Quarantine Check IN: The Brandywine Zoo

Keepers wearing masks when close to each other and other animals

The Coronavirus Pandemic has turned our world upside down. With the rhythm of our lives disrupted, businesses are finding innovative ways to adapt to the harsh realities of COVID-19. 

Today, we pull back the curtain on how Brandywine Zoo is continuing to care for its resident animals and finding creative ways to stay connected with zoo patrons during this unprecedented time. 

I reached out to Zoo Director Brint Spencer, and his team…

IN Wilmington: Hi Brint, before the lockdown a zoo experience typically meant an IN-person visit filled with wonder and awe, curiosity and learning! With the lockdown how can patrons continue to explore and enjoy the zoo experience?

Brint: The Brandywine Zoo team is working hard to create multiple ways for patrons to connect with the zoo. Our zoo staff always takes adorable and amazing animal photos and videos, and now the team has been learning video editing skills so they can share these with the community on our newest platform – our YouTube channel! 

We’re hoping to host weekly Story Time videos, as well as Keeper Chats and Creature Features. Some of our favorites include The Lorax Earth Day Story Time Reading and our Capybara Keeper Talk with Keepers Katie and Kelsey! 

Another update is that we created a new section on our website, Zoo To You Resource Center, and it is filled with programs and videos made by zookeepers and educators so visitors can witness a Red Panda training session, go behind-the-scenes with Andean Condors and other animals, and listen to a Storytime book reading with an animal. Visitors to this webpage can also download free animal-focused activities to do at home. Scout programs, virtual tours and live programs will be added soon. The web section is a family-friendly portal to learn about animals and conservation – especially with the Brandywine Zoo closed to visitors.

IN: With schools moving to virtual learning, what are some of the zoo’s new programs for schools right now?

Brint: Our zoo staff is excited to be working with teachers to develop online materials and engage with students through a fun, unique and exciting virtual education opportunity! Pre-recorded videos (on our YouTube channel) on topics such as Five Senses and Animal Adaptations, as well as Live Distance Learning programs are now available. Staff will take campers on a virtual tour of the zoo or to meet some of our animals who miss them. They’ll even get to go behind the scenes to areas we never usually get to take our regular school field trips! 

IN: What about virtual birthday celebrations with the zoo? 

Brint: If you are celebrating a birthday and bummed that you can’t have a big party, the zoo can help you celebrate! The birthday girl or boy will receive a special gift from the zoo, including a video where they can watch our animals party with birthday cakes and presents! Watch Sandy, our Sandhill Crane, poke at his presents with his pointy beak, or Peanut the porcupine ignore her gifts and go straight for her festive cake! What better way to still have a WILD birthday party with some of your favorite animal friends?

IN: These programs sound wonderful! Any other fun opportunities you would like the INWilmington readers to know about? 

Brint: A new program that is a Zoo favorite and one growing in popularity is “Invite a Zoo animal to your Zoom meeting!” 

Everyone’s overloaded with online meetings (Zoom/Skype/Hangout/whatever!) these days, and we’re hoping that bringing a red panda, porcupine, capybara, lizard, snake, tortoise, or one of our other wonderful animals to your humdrum meeting will brighten your whole team’s day! 🙂

Check out our website for more information on these programs and stay in touch with our Facebook page for free downloadable activities!

IN: Brint, what are the protocols of animal care during COVID-19?

Brint: In the zoo world we already had many sanitation protocols in place to reduce the spread of zoonotic diseases, like footbaths, gloves, hand-washing, etc., so we were able to quickly adjust and ramp up the new COVID-19 protocols. 

Our staff wear masks when working with or around any animal. We also wear gloves if it is a species of higher risk such as a non-human primate, feline, or mustelidae (weasels/ferrets). 

When cleaning around or training animals we observe social distancing just as we would with people. Keepers hose and sanitise their shoes in between different exhibits. Footbaths are in place in many locations throughout the zoo. Hand washing is a must (though frequency has increased).

We are sanitizing our work spaces and common areas for each other more than we normally would. Keeping each other and the animals we care for safe is our number one priority.

IN: How has the work week changed for the Zoo staff from before COVID-19 vs. after COVID-19? 

Brint: Prior to the pandemic our typical work week was 8:00am to 4:00pm, 365 days a year because our animals need to be fed and cared for every day. Therefore our managers, keepers, education staff, and retail staff worked staggered shifts in order to ensure proper coverage for the animals as well as for our visitors during open hours.  

With COVID-19, the work schedules are only slightly altered but the key shift is that we have split into two teams across both animal care departments (Exhibit animal keepers and Education animal keepers) with no overlap of Team A and Team B. This ensures that if someone were to get sick on one of the teams and possibly spread it to other team members, we would still have another healthy team that would continue to care for the zoo and the animals.

Another change is that instead of daily, in-person morning meetings, the zoo team now catches up via online notes, which are updated daily.

For any in-person meetings the team tries to meet outside, mid-morning to touch on “zoo wide” topics while wearing masks and practicing safe social distancing. 

IN: Has the lockdown impacted the progress and timeline of the new Madagascar Exhibit which was scheduled for a Fall 2020 opening?

Brint: To date the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak has been minimal and we are hopeful to still have an exhibit opening in early Sept. The contractors have been very flexible and able to keep the schedule fluid. 

During all of this we are having some fun. Cleo is our construction mascot and goes out to the work site to check on the progress, while wearing appropriate PPE. Be sure to follow the progress on the Madagascar project with Cleo’s weekly posts on the zoo’s Facebook page.

Once the construction is complete comes the part we are all looking forward to, when we get to meet our newest residents. The Brandywine Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and we participate in cooperative animal management programs with approximately 232 other zoos in the country. For our new Madagascar exhibit we will be bringing in ring tailed lemurs, black and white ruffed lemurs, crowned lemurs and radiated tortoises. We have worked with AZA and identified animals for our exhibit. They are living in other zoos and just waiting to make Wilmington their new home.

Check out the Zoo’s website for more details on the “Our Zoo Re-imagined” project. Another upcoming feature in the works is an interactive immersive flamingo exhibit!

IN: Brint, what are some ways the community can support the Zoo during the times of COVID-19?

Brint: Being closed is having a significant impact on our operating budget. The Delaware Zoological Society, the non-profit partner that supports the Brandywine Zoo’s education programs, events, camps and workshops, relies on revenue from gate ticket sales, memberships, registrations for special events, camps, education programs, and sales from our Zootique store to support these programs and the workers that bring them to you. 

But now, with revenue absent during closure, here are some ways you can help support us:

  1. Donate to our Emergency Fund

  2. Become a member

  3. Adopt-an-animal

  4. Purchase our Zoo Discovery Activity Kits

This year is the Zoo’s 115th anniversary, so we’ve been asking our visitors to submit photos they have of the zoo, from any era, to contribute not only to our records but also to what was initially a planned display in the Zoo all summer. 

Now, with COVID-19 closures, we’re looking to move it online. We’ve been highlighting some of our own historic photos weekly on social media in a #TBT campaign, and we invite the public to submit their historic photos to us by visiting https://brandywinezoo.org/about/anniversary/ or emailing zoohistory@brandywinezoo.org.

IN the meantime, we are looking forward to having our guests return and have the opportunity to Go A Little Wild at the Brandywine Zoo.