Dayna Del Val was live with Sally Jacobson at the Red River Zoo. They talk about the importance of the zoo, their reopening, and some special furry guests make an appearance.
Dayna Del Val: Hi, it’s Dayna at The Arts Partnership. I’m clearly wearing a mask, so I hope that you can hear me I’m gonna try to speak a little slowly and a little louder. it’s my first time back in a public space with our guests for Tappy Hour. So we are at the zoo with Sally Jacobson. And Sally, thanks for saying yes to this. So you opened last Saturday, how has it been?
Sally Jacobson: It has been overwhelmingly positive. People are so excited to have a place to come that they feel is safe. Kids have been locked in the house for so long, parents are looking for some kind of relief.
DDV: So talk a little bit about the precautions you have in place, so people know what to expect.
SJ: It’s definitely a different trip to the zoo right now. And we do have masks. And so we are recommending that, you know, of course, not requiring them of people, but we are recommending them. We do have a phased opening plan. So right now, during this phase, all of our indoor buildings, just like the one we’re in right now, are closed.
We have paw prints set up throughout the zoo, and it is one way traffic. One way traffic through the park so that we don’t have people crossing pathways. We try to avoid it as much as possible. There’s an adventure through the zoo following the little footprints. Then we also have a temporary exit on busy days.
And of course, the carousel is closed. That one poses special, not special problems but special solutions. Because when you have to go riding a carousel, how do you maintain that six foot distance?
DDV: But you’re here, and you’re open.
SJ: We’re open and we were one of, if not the first to be open to the public, one of the very first to be open the public in the country.
DDV: I want you to tell the funny story that you told before we went on air.
SJ: I guess it’s a good like COVID story. To keep our animal care staff separate, all our staff are on different teams. So there’s one team that takes care of the main park on certain days and another team for nights, they don’t cross when the other team takes over. And then during this whole last two months, I’ve been up in the admissions building where the primates are, that’s my specialty. So it kind of worked out really well that I had to be the one up there.
There was a period of time when my kids were with their dad that I didn’t see another human like five days, and I am a human person. I crave talking to people. I just felt myself feeling so lonely and realizing as I was doing it that I was talking with the monkeys more and more as I was cleaning. And that Saturday night, I was like you know what, let’s watch a movie tonight. I grabbed my big computer monitor and we watched The Little Mermaid together. And it was great enrichment for the monkeys, because of the movement and the color and sounds and really psychologically stimulated them but they come right up to the screen and touch it and then look behind the screen.
DDV: One of the things that I have always appreciated about this zoo, Lisa Tate did it and you do it, is that you have incorporated so much education into this being a place to come and observe and I just, I have always really appreciated that because I don’t have any background in animals.
There’s so much about the zoo that happens behind the scenes, that makes it such a universally important place.
SJ: I think that our behind the scenes stuff, in my mind, is the coolest stuff that we do.
There’s one thing of looking at a wolf and reading a sign. But you can also really start to learn what’s going on behind and get engaged behind the creative process that we have or the greater philosophy of what we’re doing.
One of the things I’m really excited about was last year we brought in these black footed ferrets. We are one of the six zoos I think in the world part of this thing called Zoo Parks Partnership. Where zoos partner with a national park. And so the thought is to get people to visit zoos and national parks back and forth have a common education mission and a common language but we also can help with meta population management.
DDV: Talk about this idea of being a living museum.
SJ: It is a museum, it’s a living museum. And so we need to when we’re building exhibits, just like you’re putting on an exhibit on the art museum or something, you need to be respectful of your art piece. When we’re creating the exhibits from the animal, we need to be respectful of the animals’ environment and make sure that we’re portraying that animal in the correct way to the public. I think that there’s a lot of people that want to see us grow faster, faster, faster. But, we’re not doing it until we can do it the right way in the right way costs money.
DDV: I do think we have learned some incredible lessons, we’ve been challenged in really interesting ways. And really stressful ways. I mean, there’s no question. It’s been stressful for the arts sector. But the the pivot is, is interesting. And as I keep saying to people, for 10 years, I’ve said to the community, bring artists to the table because they know how to problem solve, they know what to do in a panic.
The arts sector has shown up, including you, and I view you as a part of the sector because of the ay you talk about this zoo.
SJ: Yeah, it is almost like an art piece. It’s so critically important to our zoo. I think Lisa really embraced that and I’m trying to build on that. Because that’s what makes it its own place, that’s what makes it unique and it gives you the flavor of Fargo. It is its own little place and it is in large part due to the art in the zoo.
DDV: So what do you need, Sally?
SJ: Well, right now, we can’t handle a lot of volunteers. Okay. I think as we move forward from this, we will definitely need volunteers back and creative partnerships. But the big thing is going to be money, obviously. It costs about $100,00 a month to run the zoo.
DDV: Say that again and say it slower.
SJ: It costs $100,000 a month to run the zoo and it’s incredible. Let me tell you we are lean. Our industry people are like how did you do it? We’re creative and we rely on our community to help us with things not just money but to help us get through you know, create something beautiful with nothing. But you can see the slippery slope happens fast, even though we have a great plan.
I feel like I’m like looking into a murky crystal ball just making my best guess. I’m trying to be optimistic, but also plan. The membership renewals have touched my heart because people immediately started renewing their memberships even knowing at that time when we were closed that they couldn’t come to the zoo, knowing that they could come some time.
DDV: What’s a family membership cost?
SJ: It’s $85 for an entire year. So that gets you, your significant other and all of your children into the zoo, and 150 other zoos across the country half off or free.
Watch the full video for more details on baby animals born or expected at the zoo. Stick around until the end to get a glimpse at the wolves!