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

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Adrian Cloonan

Morilli, one of the serval, an African cat species, no longer went through her paces, leaping, twisting and turning, and seeking out food hidden in the long grass at a specific time in a secure enclosure, where the public could get a close-up view of her movements. Her keeper Suzanne could not provide an interpretative commentary on her actions, instead taking her for long walks to previously off-limits areas of the zoo, always on a leash of course.

Senior zookeepers reported regularly with postings on the staff website. New arrivals, both from other zoos, and births, were housed and settled in. Newborns were soon photographed moving around their exhibit areas with their parents. Of course, animal deaths occur. These were often long-standing favourite animals and, amid human mourning, much sharing of photographs occurred.

Those staff stood down still wanted to know what was happening back at work. They had to rely on photos posted on the internal website; keeping in touch via Zoom meetings; being phoned regularly by staff still on duty. Management reported on planning meetings outcomes. Considerable preparation had to be undertaken so that when visitors returned, certain restrictions and health protocols were observed.  

Loyal Zoos Victoria members, some 250,000 strong, particularly missed the opportunity to visit their zoos. Many questions were posted online regarding care, feeding and general welfare of the animals. The zoos responded by initiating “Virtual Zoo” encounters, “Animals at Home” talks (Ross, on hippos, proved a hit), and “Lion Cam” had 500,000 hits on one weekend alone. Weekly “Conservation Conversations” of 60 minutes length also proved popular.

But with the zoo closed, there was no income for 10 weeks. The Federal Government eventually came to the rescue with a national zoos “animal feed” package, to the tune of $95 million. (Our CEO was particularly relieved when this came through).

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