FROM ZOO TO YOU Safety is for everyone at the zoo

By Kristi Newland

What do you see when you look at a rolling chair, some paper bags, a ladder, short dowels, and a wooden gun? At the zoo, those are elements that could be used for a number of emergency drills. Lee Richardson Zoo does at least four emergency drills each year. The drills cover a variety of scenarios focusing on human injury, fire, escape or natural disaster (i.e. tornado, ice storm, etc..). They occur at any time of day, any day of the week. Generally, it’s just the staff involved, but sometimes outside agencies (Fire, Police, EMS) participate as they might if the emergency were real.

Depending on the time and location of the drill, staff may inform visitors on grounds what they would be asked to do if the situation was real. During drills that are more localized and contained, visitors may not even know the drill happened. Most of our drills are “live-action,” but table-top drills are also used to expand staff experience. Table-top drills may involve large maps of the zoo and representative tokens for the public, animals, and staff that can be moved around as the emergency and our response develops, or it may just be an in-depth discussion of how events would play out. Scenarios for the drills are developed from actual events at our zoo or other facilities, or simply from the imagination of the staff.

With the help of such drills and other training (first aid, CPR, fire extinguisher use, etc…), staff at Lee Richardson Zoo strives to be prepared to handle whatever situations may develop. Even though our imaginations can create some very interesting drills, as they say, truth is stranger than fiction. So we keep training to be ready for whatever may come. More importantly, we strive to prevent the emergencies from ever happening by always being on the lookout for safety issues.

Staff aren’t alone in keeping the zoo safe. By following the “rules” of visiting the zoo guests also help create a safe environment. Visitors stay on their side of the public barrier, and the animals stay on their side of their enclosure perimeter. “No teasing the animals” means the animals can enjoy their day in their home without getting frustrated and irritated. 

When someone is frustrated and irritated, they’re more difficult and unpredictable to work with, and that includes the animals. “No pets” in the zoo means the predatory animals don’t have that extra stimulus that could get them overly excited. Overly excited predators aren’t very cooperative for the keepers and can be dangerous to themselves and others. It also means staff don’t have to try to rescue “Spot” or “Fluffy” if they get away from their owner and into a situation they can’t handle, nor does staff have to rescue zoo animals from the pet. 

Most zoos have an episode somewhere in their history of resident animals, typically prey species like antelope or wallabies, being killed or run to death by domestic or feral dogs that had gotten into the zoo. Pets can also transmit diseases to the zoo animals, which is another reason pets aren’t permitted in the zoo.

Even the considerate practice of throwing your trash away in a trash can impacts safety at the zoo. Many zoo animals have developed medical problems, some have even died, after eating foreign objects that ended up in their habitats. Whether these are carelessly tossed away or blown in by the wind, they can still pose a danger to the animals. Keepers quickly remove trash from the animal habitats, but they can’t be everywhere at once, so your help is appreciated.

Lee Richardson Zoo staff want each visitor to enjoy their time at the zoo and each zoo animal to enjoy their life at the zoo. As a zoo visitor or member of the community, you play a big role in keeping the zoo safe for everyone: the staff, the visitors, and the animals. Thank you for your help and your support.

Kristi Newland is the director of Lee Richardson Zoo.