Why Zoo Boise has begun vaccinating animals, and what you should expect when visiting

·3 min read

Zoo Boise isn’t just ensuring a safe environment for its visitors — it’s also providing one for its animals.

In coordination with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Zoo Boise began vaccinating its animals against COVID-19 last summer and is close to finishing Phase 1 of its vaccination process.

“We will never compromise the safety, the health, the enrichment of our zoo animals,” Doug Holloway, director of Boise Parks and Recreation, told the Idaho Statesman. “And so anything we can do to protect them further, now that it’s been proven that animals can catch the virus, we want to put every layer of protection on them.”

Phase 1 includes vaccinating animals that come into close contact with humans. Those include farm animals like sheep and goats.

Other animals in phase one include any other hoofed animals, otters, primates and felines.

Working with the association of zoos and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Zoo Boise received its animal vaccines from animal health company Zoetis. Each animal receives two shots of a vaccine three weeks apart, and all animals receive the same dosage regardless of size.

Only two lions are left to receive their second vaccination before the zoo moves onto Phase 2 in the coming weeks, which will include the rest of the animals in the zoo excluding reptiles and birds.

None of Zoo Boise’s animals has yet tested positive for COVID-19, but the zoo has recently received negative test results for a lion and a coati (a member of the raccoon family) after both exhibited symptoms.

Animals are certainly not immune to COVID-19. A snow leopard at Illinois Zoo died earlier this month after contracting COVID-19, and three snow leopards died at Lincoln Children’s Zoo in Nebraska in November.

“Anything we can do to keep the zoo open so that guests can visit, and then our animals can have that interaction, is extremely important to us,” Holloway said. “But more important is any layer of safety that we can place upon both our staff and our animals.”

Zoo rules for staff and visitors

What COVID-19 precautions at the zoo should humans expect?

Face masks are required in all city of Boise buildings, including the zoo. That means visitors don’t have to wear a mask when walking around the 14-acre zoo while in outdoor areas but should bring a mask along when going indoors, such as inside the E.O. Wilson Science and Exhibit Hall.

All zoo employees are also required to wear a mask and will ask visitors not wearing a mask indoors to mask up or go back outside.

“We’re relying a lot right now on education, and that people follow the suggested recommendations and requirements that we have in place,” Holloway said.

Although vaccination is not required for existing employees, as of Jan. 3 all new employees of the city are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The city does not keep track of the number of employees vaccinated for each division, such as the zoo, but Holloway said 65.5% of the city’s 1,900 full-time employees are currently vaccinated.

Outside of masking up, the day-to-day experience of the zoo remains almost unchanged for visitors. The Small Animal Kingdom building, where visitors could see sand cats, spider monkeys and lemurs, is the only building that remains closed because of space confinement.

All other concessions, shows and animal exhibits and interactions are open.

“It’s important that animals have interaction with our guests,” Holloway said. “When we close for a short period of time, when COVID first hit two years ago, we could tell the difference in our animals.

“They love the interaction of people visiting and being in their exhibits, and just interacting with the public,” he continued. “And so we want to make sure that is part of their overall enrichment.”

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