Home News Local News Virtual zoo keeps public engaged with animals

Virtual zoo keeps public engaged with animals

Juno Ogle Photo Rolls, one of two boer goats at the Spring River Zoo, samples the notes of Education Coordinator Caitlyn Lenz Tuesday afternoon as Zoo Curator Andi Cole livestreams Lenz’s presentation on Facebook. The zoo has presented educational livestreams on Tuesdays and Thursdays since shortly after the zoo was closed March 18 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Further information on the livestream topics and instructions or printables for children’s activities can be found under the “Virtual Zoo” tab on the zoo’s page on the city website.

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The Spring River Zoo has been closed since March 18 along with the city’s other parks, but the zoo staff has found a way for people to virtually visit the animals through livestreamed videos and online activity materials.

Education Coordinator Caitlyn Lenz said she has drawn from the zoo’s usual educational programs for topics for the videos livestreamed on Facebook each Tuesday and Thursday afternoon.

“We’ve sat down and brainstormed a lot of ideas as well, different things we can do for people to see, like how we interact with the animals, because a lot of times they don’t get to see that. Or how we keep ourselves safe when we’re working with the mountain lion or bears,” she said.

The staff has bathed wolves, celebrated pony birthdays and read stories with deer.

“My pre-K program I’ve turned into story time with the animals,” Lenz said. “Once a month we’ll pick a book and go sit with the animals and read with them.”

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Kelly Smith, a board member of the Friends of the Spring River Zoo, did a “Cooking with Critters” video making worm dirt cups with the zoo’s coati watching from nearby.

They’ve even produced an exercise video, doing yoga with pygmy goats Chewy and Bella and Kevin the potbelly pig.

“We’re looking at doing a planking challenge where we have snakes crawling all over us while we’re planking,” Lenz said. Viewers at home could try it with their pets, she said.

In addition to the videos, a “Virtual Zoo” tab was added to the zoo’s page on the city website, where Lenz will post additional information on each topic as well as instructions or printables for activities children can do.

“We try to keep the videos fairly short, so there’s always more for people to go and learn about if they get curious about something, they have another resource,” Lenz said.

Videos have also kept viewers updated on improvements underway with the new cougar habitat and pond cleaning. Zoo Curator Andi Cole said the pandemic has slowed the delivery of some materials, but overall the construction of the cougar exhibit is progressing well.

“Today we looked at the caging system for inside so we were talking about space and how we’re going to move them around and stuff,” she said.

City parks department crews will be cleaning out debris from the now-drained pond. Tuesday morning, the zoo staff, with the help of Animal Control, moved more than 60 ducks and geese from the pond to the J. Kenneth Smith Bird Sanctuary and Nature Center, 401 N. Sycamore.

Lenz and Cole said some of the animals have seemed to notice the public isn’t visiting any more. The bears would often watch people as they sat in their pond, and the normally shy cougars have been spending more time outside.

To keep up with local coverage of the coronavirus, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/covid-19-situation/.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.


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