Animals in Lockdown

Gabriella Boyle, Staff Reporter

The COVID lockdowns affected more than humans. House pets and both zoo and aquarium animals have also been impacted by the pandemic. 

“Some of our animals continue to behave just as they did before our closure. Life in our coral reef tanks in Splash Zone continues at its same frenzied pace. On the other hand, some animals have clearly noted the absence of our guests.  Our sea otters, for example, were particularly excited to see their caregivers during the beginning of our pandemic closure,” said Paul Clarkson, director of husbandry operations at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey Bay, California.

According to caregivers, with no visitors many of the animals have become bored. Keepers try to use items like paper bags, boxes, and pool noodles to keep the animals entertained, but it doesn’t always work. 

“Our animals training sessions have been limited to 15 minutes to minimize contact with the animals,” said Jillian Fazio, director of the Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange, New Jersey.  “We’ve increased our animal care staff to help visualize social exposure that the animals get.”

When Turtle Back Zoo reopened at reduced capacity, their docents, the professional guides who provide human interaction for the animals, returned earlier than the public. As for the animals themselves, they have been introduced to different enrichments and activities that help mimic natural behaviors of the animals to keep them entertained.

“We’ve always taken our penguins for walks around the building,” said Clarkson. “But during our closure, those walks are less time-constrained and they can be a bit more far-reaching.”