Animal Safety at the Zoo: Babies Can Teach Us a Thing or Two!

Call them clever. Call them rascals. Call them creative. Over the past several months, there have been a few animals that have found their way outside their usual space at the Zoo. In light of these recent experiences, we thought this would be a great opportunity to talk a bit about safety and how we keep our keepers, guests, and animals safe, and how we’re working every day to make the Zoo even safer.

Babies can be unpredictable – particularly the elephant variety. You may have read or heard that our newest elephant addition, Duncan, accidentally found his way outside his habitat the other day. He was sleeping, got startled by a member of his herd, and scooted right under the cabling. He was still in a fenced area not accessible to guests, but he was definitely out of his element. Luckily, the keepers responded within minutes and were able to encourage baby Duncan back into his habitat in less than ten minutes.

Baby Elephant Duncan
Baby elephant Duncan

Another recent set of escapees was a band of mongooses. These clever animals figured out a way to unlatch a utility hatch that linked their habitat to the adjoining space within the back area of the building. After some very persistent keepers offered them their favorite treats, they were coaxed gingerly back into their usual digs. We should note that at no time were they outside the building in an area available to our guests.

What did we learn from this experience? Mongooses may not have opposable thumbs, but they are quite resourceful and creative! Since then, we’ve replaced and tested the latch to be sure they’ll stay put in the future.

One of the curious mongooses
One of the curious mongooses

Finally, several months ago, two tiny baby bears named Belle and Willow decided to create their own  adventure on their very first day out in their new habitat. These enterprising young climbers went straight for the sky-high rockwork lining their habitat and commenced climbing. They enjoyed investigating a tree and a planter and were eventually coaxed down.

Belle and Willow are definitely excellent climbers.
Belle and Willow are definitely excellent climbers.

Another excellent lesson: bears, however small they might be, can scale even the highest of rocky outcrops with just a few strategically-placed footholds. With our rockwork experts working overtime to modify the habitat, the bears were able to be released back into their environment post haste with no incidents since.

Though we regularly review our very rigorous safety procedures, it’s always good to take a step back and take even more steps to be sure we continue to be as safe as possible. Though many of our animals are highly trained and all are excellent ambassadors for their species, there are still many animals that are dangerous to humans. Here are a few ways we ensure that these animals, our guests, and our keepers stay safe.

As you probably know from daily life, checking and double checking is always a good thing. Ever wondered when you head off for vacation if you really did lock your front door, and then head back to check it?

It’s important for you, but it’s extra important for a zoo that deals with animals like venomous snakes, for example. While keepers in the Reptile and Amphibian House have always double checked the locks on habitats once they have completed cleaning them, as of today, we are adding an additional layer of security. We have added a third check with a Zoo Ranger also checking each and every one prior to the building opening.  Our awesome Zoo Rangers not only help our guests when they need directions, but they are an extra layer of safety for our all of us as well!

One of our Zoo Rangers - look for the red shirts. They keep us safe and they also help our guests feed the giraffes!
One of our Zoo Rangers – look for the red shirts. They keep us safe and they also help our guests feed the giraffes!

One thing guests may not know is that our animals have even more space than you can actually see when you visit. For example, our chimpanzees have an extensive network of bedrooms behind the scenes where they can spread out and bed down for the night. We call it “shifting” when we move animals from their habitat to a behind the scenes area like this.

Because shifting animals involves opening and closing doors and movement of animals from one space to another, it is a chance for error, and making errors in these situations is a risk we can’t take. As a result, we always have two keepers present to be sure that they are checking each other’s work and that they open and close the right latches and doors, for example.

So as you can see, our animals definitely keep us on our toes. They amaze us with their abilities and surprise us with their creativity. Despite occasional surprises, though, the dedication, experience, and concern for safety of our keepers is essential to keeping our guests, animals, and staff safe. We also continue to learn from these experiences and review our safety protocols frequently to be sure safety is always first!

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