CENTRAL ILLINOIS (WMBD)–When we hear essential workers, many think nurses, grocery store employees, but they may not think of zookeepers. The weather was nice Saturday, but due to COVID-19 no one could enjoy the Peoria Zoo or Wildlife Prairie Park as they might normally would.
The animals have the parks all to themselves and a few employees who are essential to the animals’ well-being. In the wild, most animals fend for themselves but in captivity, they rely on care from humans.
“Without us coming and feeding these guys they wouldn’t survive,” said animal curator of Peoria Zoo, Kim Scott.
Zookeepers at the Peoria Zoo come in every day to feed and interact with the animals while the public is not allowed in.
“Our keepers are doing extra work to enrich them and keep them active and keep their minds busy, especially when it’s so quiet around here,” Scott said.
Things are quiet at Wildlife Prairie Park in Hanna City as well.
“It’s a lot more quiet than we or the animals are used to,” said wildlife curator, Anna Lynn.
This time of year, Wildlife Prairie Park in Hanna City is normally filled with hundreds of school kids on field trips but for now, it’s just caregivers and the animals.
“They (the animals) don’t know this is going on and it might actually stress them out quite a bit if we change things up completely so keeping them on a schedule is important,” Lynn said.
The zookeepers are taking extra precautions when feeding certain animals such as primates and bats because they are more at risk of getting the COVID-19 coronavirus from humans.
“Monkeys are one of those species that are more susceptible to getting the virus from us. One of the things we’ve implemented is our keepers now wear masks and gloves when they’re servicing the primate groups,” Scott said.
Employees say they are being more diligent when cleaning at the end of their shifts.
“We are definitely sanitizing everything more than we normally did. Now we’re wiping down surfaces, doorknobs at the end of everyday,” Lynn said.
Both places say they try to remain socially distant from one another while taking care of the animals. They hope to re-open to the public soon but will not do so until given the ‘all clear’ from government officials.