Zoo employee keeps animals alive during coronavirus crisis

Dr. Nicole Conklin is essential because without her, hundreds could die.

As the animal keeper at Liberty Science Center, the 27-year-old is in charge of caring for and feeding the more than 100 species at the now-shuttered museum.

Conklin is on-site to care for and maintain the health of Rosie, the boa constrictor; Mickey, the green-winged macaw; the naked mole-rats; the family of endangered cotton-top tamarins, and many others.

And she’s dispensing plenty of TLC through her PPE.

“With the uncertainty of COVID and how that passes to animals, we make sure to wear a mask and gloves,” she said. “I’ve worked with the animals for four years — I have a bond and connection with them and it would be hard not to see them daily.

“If we were to just go in to clean and feed them, without spending that time with them, they wouldn’t be thriving. … Providing enrichment, interaction and stimulation is a major part of the job now.”

Since many species are used to seeing hundreds of visitors a day, Conklin cultivates creative ways to stimulate her pals, like handling the snakes in 10-minute clips and letting the tortoise walk around and get that exercise that he would have gotten if the regular program were running.

As for the naked mole rats, which she insists are “social” creatures, Conklin set up her laptop near their enclosure to play the movie Rio, so they would benefit from the sound and colorful visuals of a cartoon.

“They were up at the sides of their enclosures looking at the laptop. They were definitely interested. And it was a good break from not having stimulation,” she said of the successful activity, adding that there was only one thing missing for the movie afternoon. “We didn’t give them popcorn, but they got rat pellets.”

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