Home » Archive » Covid 19 took the 'oo' out of my zoo! » Page 1

Covid 19 took the 'oo' out of my zoo!

Page 1

Adrian Cloonan

I was unprepared for the call.

Paul, my immediate supervisor at Werribee Zoo, phoned to say, That’s it, mate, we are closing. See you once all this is over. 

When will that be? I asked.

Who knows? he replied.  And with that my plans for the remainder of 2020 went somewhat astray.

The Covid19 virus shutdown struck Australia in March 2020. On the advice of medical experts, Federal and State Governments enacted emergency powers to protect the population.  Businesses and organizations scrambled to act. 

Such was the case with my employer, Werribee Open Range Zoo (WZ). Featuring predominantly African grassland animals, Werribee is part of the Zoos Victoria network, attracts over 600,000 visitors each year, and employs about 200 staff, permanent, fixed-term, and casual.

As a Senior Guide there for almost 25 years, I’ve conducted ‘behind the scenes’ tours, hosted overnight accommodation, and provided interpretative commentary to a range of visitors, including school groups and seniors. I hope I have played my part in moving this zoo from merely displaying animals, into a world-class conservation organisation that protects many now-endangered species. 

As the medical advice pointed out, my age (76) placed me in the high-risk category, so I wondered at the time how big this problem was, and how the world might be different when we re-opened. 

The first action was to suspend the bus tours, based on social distancing requirements. Immediately, visitor attendance collapsed. Within days public access was suspended. This sent shockwaves through the staff - many had flexible work rosters in order to pursue zoo-related studies - as well as the local community, where suppliers and contractors were based.

But while the zoo may have closed to visitors, animals still needed to be fed and watered. Specialised breeding and animal research went on, for example, into the Orange Bellied Parrot and the Plains Wanderer, just two of the native bird species under severe environmental threat, and which researchers are committed to preserving.

Page 1

This edition