It’s Not All Happening at the Zoo (for Now)

Trailside Zoo Lauren Bellon

Bear Mountain zookeeper Lauren Bellon with the bobcat Sylvia (Photo by Melissa Gillmer)

But Bear Mountain animals still need care

The pandemic hasn’t just changed day-to-day life for the human residents of the Hudson Highlands. The critters at the Bear Mountain Zoo also are adapting to new routines.

The zoo and trailside museums, which usually see 100,000 visitors a year, closed to the public on March 21. “Social distancing is challenging along our trail, especially at our most popular animal exhibits,” said its director, Ed McGowan, who lives in Garrison. The facility is co-managed by the Palisades Interstate Park Commission and the state parks department.

Ruby, Red Fox

Ruby, a red fox at the Trailside Zoo (Photo by Lauren Bellon)

The zoo has four keepers and two maintenance workers who care for the animals and the park seven days a week. The pandemic has changed how they go about their jobs, McGowan said. Zookeepers work in staggered shifts, two at a time rather than three, and in different sections of the zoo.

“We’re following social distancing guidelines, cleaning shared surfaces and wearing masks when two staff need to be in buildings together,” he said.

The zoo has more than 100 animals, all native to the Hudson Valley. Its mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish include everything from a black bear, eastern coyote, bald eagle and great horned owl to eastern painted turtle, spotted salamander and largemouth bass.

“All of our mammals and birds, and some of our reptiles and amphibians, were injured or orphaned and cannot be returned to the wild,” explained the head zookeeper, Melissa Gillmer.

bobcat

Zoo Keeper Lauren Bellon works with bobcat Sylvia. (Photo by Melissa Gillmer)

The animals’ health is a top priority, McGowan said. When a tiger at the Bronx Zoo tested positive for the coronavirus, it didn’t go unnoticed. “We are taking precautions around our mammals, especially our bobcats,” McGowan said, adding that staff minimize close contact with animals and wear gloves and masks during feeding and cleaning.

If there’s a silver lining to the pandemic, he said, it may be that staff can more easily do maintenance and repair work than when the facility has hundreds of visitors. At the same time, some improvements scheduled for the spring have been put on hold, such as upgrades to the bobcat, fox and porcupine pens.

McGowan said that the recent loss of a regular supply of rodents that were donated to feed many of the zoo’s animals added to its challenges. People can make financial contributions at trailsidezoo.org, he said.

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