The Spring River Zoo presents Keeper Cats during the month of September.
Zoo director John Wright explained on Saturday morning that these animal talks at the zoo allow people to learn about the animals while learning about the zoo keepers and what they do.
This would include providing insight into the training and expertise of those employed at the zoo.
There will be chat sessions at 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. from Friday to Monday. If visitors enjoy these displays, more could occur during times of the year when people frequent the zoo, he said.
Wright led the Saturday morning discussion, which focused on the zoo’s three ring-tailed lemurs: Lewis, Hedley and Bernie. The lemurs, all 16 years old, have been at the zoo since 2007. They have been described as siblings.
“Our goal is to add value to the experience of visiting the zoo with Keeper Cats,” he said.
Two young families saw Wright talking to someone and decided to stop.
Wright asked if anyone knew where the lemurs came from.
One of the people said they were from Africa. They were close. These primates are native to Madagascar, an island off the East African coast.
The children enjoyed hearing about how the lemurs fight: they stink their tails and wave to each other.
Specifically, animals pull their tails through glands in their upper bodies that produce malodorous substances. Then they wave those long stinky tails until one of them gives up.
“These are stinky fights,” Wright said.
One of the young children had questions – and shared his thoughts – about the zoo and the animals there.
“Why don’t you have giraffes here?” asked the boy.
“We don’t have them yet,” Wright replied.
He did not rule out giraffes in the future, especially “if we have more visitors”.
Wright said there are plans for significant upgrades to the zoo, including a new visitor entrance, an educational agricultural exhibit as well as a new area for the bears.
The focus of the zoo was heavily focused on wildlife rehabilitation. He described the animal exhibits as a “collection of injured animals in the wild”.
Wright is trying to build relationships that would allow more healthy animals to reside on the land and pursue some rehabilitation.
People brought injured wild animals to the zoo. Now, employees refer those people to the Desert Willow Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Carlsbad.
Other people have abandoned wildlife there. In one case, 16 peacocks were left at the zoo. The other seven peacocks that already live there wear tiny leg bands so they can be identified, Wright said.
He’s also considering smaller things, such as buying electronic signage that could be updated as needed – like the birth of a baby animal – as well as improving the placement of trash cans and benches so that they are more accessible in the exhibition areas.
While continuing to stand near the lemur exhibit, Wright asked some of the adult visitors if they thought the zoo had improved over the past year. He became zoo director in June 2021.
Wright asked Gregory and Melissa Carrillo, who both grew up in Roswell, what they thought of the place — specifically how they felt about the zoo now compared to about a year ago.
“We love it,” said Gregory Carrillo, who was with his wife Melissa and 2-and-a-half-year-old daughter Misty. They often come because Misty loves animals. “Things are much better here.”
The long-term goal is to “create a community treasure that benefits our residents as well as our out-of-town guests,” Wright said.
He also admitted that many improvements were still needed as the facility began to implement parts of the zoo’s master plan.
The United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Inspection Service issued multiple citations to the zoo for noncompliance in July 2021. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals requested that the site inspection be conducted by the USDA. It resulted in a longhorn steer being moved because its hooves were not clipped after the agency set a deadline for the issue to be resolved, according to earlier reports.
During this same month last year, a bear escaped from the enclosure and was seen sitting on it. The zoo was closed to the public that day, so no visitors were in danger, another account said.
Wright said the federal agency inspects to determine if a facility meets minimum standards under the Animal Welfare Act.
There are also private organizations that provide accreditation to zoos and aquariums. One of them, the Zoological Association of America, focuses on small facilities where animals are exhibited, he said.
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