“The four women-zoo-keepers of Cornwall’s Paradise Park in UK have moved in to the wildlife park to self-isolate during COVID-19 and keep the animals happy”.
A UK zoo’s animals have welcomed their newest neighbors — four zookeepers — during the coronavirus outbreak. With many parts of the world currently in shutdown, four dedicated zookeepers decided to separate themselves from their families to stay with the animals at a wildlife park to ensure the wellbeing of their best friends. The members of staff from Paradise Park in Hayle, Cornwall, UK, moved into a house on-site as the zoo temporarily closed its gates to visitors on March 21 due to the ongoing pandemic. The birds and mammals at the zoo are currently in the care of Izzy Wheatley, Sarah-Jane Jelbert, Emily Foden and Layla Richardson who reportedly plan to “be here for the long run.”
“They are leaving their families, some of whom are following 12-week self-isolation periods,” the park wrote on Facebook last week. “They will be supported by other keepers on a daily basis, observing all the relevant guidelines.”
Speaking to the media, Izzy Wheatly revealed that she’s keeping in touch with her family using video messaging and that “we’ve all been here for each other when it’s got tough. If the other zookeepers have to self-isolate, hopefully the four of us could keep it running as best as we could.” She explained that she’d volunteered to move in and care for the animals before the government imposed the lockdown as she did not want to be the only person commuting to work in the midst of this crisis. “Most of us live with a high-risk person,” she added.
Paradise Park is home to 1,200 birds and mammals. “I had been thinking about how to handle the situation we all find ourselves in re isolating and social distancing as I have a big family including an elder member who has gone into 12 weeks isolation. At the same time the directors were having the same thoughts about using the house that is onsite and which became free as the Cornish Chough conservation meeting had just been canceled. Myself and two other keepers Rachel and Emily then moved into the onsite house on Saturday,” said Wheatley.
The four women now spend their days caring for the animal residents of the park—feeding, cleaning, and giving medication where required. “We have just under 1,200 individual birds and mammals to look after, feeding, cleaning, giving medications, supplying enrichment activities, and any vital maintenance,” said Wheatley. The women are being supported by other staff members who come in at different times of day to do their duties. “We are being supported by other keepers who are coming in at different times of the day so they can keep separate, and obviously we are keeping our distance from them. This is being achieved by changed rotes and splitting up areas of the Park to ensure we are all working in different areas,” Wheatley explained.
“We are keeping up the daily routines with our Humboldt’s Penguins,” she continued. “A few are hand-reared and very friendly and in the summer season from Easter onwards they take part in ‘Photocalls.’ Usually, at the two feeding times of 11 am and 3 pm, we select a handful of visitors to help feed the penguins, give a talk then visitors are invited to meet and stroke one of the friendly ones and take photos. To ensure we are ready when we re-open, we are continuing to go through these routines.” Wheatley added that they’re also keeping up with the training schedules of their “eagles, vultures, hawks, macaws and other species who take part in our big free-flying displays throughout the summer.”
“We might get to a point where we don’t have any of our keepers in if we get it at the same time so we have to consider what happens then,” she revealed. “We’ve made guidelines so some of our maintenance workers can help feed.” Wheatley explained that it’s proving quite tricky to keep up with the workload even with other staff members coming in to help. “We can’t help each other out if we’re falling behind, so you just have to work at your own pace. With it being Easter we are at our lowest point in terms of money and feeding animals costs ridiculous amounts. This is usually a really important time of year with lots of visitors,” she said.
While it’s likely a fun experience for the zookeepers, the park is unsure when it will reopen to the public. For many businesses, this is a worry when it comes to paying the bills. “The unknown is very worrying,” Alison Hales, director at Paradise Park, told. “Spring is usually a hopeful time where we get an influx of visitors and we can breathe a sigh of relief.”
“It is now as if the rug has been pulled. I’m sure we will be OK,” she said. “We are relying on the birds to show us the way. We will come out the other end.”
To help out, Hales, along with colleague Michelle Turton, organized a GoFundMe to raise the needed in hopes of covering food and other vital expenses $17,500 to help during the zoo’s closure. This amounts to over $1800 per week. You can make a donation here if interested.