Winter months critical to park’s zoo teamMarch 5, 2018
Busch Gardens animal care specialist Helena Starnes uses a sturdy pair of scissors to cut through rubber and other thick material while off in the distance a pack of gray wolves serenades her with a howling song.
She’s cutting the rubber out of used fire hoses to construct an enrichment device for the wolves.Helena has woven the leftover material into a cube of sorts. Even she’s not quite sure what it will end up being, but she’s eager to see how the wolves interact with it.
It’s wintertime, and Busch Gardens is closed to guests. As the seasons change, so do the duties of the park’s hard-working zoo team.
In addition to routine care, summertime responsibilities for the zoo team also include engaging with guests, answering questions and sharing their passion for the animals.
The winter months, when the park is not operating, are critical to the park’s zoo team. It’s during these months that the staff has time to implement new behaviors or introduce new enrichment devices, like the fire hose cube, to their regimen.
“I look at the summertime as a time for maintaining the work that we had an opportunity to develop new over the winter,” said Zoo Curator Tim Smith. The zoo team cares for a stable of animals including cattle, wolves, Clydesdale horses, dogs, sheep, eagles, hawks, owls and lorikeets, among others.
The staff stays busy during operational months from March to December, but its work doesn’t slow down when the park is closed in the winter. “Our animals never stop needing to be cared for,” Smith said of the work that goes on during the offseason. “Our husbandry work never stops.”
The park has endured a pair of big winter storms so far this year. While most team members get to stay home to ride out the snow, our dedicated and passionate zoological team braves the conditions and the commute to take care of our animals.The animals depend on this team for food, exercise and general health needs. Smith said the zoo team is prepared for such snow days so all the animals are comfortable.
“We consolidate our team to care for all our animals’ needs, making sure all are healthy and warm,” he said.
A few winter storms notwithstanding, the zoo team is able to streamline its operation during non-operational months.
They aren’t tasked with, say, walking the Clydesdales or sheep up to the Highland Stables in the Scotland village of the park every day. Instead, the horses, sheep, cattle, and sometimes dogs, stay in pastures located in a back area of the park near the Italy village.
These large pastures, which include stables for all the animals, make it efficient for the zoo staff to provide care.
And for training purposes, the months when the park is closed to the public are perfect for teaching new behaviors and implementing new training methods.
“We try to utilize all the time and energy that we have out here,” Smith said. “It’s not just dropping food and running. We are always focused on moving the animals forward.”
Busch Gardens will reopen March 24, and guests will flock to see its many beautiful animals. The zoo team’s routine will change once again, but its primary goal will stay the same.