"Loose in the Zoo" is Back!

April 11, 2023

Hello Friends,

I’m delighted to share that the JMZ’s entire flock of birds is coming back for “Loose in the Zoo!” To protect against the avian flu pandemic, the JMZ’s birds were moved away from visitors last fall, with species slowly reintroduced into the zoo over time. Visitors can help keep the JMZ’s bird collection safe by using the zoo’s foot washing stations, and by changing clothes before visiting the zoo after handling any wild birds. In addition to seeing all of the zoo’s familiar bird residents again, visitors will see a number of new (and very colorful!) birds as well, including Victorian crowned pigeons, Bruce's green pigeon, and the violet turaco. You can read more about these new birds and the “Loose in the Zoo” experience below.

In honor of Earth Day later this month, the Friends will host an interactive educational event about butterflies from 3 - 4 p.m. on Tuesday, April 18. I hope you will join us!

Finally, while we focus on the latest events, programs, and exhibits at the JMZ in our newsletter, we would also like to feature our wonderful visitors and supporters! For a future newsletter, we’re looking to highlight multi-generation families parents and grandparents that came to the JMZ as children who now visit the JMZ together with their kids and grandkids. With a nearly 90-year history, the JMZ has been a longstanding destination for local families, and we’d like to hear about your experiences! If you would like to share how the JMZ has impacted you and your family, please email stephanie@friendsjmz.org.

Lauren Angelo

President, Friends of the Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo

Curating "Loose in the Zoo" and New Birds Arriving at the JMZ

Questions for John Aikin, JMZ Executive Director

What is “Loose in the Zoo” and what inspired its creation?

“Loose in the Zoo” is an immersive experience in which birds are free to wander around the zoo and visitors can see them up close. What is so unique about this experience is that no two visits are ever the same. It depends on which animals are active that day, where they are in the zoo, and how they feel about letting humans closeby. 

The JMZ was designed to provide a child-centric experience children are given the option to explore the exhibit hall and the zoo at their own pace. We wanted to allow children to encounter animals in nature. That way, they could learn more about the different habitats that some animals prefer, and ultimately draw their own conclusions about animal behavior. Birds are perfect for this experience because if they are uncomfortable being close to a human that day, they can easily fly away. When they choose to stay close, it teaches children about respecting animals in their own homes. We’re really excited we can bring this back for our visitors.

Birds wander around the zoo as visitors watch them. Photo courtesy of Artem Nazarov.

Why is it safe for the birds to return now?

We have learned a lot about avian flu since the outbreak started last year. In the Bay Area, there has not been a single infection witnessed in an animal in a zoo. The JMZ is lucky because our birds are even more protected by the netting over the zoo. Our staff has monitored the netting to see if any birds perch on it throughout the day, and not a single staff member has spotted a wild bird doing so.

That being said, we still do have to take precautions. The greatest risks we’ve identified are visitors coming in who may have birds at home, like outdoor chickens, or may have hiked in a wetland area. Sanitizing stations for shoes are inside the zoo to the right of the entrance. We also have boot scrapers ready to wipe mud off of shoes if they are particularly dirty.

While we wish it were not currently circulating, avian flu gives us the chance to teach visitors about what they can do to protect our flock. Animals allow our ecosystems to flourish, and sometimes, we need to take extra steps to ensure they stay healthy. New signage at the zoo teaches guests about avian flu and how you can keep our birds, and wild ones, safe.

How do you decide which new animals to bring to the JMZ?

Many of the animals at the JMZ were hand selected because they are great children’s zoo animals. These animals are social, colorful, and safe for kids to be around, which was a requirement for “Loose in the Zoo.” Many of these animals have obvious adaptations which inspire questions from children, like the spoonbills with their unique beaks. Our zoo has really evolved to fit the needs of the community over the years. Many reptiles, and even our new opossum, Ms. O, were pets that were difficult to care for. This resulted in us taking in more non-native species, starting about 40 years ago. When curating the new zoo, we decided to introduce animals like the meerkats and the cichlids to show our community animals from other parts of the world. Palo Alto, and the Bay Area as a whole, is very globally connected. It is our responsibility to reflect that at the JMZ.

We have plenty of other animals behind the scenes that are great for our education department to bring to schools. Our educators also weighed in on which animals would be important to have in the zoo. For example, the raccoons were selected because children are often familiar with them. When a child can personally connect with an animal they have seen in the wild that is in our zoo, they are curious to learn more about them. This resonates with adults as well; animals we may find in our backyards have unique characteristics and contribute to our environment in ways we might not realize.

Can you tell us more about some of the new birds that visitors will soon see at “Loose in the Zoo”?

We have three new bird species that will be in the zoo soon thanks to Eugene Samas of San Francisco, who donated these birds from his family's aviary. Bruce’s green pigeon is native to much of northern sub-Saharan Africa. Despite the name, they are not entirely green. Much of their chest is a vibrant yellow and their wings are partially violet. Children will be able to recognize the similarities these birds have to feral pigeons, also known as rock doves, they see in the Bay Area.

Photo of a Bruce's green pigeon. Note the violet on the wing and various shades of green. Photo courtesy of Stanislav Harvančík.

We will also introduce three Victoria crowned pigeons. These birds have an amazing fan of feathers that stick out of their heads like a crown. All three of these new crowned pigeons are related: a male, a female, and their offspring. Native to Papua New Guinea, these birds are near threatened species and give us the perfect opportunity to talk about conservation. They also make a very unique “whooping” noise when they call.

Portrait of a Victoria crowned pigeon. Photo courtesy of the Honolulu Zoo.

The violet turaco will join these two pigeon species. Of all three, this bird is the most colorful. Like the name indicates, these birds are primarily violet with a beautiful iridescent sheen. Their beaks are an interesting shape with both yellow and orange. They have a red head and bright red feathers underneath their wings. We are really excited for visitors to see the violet turaco in flight when the red underside of their wings is on full display.

We are excited to bring “Loose in the Zoo” back to our visitors. The new birds I mentioned will not be the only ones to join our flock, so stay tuned! We are constantly looking for ways to enhance the zoo experience and bringing back “Loose in the Zoo” is just the beginning.

Profile view of a violet turaco proudly displaying their prominent beak. Photo courtesy of the Dudley Zoo & Castle.

Friends of the Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo

info@friendsjmz.org | www.friendsjmz.org


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