Riverbanks Zoo cares for its animals during crisis

Riverbanks Zoo cares for its animals during crisis

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Several weeks ago, the Riverbanks Zoo temporarily closed its doors as a proactive measure to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Still, the zoo continues to engage the public despite the temporary closure.

“We want to share it with everyone,” John Davis, the director of animal care and welfare at Riverbanks Zoo, said.

How long the gates at Riverbanks Zoo stay closed remains unknown. However, Riverbanks Zoo keeps the community connected to the wildlife by opening a virtual door with its Z-learning initiative.

"Uplifting not only for the community, but it's also great for the zookeepers," Davis added.

Riverbanks Zoo streams interactive learning experiences on its Facebook page. And, they later post the Z-learning episode to its website. The staff takes pride in engaging our community with the animals at the zoo. The Z-learning project serves a bridge to provide joy, along with emphasizing the purpose behind the mission at the zoo.

"We like to tell our stories," Davis said. "It brings a real positive message. Make sure they bring a bright spot to everybody to help get through this. We're all in this together."

Riverbanks Zoo staff adjusts to life without guests during temporary closure

However, a weird sensation sets in when the staff at the Riverbanks Zoo arrive to work.

"Every day when we come and pull into the parking lot and it's missing the guests and visitors, it's very strange," Davis said.

The Z-learning project serves a bridge to provide joy, along with emphasizing the purpose behind the mission at the zoo.

"Animals at the zoo continue to serve as ambassadors to their wild counterparts," said Davis. "We want to make sure people keep that message that there are animals in nature that need our help."

With that in mind, the animals under their care need the same during this time of a global pandemic.

"Keep them in safe environments and enriching habitats," said Davis. "That's our goal, and that will continue without a doubt."

Well before the COVID-19 crisis, enhanced safety measures were already in place to protect the primate population within Riverbanks Zoo.

"They're very susceptible to common colds and our viruses," added Davis. "We always have measures in place to protect them. Keepers always wear protective gear when they go into those facilities."

The zoo continues to gather information on the possible transmission of COVID-19 to animals. Recently, the Bronx Zoo reported a tiger contracted the virus.

"Our two veterinarians on-site keep a close track of that," Davis mentioned. "We're taking all necessary precautions. Also, with some of our animals that have identified with that, our Tigers, we're starting to wear protective gear in there, as well."

Riverbanks Zoo continues its high standard of care with widespread safety measures implemented throughout the zoo, including adhering to social distancing guidelines.

"Working to make sure we have adequate supplies of gloves and masks," Davis said. "Very important keepers maintain PPE practices in place more than ever now."

It's also important to keep spirits up for the keepers and the animals in their care.

"Have had to step up some of our enrichment activities and make sure we adhere to strict practices to make sure our animals are physically and psychology maintained through all of this," said Davis.

Davis added the unknown of the virus makes everyone uneasy. He said the best way to stay positive is to focus on the here and now.

Riverbanks Zoo also reduced its staff to ensure they can provide proper financial support to care for the animals and the zookeepers. Davis hopes in time hopes to bring those employees back when this is over.

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