By Catie Hirsh

A New Year’s Wish

For many, the new year is a new beginning. People plan out their goals and think of all the positive things that the future year might hold. This last year has been a difficult one in many ways, and people are looking forward to the new year more than usual.

Our community, and the world, has been challenged by the presence of COVID-19.

This disease caused us to shutter our doors for a time to ensure the safety of our staff, our guests, and animal residents. Our community was supportive of the staff's hard work, even if they could not visit. The zoo was surprised by signs sharing support and love from our community and amazing Volunteers.

When we were once again able to re-open our doors, we were determined to make the most of this challenging year.

Once we re-opened, the zoo’s Education Team dove back into providing engaging programs. We hosted over thirty Distance Learning programs for our local USD 457 School District and to schools all over the United States. One frequent program requester allowed us to connect with school groups in remote regions of Canada! In addition to the digital programs, we found ways to celebrate event days at the zoo while safely socially distancing. We celebrated six days honoring wildlife represented through the resident animals of Lee Richardson Zoo. It was great to welcome our community back for these events, even if they had to be different than in past years.

Zoo staff were not the only ones missing our guests this year. Our resident animals noticed the change in routine and that their favorite pastime, people watching, wasn’t as available as it used to be. Keepers worked diligently behind the scenes to care for the animals and provide more enrichment than

previously, keeping the animals entertained and engaged during the quiet days when our gates were closed. 2020 brought other challenges and successes for our animal care team. We lost some long-time animal residents to old age. These losses were difficult for many. The outpouring of support and love for our animal residents by community members made these losses a little more bearable. On the positive side, this year was the grand opening of our new habitats; Primate Forest: Lemurs and Chilean flamingos. These large habitats provide excellent opportunities to catch the resident animals displaying natural behavior. Plus, these spacious areas offer opportunities for further involvement in Species Survival Programs through possible future breeding of some of these amazing animals.

As many are looking forward to the possibilities to come for 2021, so is the zoo. We are busy working with other zoos and Species Survival Plan groups to find the best match for animals to join our zoo. The Education Team has been hard at work updating programs and planning new and exciting offerings. So, as we look forward to the new year and make our personal New Year’s wishes, we have one for you too. Lee Richardson Zoo wishes you health, happiness, and an opportunity to enjoy the beauty of nature. Happy New Year!

Catie Hirsh is a conservation education specialist at Lee Richardson Zoo.