guests through glass walls” said Joanna Husby, animal care manager. “Keepers have found creative ways to enrich the gorillas and orangutans, by inviting small animals like Waffles, our African cape porcupine or Alfred and Harley, our domestic ferrets, to walk the halls of Primate World.”
The visit to Primate World is enriching for the small animals because it’s entirely new terrain, with new sights, smells and sounds. Because the doors won’t open and the great ape habitats are sealed with glass walls from the inside, the ferrets, helmeted guinea fowl, porcupines and more that visit are generally free to roam all of the public spaces in the building.
The small animals’ field trips to Primate World seems to interest the apes, too.
“The Western lowland gorilla troop has been really interested in our little visitors,” said Husby. “They’ll come and sit right by the windows and watch from the other side. The gorillas will even walk from one side of the room to the other, intently watching the smaller animals.”
Keepers are continuing to train with the animals, which will hopefully avoid any training regression due to the pause in animal demonstrations and keeper talks for our guests. That consistent training allows animals to make choices in their own care, such as shifting from one area of their exhibit to another, participating in voluntary blood draws and injections, receiving ongoing hoof care and more.
“In addition to finding creative ways to keep our animals enriched and healthy, all departments in the Zoo have stepped up disinfectant procedures and distancing practices,” said Halter, who also leads CMZoo’s emergency response team.
Permanent Zoo staff are considered essential personnel, so we’re returning to work as usual, as outlined in government mandates. Employees have several options for taking time off work, should they find themselves at risk, exposed to or diagnosed with the virus.
We have socially distanced outdoor staff meetings occasionally, where we share updates and talk through concerns. Leadership keeps employees updated on the challenges our community is facing and the changes we’re embracing on a daily basis. Because the Zoo has been financially conservative for decades, we are fortunately prepared for these types of situations.
The Zoo is also embracing its role as a community resource, even while we can’t invite our community inside our gates. Through online Spring Break Zoo Camp activity videos, keeper talks, animal demonstrations and moments of #CMZooZen, our team continues to reach our fans and inspire a love for animals and the natural world. CMZoo’s social media platforms are buzzing with our timely series called Abnormally Normal.
Although we’re temporarily closed, we’re permanently committed to caring for our animals and keeping you connected to our mission, our animals and the natural world. It’s definitely an abnormal time in the world, but we’re providing special glimpses at how normal things are at the Zoo. Follow our Abnormally Normal Video Series on Facebook and YouTube! As always, our guests are enjoying the giraffe herd remotely, using our two live streaming Giraffe Cams overlooking the outdoor yard.
We’re preparing for our Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accreditation inspection, which is scheduled for this summer. The accreditation process is intense, and happens once every five years. We’re taking this time to tackle small projects around the Zoo that help prepare us for inspection. Helping us with those tasks are our guest services staff, who have worked tirelessly to take on projects outside of their usual responsibilities, to make sure the Zoo is as fresh, clean and organized as possible when we welcome AZA inspectors later this year.
Currently, the Zoo has a goal to reopen to the public as soon as April 17, 2020. However, we will take cues from our local and national government officials to see if that timeline still makes sense as we get closer to the date. For the latest updates on the Zoo’s reopening date, check out the green alert bar link at the top of the page at cmzoo.org/alerts.