Kamloops zoo faces challenges from pandemic, flood threat — but animals don’t seem to notice

The advertising slogan for the B.C. Wildlife Park proclaims: “It’s all happening at the park.”

But lately, the empty parking lot sends a different message. 

The 42.8-hectare zoo, whose collection ranges from a Bactrian camel to a trio of Arctic wolves, temporarily closed in late March in response to COVID-19 concerns. 

“It’s left a really big hole,” Glenn Grant, the park’s executive director, told Daybreak Kamloops story producer Doug Herbert on a visit this week. 

“It is really eerie to walk around the park all the time when it is this empty and quiet,” he said.

Despite the absence of paying visitors — who account for nearly three-quarters of the operation’s revenue — Grant said the zoo will be able to manage through midsummer, thanks to donations, some federal government assistance and the benefits of several good years of attendance.

Executive director Glenn Grant says the park will be able to weather the temporary closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic in part because of record numbers of visitors last year. (Doug Herbert/CBC)

Animal care supervisor Tracy Reynolds said despite the absence of visitors, operations at the park are as busy as ever. 

This week staff in the animal rehab centre were receiving an injured osprey. Reynolds said the centre remains open and this time of year is the busiest for receiving sick and injured wildlife because people are spending more time outdoors. 

In addition to caring for the animals and managing upkeep of the property, she said staff duties now include live social media broadcasts of feeding times and other encounters.

Most of the animals don’t appear to notice the absence of paying visitors, but there are exceptions.

“There’s a few that I think really miss the visitors,” Reynolds said.

“Our turkey, Blue, loves people. So he’s I think a little bit bummed that his adoring fans aren’t here to watch him,” she said.

“I think the grizzlies are another one that enjoy watching people as much as people like watching them.”

In addition to the losses from the temporary closure, park managers also anticipate trouble from flooding this year, as the burbling creek that runs through the property threatens to breach its banks. A dike that was built in 1999 is not expected to contain it this year. 

“As it comes beyond that point, it comes past some of the habitats like the camel and the burrowing owls,” Grant said.

The City of Kamloops has provided sand and sandbags, piled in the parking lot for the zoo’s needs as well as nearby residents in the path of flooding.

The B.C. Wildlife Park in Kamloops closed in late March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Doug Herbert/CBC)

“We’ll be really glad to see 2020 in the rear view mirror, when we get back to a normal state, whatever that ‘new normal’ may be,” Grant said. 

“We just have to persevere and keep moving forward.”

With files from Doug Herbert and Daybreak Kamloops

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