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Question asked by Aife, age 7, and mom Jeni Balogh. Associate Curator, Jen DeGroot answers below!

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A keeper cleaning the porcupine exhibit.

This is a question that our keepers receive all the time and the short answer is that it depends on the animal. Some species, like the animals in the contact yard, are perfectly safe to be around and are used to engaging with the keepers directly. The animals here, like the goats, are used to people entering their yard. “Keepers are able to walk right in with the animals to feed them, clean, or offer enrichment,” says Cleveland Metroparks Zoo Associate Curator Jen DeGroot.

Other animals are able to share a space with people using a two gate system. “A keeper goes through the first gate, waits for it to close, then goes through the second gate to access the animals. The system prevents any animals from escaping,” says DeGroot. You may notice this two gate system at the Zoo when you’ve visited Australian Adventure.

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Two-gate system upong entering Australian Adventure.

While there are many animals that keepers are able to share a space with, most species at the Zoo don’t ever share a space with the keepers. Cleveland Metroparks Zoo adheres to the guidelines set by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) when interacting with the animals at the Zoo.

“Almost every animal habitat in the Zoo has an off-site holding area attached to it,” says DeGroot, “The animals are trained to move into their holding areas when needed and are rewarded with food.” This allows the keepers to shift animals to different spaces when they need to service the habitat, put out food or set up enrichment for the animal.

“Animals as big as elephants and as small as birds are trained to go into off-habitat spaces while keepers go in their habitats,” says DeGroot, “It really makes it much safer, and much easier to take care of the habitat without animals in there whenever possible.”

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Keepers working with the elephants to be able to guide them on and off exhibit or between yards.

For the more dangerous animals, like tigers and lions, keepers take a few extra safety steps. “Extra locks and checks are used for the more dangerous animals to ensure there is no chance of the animal sharing a space with a keeper,” says DeGroot.

Safety is really important when caring for animals, and for all operations at your Zoo. The animal care team follows AZA guidelines in all Zoo operations to ensure the safety of both the animals and the keepers.

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