Despite the COVID-19 pandemic bringing forth challenges and the zoo’s first extended closure in 152 years, Lincoln Park Zoo remained an urban oasis, furthering animal care and welfare, as well as connecting communities to wildlife.
During these unprecedented times, Lincoln Park Zoo has become a beacon of comfort, sharing exciting animal news and uplifting content. While the world remains at a standstill due to the coronavirus, life and care at the zoo continue.
Essential staff, including the zoo’s dedicated Animal Care and Veterinary Services teams, are still providing unparalleled care to the nearly 200 unique species at the zoo. The small but mighty group of horticulturists is working hard to maintain the zoo’s gardens and accredited arboretum. Cleaning Fanatics is ensuring the safety of zoo family by keeping the buildings sanitized. And Facilities worked hard to improve zoo grounds and habitats.
From unwavering care on grounds to connecting with folks around the globe virtually, here’s how Lincoln Park Zoo is navigating the pandemic.
Despite the zoo being temporarily closed for the first extended period, species of all sorts continue to receive unwavering, albeit a bit different, care. Essential staff have been working with enhanced safety measures to minimize potential exposure, and bonds among zoo family—and even between staff and animals—are quickly deepening.
“When the pandemic first emerged, Animal Care staff were asked to quickly adjust to new work schedules and split teams to minimize overlap, as well as hold off on taking scheduled time off, to ensure the zoo’s high standards of animal care would not be disrupted,” says Maureen Leahy, vice president of animal care and horticulture. “Staff rallied and swiftly transitioned to new modes of operation—a testament to their unwavering dedication to the health and well-being of the species in their care.”
Staff continued to prep diets, clean habitats, and work with animals during positive reinforcement training sessions.
The Nutrition Center is as busy as ever, curating diets for even the pickiest of eaters and delivering diets to keepers daily. The western lowland gorillas at Regenstein Center for African Apes continue to receive fresh greens, while the red wolf pack at Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo continue to enjoy tasty carcasses.
Although zoo grounds are much quieter, Lincoln Park Zoo remains full of life. Thank you to the hard-working essential staff who are tending to the grounds and caring for the animals.
Amid the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, Animal Care staff found a little hope with numerous additions this year.
African spoonbills Luke and Annabelle welcomed their first offspring, Lucia, to Regenstein African Journey on June 5. Lucia hatched into a relatively quiet world; with all animal buildings closed to the public, only zoo staff have seen the new arrival.
“The name ‘Lucia’ means ‘light,’ which is fitting because this chick really is a light during a challenging time for everyone,” says Mike Murray, curator of mammals. “I almost feel guilty that only a handful of us have been able to see her grow in person, although we were able to share her story virtually on Facebook.”
At Regenstein Macaque Forest, two spirited snow monkey youngsters, Ozu and Nikko, joined the scene in March and April. Only a little over a month apart, they can be spotted playing with one other and exploring their habitat. And at Camel & Zebra area, a dazzling zebra foal caught the attention of zoo supporters everywhere.
Each new arrival serves as a reminder that Lincoln Park Zoo is an urban oasis teeming with life—both old and new.
The zoo’s social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter) have quickly become the best way to connect communities to the zoo and uplift spirits. Exciting announcements, adorable photos, and vivacious videos are putting a smile on zoo supporters’ faces and creating a sense of calm and consistency during an ever-changing time.
Zoo Director Megan Ross, Ph.D., is becoming a familiar face in households across the country over Facebook Live, showing what was occurring on zoo grounds during the closure and providing a way for viewers to tune into the animal world. Keepers are sharing behind-the-scenes photos and videos and are going the extra mile to keep avid zoo followers connected with their favorite species.
Bringing the Zoo to You
Although the zoo was temporarily closed, and has since operated at limited capacity, nothing has stopped the Learning department and Events team from finding ways to bring the zoo to supporters in the comfort and safety of their homes. Members and guests are joining new virtual offerings to support the zoo and learn more about the unique species in its care. Both Virtual Conservation Camp and Virtual Zoo Crew engaged youngsters with animal sightings and introduced them to at-home conservation ideas and how to Take Action With Us. Virtual Meet-and Greet with a Lincoln Park Zoo Animal is bringing species front and center on screen, while families and animal lovers tuned in to a Virtual Breakfast with the Animals. Those of age enjoyed a drink or two during a Virtual Happy Hour, where they had the opportunity to learn more about beer and the zoo’s conservation efforts. Programs for all brought, and are still bringing, the community together during trying times.
Quieter grounds gave Facilities the opportunity to update and enhance habitats, furthering the zoo’s mission of advancing the highest quality of animal care. At Regenstein African Journey, a giraffe training wall was created and installed to help the giraffe herd with their positive reinforcement training. Several habitats, including the rhino yard at Regenstein African Journey, Camel & Zebra area, and Waterfowl Lagoon, were regraded and substrate was updated to meet animal needs.
Without guests present, Facilities was able to grind down concrete across zoo grounds to minimize uneven surfaces. Pathways are now much smoother for guests, zoo carts, and wheelchairs. In addition, construction at Pepper Family Wildlife Center roared along.
For 152 years, Lincoln Park Zoo has been a pillar in the community, dedicated to connecting people to nature and creating environments where wildlife can thrive. The zoo has been and continues to be a magical place—a free oasis in the heart of Chicago. While the pandemic has left the zoo financially vulnerable, Lincoln Park Zoo will continue to provide the best care possible to the animals, as well as further worldwide conservation efforts and learning initiatives. All of this would not be possible without the support of members, donors, staff, and volunteers.
“If the pandemic has taught the world anything, it’s that communities are stronger together,” says Megan Ross, Ph.D., zoo director. “Chicago’s free zoo needs your support. When you renew your membership, sign up for programs, visit the zoo and purchase concessions, or donate when possible, you help Lincoln Park Zoo continue to provide excellent care, as well as further conservation efforts and learning initiatives.”
During these times, one thing is certain: nature has reminded us of its healing power. For Wildlife. For All.