WINDOW ROCK, AZ. – A new horizon lies ahead for the Navajo Nation Zoo.
Since its inception in 1977, the Navajo Nation Zoo continues to make great strides.
Navajo Nation Zoo Program Manager David Mikesic, stated, “We are in a constant state of progress.”
The mission of the Navajo Nation Zoo is to provide a continuously-improving and free-admission facility that exhibits native plants and animals, and promotes the awareness and education about the natural world to the Navajo people and world-wide visitors.
Within the past several months, Mikesic was instrumental in procuring funds to begin construction of a Navajo Nation Eagle Aviary and Education Center on the zoo grounds. The enhanced and expanded aviary will accommodate 15-20 eagles. It will cost about $800,000 to construct the new facility, which was funded by a variety of sources, including a federal U.S.Fish and Wildlife Service grant, a large donation from Navajo Tourism Department and funds from the Navajo Nation Unreserve Undesignated Fund Balance. The Zoo has also received large in-house project sponsorships from Navajo Tribal Utilities Authority, Frontier Communications, Navajo Parks and Recreation Department and several others.
The purpose of the eagle aviary is to house injured, non-releasable eagles that were given to the Navajo Nation Zoo while giving visitors an up-close view of them. The eagles will also serve as a source of ‘live’ eagle feathers that can be distributed back to the Navajo people to meet their needs for feathers. Feathers that are naturally shed from the eagles will be collected by Zoo staff and distributed through the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s permit system.
“The Zoo staff are very excited to see the completion of a new Eagle Aviary and Education Center,” Mikesic noted. “Visitors from within and outside the Navajo Nation particularly enjoy looking at and learning about eagles. The Navajo people also have a special interest because of their spiritual connection with eagles.”
A new addition at the Navajo Nation Zoo also includes a renovated event stage that entails a concrete stage that was built by the Zoo staff - they used concrete to ensure safety and longevity of the structure. Stadium-type seating was installed that will accommodate approximately 200 people and a large shade covering for protection from the heat now covers the entire area.
Mikesic commented, “This new stage and shade covering are a game-changer for our upcoming events because it will allow our visitors to sit comfortably for long periods for the on-stage activities.”
He explained, “We are very pleased there is a growing interest in visiting the Navajo Nation Zoo not only among the Navajo people, but for visitors as a whole. Due to this increasing interest, we decided to replace our old, dilapidated shadehouse with a modern, metal pavilion. This project could not have happened without the financial help from the Navajo Tourism Department. The Zoo now has a 40-foot octagon pavilion with bench seating and picnic tables that will hopefully be used by many school groups, families and others as a gathering area. We want our visitors to enjoy their experience here at the Navajo Nation Zoo. If they enjoy their experience, it is hoped they will share their visit, which will then attract more visitors.”
Over the years, Mikesic said there were concerns by Navajo parents and teachers who did not want their children to see, touch or smell snakes at the Navajo Nation Zoo. As a result of these cultural concerns, Mikesic rehomed the snakes to other zoos, which were transported to other zoos in the U.S.
“Since the Navajo Nation Zoo is managed and owned by the Navajo Nation, we need to listen to and respect the wishes of the Navajo people,” Mikesic said. “We do not want the Navajo people to be afraid to visit their zoo. We want them to learn about the role and significance of animals not only within the Navajo culture, but the role they have here on the Navajo Nation. Each and every animal here on the Navajo Nation has a purpose. The Navajo Zoo also has a purpose – one of those purposes is to educate everyone about the beauty and significance of animals and species on our land.”
Mikesic said that many of the animals at the Navajo Zoo are native to the Navajo Nation and the desert Southwest while the indoor animals such as the scorpion and treefrogs are from other regions of the country.
Moreover, he said nearly all of the animals at the Navajo Nation Zoo are there for one reason, noting, “They can no longer take care of themselves in the wild. They were recovered in the wild either orphaned or injured and can no longer take care of themselves in nature.”
A staff of six give the animals the care and undivided attention that is needed in order for them to survive.
A cross-section of some of the types of food given to the animals include a special prepared meat for the carnivores and birds-of-prey, a variety of fruits, vegetables and grains, and grass and alfalfa hays – some of these different types of food are shipped in from other parts of the country. The animal that requires the most amount of food is the elk, which eats approximately 20 pounds of food per day, but also the bears and cougars eat quite a bit for their size at up to 5 pounds per day.
Environmental enrichment activities were also incorporated for the animals, which means special treats and activities are given to the animals to ensure they are mentally and physically healthy.
Mikesic said, “Humans are not the only ones who have to eat healthy and be active. We decided to initiate environmental enrichment activities for our animals because they were already injured when we took them. We want to help them live long healthy lives and we want them to be mentally balanced and use some of the natural hunting skills and ingenuity to get food and treats.”
Some of the types of activities include hiding food and treats underground or in boxes or other devices that the animal must manipulate to receive the food. “The zookeepers have been creative and ingenious in developing new activities for the animals. It’s been great to see this new development take hold for the animals at the Navajo Zoo, and it’s been great to see the positive response from the animals” Mikesic added.
For more information about the Navajo Nation Zoo, call (928) 871-6574 or visit their website at www.navajozoo.org