Canberra’s zoo animals have been ‘missing visitors’

Zookeepers at the National Zoo and Aquarium have been keeping animals enriched and entertained, even having lunch with them, to keep them company during COVID.

First published on HerCanberra, 30 May 20

Today marks the first day visitors will be welcomed back to the zoo since it closed its gates due to COVID restrictions more than two months ago.

During that time, Russell Jackson, Business Manager at the National Zoo and Aquarium, says the animals have missed people.

“It’s been very different for them not having their visitors come through every day, and show the attention that they’re so used to. They come towards the viewing areas to see where some people might be.”

“As much as we love watching them—they love watching us.”

Naturally, in the absence of guests, zoo staff have been spending more time with the animals to make sure that they’re getting the attention they need.

“We make sure we have lunches out there with them, so they’ve got that connection still. But I’m sure they can’t wait to see smiling kids running around.”

“The primates, in particular, identify with people and their activities and love watching what’s going on. They’re very curious by nature.”

The shutdown has been a trying time for zoos and aquariums across the country, with the government offering grant assistance.

“The feed of the animals doesn’t stop—and they have to be cared for well. That’s where the government grant comes into it, and it goes some way to alleviating that, but no matter what—it’s still a testing time,” says Russell.

While the Zoo will reopen today, strict measures are in place to ensure visitor safety.

“We’ve been following the strict advice of ACT Health and the national requirements,” says Russell.

The keepers and volunteers are rostered in schedules to limit contact. They’ve been wearing face masks, exercising extra hand hygiene and maintaining physical-distance.

For visitors, there are limits on the numbers of people at viewing platforms, distances have been marked out on pathways, and hand sanitiser stations have been set up, although Russell admits that the zoo doesn’t face some of the challenges of other establishments.

“It’s a little bit easier with us. We have a huge site, where most people are spread out during the day.”

“We can limit the numbers very easily of who comes through the gate, and in the different areas within the zoo.”