The lockdown situation isn’t new anymore.
It’s been over three weeks since we’re all just sitting home and desperately wanting to go back outside. I mean, sure we can still go out but only for the essentials. And it wouldn’t be surprising if the lockdown continued for another couple of weeks as the situation doesn’t seem to be getting better at all.
As of now, there are over half a million confirmed Coronavirus cases in the U.S alone. People are dying and things are worse than ever. As a result, businesses are closed, people are inside their homes and in a way it’s completely dark outside.
Luckily, most of us are doing just fine by working from home, watching Netflix and spending time with family. But, have you thought about those animals at the Zoo who completely relied on us and our visits? According to the Zookeepers of Reddit, here’s how the animals are dealing with our absence.
Roaming around freely.
As a zookeeper coordinator I’ve been working at the now closed zoo almost every day for the past month. Animals that are free roaming (peacocks, iguanas) are more active, and follow keepers around like they usually do with visitors. Most of the others don’t show much change in behavior. Although birds like swans and flamingos are using the edges of their habitats more.
Cuddling and keeping company.
Most of our animals are happy as long as we can keep their routines, feeding times etc. For some they need a little extra. We do public encounters with our koalas, wombats and snakes among others so we spend an hour or so a day cuddling and handling these animals to keep them happy. A few of our koalas really fret if they don’t get their cuddles. Otherwise we just try to continue to spend time with animals that are expecting human interaction and of course we can take things for walks around the place like I’m sure you’ve seen at other zoos. Our wombats love a run and sniff, dingoes as well.
I live close by the zoo and we get updates a lot. In our local zoo (I live somewhere in Europe,) the apes started to miss the visitors. Keepers could tell they missed the visitors because the apes became very bored and are much more excited about the keepers than usual; apparently they watch the visitors as much as the other way around.
The keepers now have to pay them more attention to and they also do stuff like hide food for them as a game. So they brought in an artist in who’s now just painting in the empty monkey house so the apes have someone to watch.
Due to temporary staff cuts, they no longer have the people to regularly walk the wombats. Some of the wombats are holding the keepers personally responsible. Imagine having a 20kg chunk of muscle with big rodent teeth mad at you.
I work on an activity farm. There is a 22 year old Shire horse. He acts like a d*ck when there are customers around.
Basically, if he sees any customer feeding any other animal in the large barn where he hangs out in the day, he will stare at them and stomp his front hoof on the ground. That guarantees they look at him. If they don’t immediately come over to feed him, he will start kicking the heavy metal bars that divide his area and the pen next door. This makes one hell of a noise. And he will keep it up, all whilst staring at the person with the food. If they feed him then he rewards them by slobbering all over their hands as he takes the food.
Also, at the end of the day he is really good at telling the time. He knows when we close and what time he should be released from the barn and taken to the field/stables where he spends the night. If he isn’t let out bang on time he starts kicking the gate at the back of his pen. This is a big metal gate and it sounds like someone playing a giant glockenspiel with a sledgehammer. He will keep this up until it is opened.
Some customers are just scared to hand feed him. He is massive and his mouth is big enough to easily fit someone’s hand in. Some customers come up to me with their bag of food and ask me if I will feed him, because “He keeps staring at me but I’m a bit too nervous to feed him.” I happily oblige. I love that ornery old bastard.
With no customers, he’s actually still a d!ck. That being said, he’s still awesome.
They miss people, but are doing just fine.
My wife works at the gift shop for our zoo and the other day we had to go move some stuff around in the store because due to some heavy rains, it had flooded a bit.
Of course we took a lap around the empty park (other than the keepers and few maintenance workers) and found that all the animals were really active and playful. A lot of them seemed really curious about us too. I’m sure they get used to seeing crowds every day and were starving for attention.
Row row row your boat!
For a lot of our animals, having the ability to interact with guests is actually extremely important. Even for primates to be able to play with kids through the glass, they are missing out on a lot of enrichment. Guests keep a lot of the monkeys entertained. I watch our guests all day long show our marmosets and capuchins selfie cameras and they LOVE to see their reflection. Guests will also show videos on their phones to animals and the monkeys totally enjoy it.
We have a rescue cockatoo named Row who sings “row row row your boat” to guests. When little kids dance and sing it to her, she gets really excited and feeds off their energy. So do our other cockatoos on exhibit. But now without guests to show off for, every now and then when it’s quiet we’ll hear her start “row row row…” and then she stop and huffs a bit and gets really quiet and sad because she has no one to sing to. Some of our animals REALLY miss having kids to show off for.
You also have to remember that animals in zoos for the most park have grown up totally accustomed to being around people 24/7. They’re not wild animals at all really. They’ve grown up in a very different social dynamic. Quite a few animals get noticeably depressed in the winter months every year when we have few guests, and then perk up in the spring when we get busy.
That’s just sad…
My girlfriend is a zookeeper and animal behaviorist. She says their animals are becoming stressed. One of their African Grey birds has been plucking his own feathers.
She also mentioned that because they can’t touch many of the animals due to the virus potentially spreading to another zookeeper, many of the animals are looking and acting depressive, not eating well, etc.
Sea animals are a different case.
I’m an aquarium keeper, and I’ve certainly noticed a change. Fish are not as stressed as they use to be, as there are no longer children stomping around and banging on glass screaming “NEMO, NEMO, ITS NEMO” at every clownfish.
We brought some of our younger penguins down to let them watch the fish, and they were intrigued but confused as to why they couldn’t catch them through the glass.
Our octopus has become much more friendly as well, and instead of hiding all day from people, enjoys playing with small baby toys or solving food puzzles. Its been nice.
I wish there were guidelines people had to sign to behave at zoos before entering, but at the same time, they are the lifeline we so desperately need to keep functioning.
The crows must be happy.
Not a whole lot of change, but animals definitely missing out some enrichment of seeing guests, especially the otters that follow the kids in the glass under water. Takin, maned wolves, bison, gibbons, birds of prey, lions, etc all are about the same. Some of our animals that are skittish have been standing closer to the fence where guests usually are (zebras, gazelle) which is nice.
It’s kinda this weird balance of being both more and less stressed. On the one side, I don’t have to worry about keeper talks or tours and I have more time to get everything done and spend more time with animals. On the other side we’re skeleton crewed and there’s less of us to care for the whole zoo, so I’m working a lot more in areas I don’t usually cover as often.
There’s one kangaroo that still tries to box me while the emu is shifting. The one peacock still really doesn’t like taking his medications of course.
I have noticed that the crows in the city are behaving a bit differently as well; they are being a lot braver lol
In conclusion, different animals are behaving differently. While some are missing our love and attention, others are flourishing in our absence. In short, the virus outbreak has a dual affect on the animals just like it has on everything else. So, we’re just hoping that things go back to normal.
Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.