All of the can’t-miss places in Denver are closed. Gone this spring are the matinee baseball games at Coors Field, stair running at Red Rocks, and patio seating at your favorite restaurant. Even the Denver Zoo, known for being open every day except for Thanksgiving and Christmas, is shuttered.
Coloradans are, of course, missing the zoo animals we’ve grown fond of over the years. But it seems that many of the animals miss us, too.
I spoke with Emily Insalaco, general curator for the Denver Zoo, about how the animals are coping during the zoo’s closure due to the coronavirus outbreak, and she noted that several animals, including Vinh the Gibbon and Ralph the Emu, are actively looking for guests.
“Ralph watches for people to peer over the fence and interact with him,” Insalaco says. “Without those guests, we keepers have noticed him soliciting attention over doorways and through windows.”
Zookeepers are letting one another know which animals would like visits. Ralph is high on that list.
“It’s a way for our staff to still engage safely because we’re also practicing social distancing on the grounds,” says Insalaco, who oversees the animal care teams. “We’re finding ways to meet some of those requests that our animals are giving us.”
The animals are giving the zoo staff extra attention, as well.
“I’ve noticed Dobby, our young giraffe, has spent an entire morning overseeing our horticulture staff that was doing yard work,” Insalaco says. “So, we’re definitely seeing animals taking an interest in different things.”
One of the animals taking advantage of the newfound solitude is a male tiger named Yuri. Yuri is the zoo’s newest tiger and typically remains hidden from guests. However, without constant visitors, he seems more curious about his surroundings.
“He’s doing a lot more exploration at the front of the exhibit since we’ve closed, and the keepers have been taking advantage of that and trying to encourage him,” Insalaco says. She’s also hoping that he begins to use the catwalk above the exhibit more frequently.
For mammals like Uri, the zoo is implementing extra precautions after a tiger tested positive for COVID-19 at the Bronx zoo. Via Twitter, the Denver Zoo released the following statement:
“In response to the recent human-to-animal transmission of COVID-19 that occurred at the Bronx Zoo, we are continuing to take every necessary measure to protect our staff and animals. Although we currently have no confirmed human or animal cases at the Zoo, we have decided to extend our face mask policy to any animal care staff working with all mammals at the Zoo. All animal keepers, managers, veterinarians, vet techs and nutritionists will be required to wear a mask anytime they are within six feet of a mammal, their food, or any item the animal might come in contact with.”
Even amidst these extra precautions, some animals are getting to explore more space than they’re typically used to. While local students study from home, zookeepers have let the snakes stretch out in the empty zoo classrooms. Some animals have also traveled around the zoo, visiting various exhibits.
“The zookeepers are bringing the macaws [the type of parrot most associated with pirates] around to meet animals,” Insalaco says. “The macaws were interacting with the baby mandrills through the glass window, and apparently one of the macaws said, ‘oh wow!'”
The zoo is also trying to stay connected to its guests during this time. On its website, they have a baby rhino camera and are live streaming with different zookeepers each day.
“Just like the animals miss the guests, we miss the guests too,” Insalaco says.