Be­hind the Scenes at the Zoo


The Day - Sound & Country - - Behind the scenes at the zoo - By Dirk Langeveld

By the time the gates to the Roger Wil­liams Park Zoo open, at 10 a.m. sharp each day of the week, the zoo’s staff has al­ready been hard at work for sev­eral hours.

Some peo­ple ar­rive as early as 7 a.m. to be­gin pre­par­ing the zoo for the day ahead. As the an­i­mals wake up, keep­ers give them their break­fast and any needed med­i­ca­tions, clean out their habi­tats, and per­haps do some train­ing with the crea­tures. The op­er­a­tions and fa­cil­i­ties crews walk through the 40-acre cam­pus, mak­ing sure it’s spot­less.

The Roger Wil­liams Park Zoo has 125 per­ma­nent staffers, and the pay­roll swells to about 400 dur­ing the busy sea­son be­tween April and Oc­to­ber. Peo­ple may en­counter many of these work­ers dur­ing their visit, but can eas­ily be un­aware of the hard work that goes on be­hind the scenes.

An­i­mal care is a par­tic­u­larly large de­part­ment. There are more than 100 dif­fer­ent species in the zoo, and sev­eral new an­i­mals ar­rived this sum­mer with the de­but of the Faces of the Rain­for­est ex­hibit. Through­out the day, two vet­eri­nar­i­ans and their tech­ni­cians con­duct on­go­ing med­i­cal and den­tal ex­ams, vac­ci­na­tions, and other check­ups to en­sure that the an­i­mals are healthy.

“Many of the keep­ers have been here for years,” says Diane Na­habe­dian, di­rec­tor of mar­ket­ing and pub­lic re­la­tions at the Roger Wil­liams Park Zoo. “They know their an­i­mals very well and they re­ally have bonded with them.”

One area that vis­i­tors don’t see is the com­mis­sary. This is where Dr. Michael McBride, di­rec­tor of vet­eri­nary ser­vices, works with the an­i­mal care staff to de­ter­mine what diet is ap­pro­pri­ate for each an­i­mal. Oc­ca­sion­ally, a spe­cial treat is in­cluded with the day’s meal; for ex­am­ple, the two-toed sloth is a big fan of scram­bled eggs.

Since the com­mis­sary is sub­ject to the same reg­u­la­tions as a restau­rant, a vis­i­tor may even think it looks like an eatery at first glance. But then you’d no­tice some things that wouldn’t go over so well with hu­man vis­i­tors.

“You’ll see a lot of pro­duce, but there are also things like crick­ets and frozen mice,” says Na­habe­dian.

Some pro­grams give vis­i­tors a glimpse at the of­ten un­seen re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of an­i­mal care. In the Break­fast with the Moon Bears event, par­tic­i­pants help keep­ers pre­pare a habi­tat for the day. An­other morn­ing pro­gram in­cludes a tour of the ele­phant barn and the prepa­ra­tion of the pachy­derms’ break­fast.

In ad­di­tion to the an­i­mal care staff, em­ploy­ees at the Roger Wil­liams Park Zoo are in­volved in phil­an­thropic ef­forts, ed­u­ca­tional out­reach, pub­lic re­la­tions, fi­nan­cial man­age­ment, and se­cu­rity. The zoo is part of the city of Prov­i­dence, but man­aged by a not-for-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Na­habe­dian says the zoo’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Dr. Jeremy Good­man, has been vig­or­ous in em­brac­ing con­ser­va­tion ef­forts as well as up­dates to make the zoo more en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly, up-to-date, and ac­ces­si­ble. How­ever, she says she sees this pas­sion in other work­ers as well. For ex­am­ple, se­cu­rity per­son­nel are fo­cused on keep­ing vis­i­tors safe and help­ing re­spond to med­i­cal emer­gen­cies, but of­ten know enough about the an­i­mals to chat with vis­i­tors about them.

“I think it’s what makes us so spec­tac­u­lar as a zoo, is just the com­mit­ment to the an­i­mals and their con­ser­va­tion and the en­vi­ron­ment,” says Na­habe­dian.

Once the zoo closes at 5 p.m., the keep­ers do an­other round of feed­ings and get the an­i­mals bunked down for the night. Se­cu­rity staffers check each build­ing to make sure ev­ery vis­i­tor has left.

Zoo em­ploy­ees some­times stay for af­ter-hours events, such as Brew at the Zoo or the Jack-o-Lantern Spec­tac­u­lar. Oth­er­wise, the emer­gency re­sponse co­or­di­na­tor gives the all-clear to leave, and peo­ple start to head out around 6 p.m.

While staffers don’t work overnight on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, some will stay be­hind if the weather fore­cast calls for a bl­iz­zard or other se­vere weather. Dur­ing these spe­cial shifts, the staffers make sure the an­i­mals are do­ing well and ad­dress any other is­sues that might come up.

For ex­am­ple, one of the March nor’east­ers took down some trees at the zoo, in­clud­ing one that fell on a con­ces­sion stand. By the morn­ing, op­er­a­tions staffers who had stayed overnight had cleared out the de­bris and re­paired the dam­age. The next day’s vis­i­tors were prob­a­bly un­aware that there had even been a prob­lem.

The Roger Wil­liams Park Zoo is lo­cated at 1000 Elm­wood Ave. in Prov­i­dence. For more in­for­ma­tion, call 401-785-3510 or visit rw­p­

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