SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia – Bolivia’s five-month coronavirus-triggered lockdown has been a welcome break for many animals at a large zoo in this eastern city, allowing them the tranquility they need to recover from illnesses or prepare to give birth.
“Free of noise and more at ease, it’s as though they were in their natural environment,” the director of the Noel Kempff Mercado Municipal Zoo of South American Fauna, Marcelo Ruiz, told EFE.
He added that the “guests,” as the zoo’s animals are called, have even exhibited a better attitude toward zoo employees without the presence of paying customers.
Bolivia’s largest zoo, a natural oasis in a city of more than 1.5 million inhabitants, has been closed to the general public since stay-at-home orders were imposed in late March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Regarded as one of the most complete in South America in terms of both flora and fauna, the Santa Cruz zoo typically receives some 800,000 visitors annually and can welcome as many as 10,000 people on busy weekends.
But now instead of the air being filled with children’s expressions of surprise and the click of camera shutters, a variety of guests – from monkeys to macaws – break the silence with their symphony of sounds.
“They’re less stressed, calmer in general; it’s been a break for them,” Ruiz said while standing next to a lake surrounded by numerous aquatic birds.
The zoo primarily receives animals that were victims of trafficking or raised in captivity for different reasons. Having endured a lifetime of stress, they need a period of rehabilitation to adapt to other members of their species.
The quarantine therefore has been beneficial for these animals, which can enjoy an uninterrupted night’s rest without traffic noise and the other sounds of a normally bustling city.
Getting sufficient sleep also carries additional benefits, helping the animals eat better, heal more quickly if they are undergoing treatment for an illness and, in the case of females, have a smoother gestation period.
The Santa Cruz zoo aims to raise awareness about the importance of environmental conservation and boasts an educational center for school-aged children that is guided by the slogan “Learn to Conserve.”
A statue honoring naturalist Noel Kempff Mercado stands at the entrance to that facility, which opened in 1979 and is home to giant turtles, jaguars, spider monkeys, tapirs, herons and around 200 other fish, reptile, mammal and bird species.