The situation of the Santo Inácio zoo, in Vila Nova de Gaia, is “viable”, especially in comparison to the first lockdown, but the question that Teresa Guedes, director of the space, asks is: “Until when?” The hope is that the zoo's doors will open again “right after Easter”, in April, not least because the usual “laughter from visitors is already missing”, both for workers and animals. “Hello, hello, hello”, you hear when you pass the macaw cage.
In other times, this would be the greeting of one of the more than 40,000 children who pass by the schools annually or another visitor, but this time it is from one of the green macaws. Synchronised with the "hello" of the macaw, on the other side of the passage, the five spider monkeys are approaching the glass and exhibiting their most skilled acrobatics. Accustomed to the constant movement of people, these wild animals but in captivity have felt the lack of people who visited them daily. “There is a change in attitude and behaviour that can be noticed in the transition phases, when we have visitors and we no longer have them, and when we start to have them again”, says Carla Monteiro, veterinarian at the zoo. Without visual, auditory or olfactory stimuli, the animals “are calmer, sleep more and spend more time at peace”.
Tigers, lions and hyenas, sleep between “20 to 23 hours a day”. If the presence of people by the Siberian tiger cage barely arouses the curiosity of the single male and two females, in the hyena cages, at the slightest movement, the family of five approaches to understand who it is. To compensate for the lack of stimuli, the zoo team has been working on “enrichments” and interacting with animals both through the technical corridor and on the visitors' side. The “curious primates” are offered “boxes with small balls of paper inside”, enough to entertain themselves for a few hours: “they open the boxes, put themselves inside them, take the boxes and put them on their heads is an animation”, he says.
In the habitats of lions, tigers, hyenas, panthers and wild goats, the zoo team places boxes with leftover hay from other animals or bovine bones to encourage behavior in search of prey. “These animals are in the habit of meeting and seeing people passing by on a daily basis. This period is strange, I hope it will not be prolonged and that there will be no major side effect for them to return to their normal routine, because they are all used to it ”, points out Carla Monteiro. In the same way that lockdown showed the need to increase some practices, the pandemic reinforced the importance of maintaining certain care for animals, since “the risk of transmission exists”. “We have interaction with the animal, but we avoid direct contact as much as possible. We had a recent birth and we were all equipped with gloves, boots, masks. Since March, we have had these procedures ”, explains the veterinarian. “Maintaining the animals' wild instinct has always been one of the zoo's missions,” which, due to the pandemic and minimising contacts, has become more pronounced, says Teresa Guedes. "These are not going to be animals returned to nature, if necessary, but they could be your grandchildren or great-grandchildren, so we don't know, therefore, the more natural the animal's behaviour is and the further away from the human the better," she said.
In this space, where 600 animals of 200 species live on 15 hectares, new companions from the zoo in Lagos and zoos in France will join in April to “reproduce and improve the groups”. “The new animals will complete groups to reproduce and also improve, because some animals don't like to be alone”, reveals Teresa Guedes. While the zoo team is waiting, both for visitors and for new animals, some services are being "improved and expanded" such as the entrance, shop and ticket office. “We are going to condense everything into a wider area, to also ensure that people are further away. We intend to have this ready for Easter ”, she explains. Teresa Guedes' wish is that “this year is better than 2020”, a year in which 135,000 visitors were received (22 percent less than in 2019), and that “bring back the laughter of children, adults and gather again the whole team ”made up of 42 people, 28 percent of whom were at home in lay-off.