The flock of flamingos in the Caribbean Coast exhibit continues their honking and fluttering around regardless of the fact that Zoo New England’s Stone Zoo announced on March 13 that it would close until at least March 31 to help stem the coronavirus.
“They’re in the middle of courtship right now. Nothing stops that,” says Pete Costello, who oversees zookeepers and the day-to-day care of the animals as assistant curator at the Stoneham facility.
“We’ve been closed now a week,” Costello tells me by phone. “It seems longer. A lot longer. It’s really weird. …. Its really weird to walk around the zoo and be the only one here. … Normally you’re answering questions from guests. But there’s no guests here, so it’s really strange.”
His animal care crew remains nearly fully staffed, he says, except for a few zoo keepers who have stayed home to care for family members. A new pack of six wolves recently arrived and they’ve been placed in quarantine for three weeks, as is the zoo’s usual practice.
“We have pretty high standards of care,” Costello says. “We’re really not changing anything. All the animals are going on exhibit. The only real change is we’re giving some of the animals more enrichment.” Especially animals animated by guests they see walk by during normal times.
“Some of the animals are noticing that there are no guests here,” Costello says. “They’re super focused when the keepers walk by.”
Among these are the white-cheeked gibbons. Zoo keepers procured a bubble machine to occupy the apes.
“We did notice the otter looking out into the public area. They’re another species that interacts with the guests a bit,” Costello says. So keepers have been freezing buckets of ice that they toss into the river otter’s pool. Fish are frozen into the middle of the big ice cubes. “So it gives them a reward when they dig through.”
Can zoo animals catch coronavirus? “We don’t know,” Costello says. The zoo already has protocols to keep human illnesses from spreading to the zoo’s animals, especially the primates, who can be more susceptible to human ailments. “We don’t have direct contact with them anyway. … If a zoo keeper comes in with a cold, they won’t work with primates.”
Are there lessons we can take from our animal cousins to help us get through a crisis?
“Just kind of deal with the change,” Costello ventures. “Don’t freak out over something you don’t have control over. Very rarely do you see animals hoard. They just use what they need.”
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