I was anxious to visit this zoo for two reasons. Seeing a new zoo and how they operated was very important to me, but there was another reason. One of the zookeepers that I became friendly with at the Dallas zoo told me that I would not like the Albuquerque zoo. He said the only thing he liked about it was the sea lion exhibit. He did not think that it was a quality zoo. I always keep an open mind and knew that only if I saw the zoo and spoke to the people would I have the ability to make a decision about its quality.
We arrived when the zoo opened and immediately went into administration. We met the zoo director, who answered a few of our questions, and then introduced me to Carol Kreis, who was the promotions coordinator. She had been an elementary school teacher and had come from Southern California. She had spent several years in Germany studying the situation in their zoos. Incidentally, she affirmed for me how the Germans love their animals and that Suck-a-toe and Missy were probably doing well there in Alta Vista Tripps drill.
She told us that they have 40 docents which varies from time to time. They are trying to coordinate their programs into the schools, but the problem is that there is no unified school district. Each school does what it wants and that makes it tough. However, they are taking a very aggressive attitude with regards to both endangered species and education. They have several programs where they go into the schools and produce a 30 minute program beginning with third grade.
I was impressed with the fact that a professional artist volunteers his time on Saturday mornings and teaches whoever shows up how to draw. It does not matter the quality of the artwork. Drawing the animals in itself will develop an interest in them in my opinion. They had one program that particularly interested me. It was called the “Cadet girl scouts ages twelve to fourteen. This program is limited to the first 16 girls who register. They have a three week educational program – each day for two hours they work with the zoo personnel and really become involved with not only zoo personnel, but also with specific animals that become their particular study. At the end they receive a badge and have a ceremony! A better way to get kids involved I never saw!
Next year they will try this program with the boy scouts also. They will spend during the school year one hour in the afternoon for a week in service to the zoo. Their duties consist of helping out in the children’s zoo and observations of animal behavior. They will also help keepers in work which will not hurt the kids and on weekends they will help in the petting zoo.
Carol told us that much is being done to improve the zoo. There was a bond issue floated which people supported to improve the zoo. Two new exhibits will be ready in the spring – a reptile exhibit and a rain forest.
I was very impressed with the zoo. The animals and birds looked in fine shape. They have a fine exhibit of Colobus monkeys which from an original group of one male and two females now has nine. Their behavior has been observed by New Mexico college students. The outstanding exhibits in the zoo are the sea lion show in the main zoo and the prairie dog colony in the children’s zoo. I have never seen a livelier show than the sea lions. There is one enormous male who is obviously dominant and several females who spend time hugging each other in the sun.
The prairie dog colony was so much fun. There were two rabbits, many prairie dogs, several guinea fowl who came visiting, pea fowl that look like peacocks and many pigeons. Everyone joined in the food while the prairie dogs spent time burrowing holes. There was one standing as sergeant at arms who then later would lie out lazily in the sun. I could have spent all day watching them. There was one exhibit of a young orang and gorilla living together who are having a ball. They remind me so much of mischievous boys playing together.
Later that day Carol took us in her car to the library to see an exhibition of zoo art done in their Saturday morning classes. She was such a delightful person! I enjoyed the show in the library. It is not the question whether or not the art is good. To me what is important is that everyone tried and enjoyed. I was impressed with the warmth of the zoo personnel. They really extended themselves not only to me but to all zoo visitors. Incidentally, Carol told us that just last week she had a visitor from Amsterdam who was exploring zoos . This person came only for that purpose. She said our visits were thrilling to her!
We had allowed two days for the zoo and returned the next day. As we entered the next morning we saw a crowd gather around an exhibit. This turned out to be a fascinating story and I will go into it in my final blog on the Albuquerque zoo.