By Rebecca Fiedler
This Saturday the Cameron Park Zoo will teach visitors about stewardship of the Earth, and specifically about how to protect a “Baylor” bear.
The zoo is celebrating Earth Day with its annual zoo event, Beasts ’N Blooms & Earth Day Too, and this year will have a special focus on the zoo’s black bears in honor of Baylor and a bear awareness week celebrated by members of the Black Bear Conservation Coalition in Texas.
Earth Day events will take place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., said Connie Kassner, education curator for the zoo. Bear awareness events will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Twelve organizations, such as Keep Waco Beautiful and the Lake Waco Wetlands, will be at the zoo talking about Earth Day and encouraging visitors to take care of the planet and themselves, Kassner said.
A special portion of events will be dedicated to teaching visitors how to help preserve the Louisiana black bear. Bears are a passion of Krista Seeburger, a Cameron Park Zoo mammal keeper. She said she wanted the zoo to host a day where she could educate the public about the bears. Kassner said she is this event’s coordinator and mastermind. She found out about the bear conservation week that other zoos in Texas are recognizing.
Kassner said this focus on bears will be something relevant to Baylor students. Kassner also said the zoo will offer a $1 discount off the regular ticket price of $9 on the day of the event to Baylor students, faculty and staff with their Baylor ID.
“So we thought, OK, this is perfect. We have a zoo in Waco,” Kassner said. “Let’s go ahead and coordinate, and so we thought, OK, well, let’s talk about the bears, but then how do we get Baylor people to come out to the zoo on Saturday?”
There will be zookeeper talks about the bears and enrichment demonstrations at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., Kassner said.
“Enrichment is anything that stimulates an animal mentally or physically,” said Rachael Chappell, a mammal keeper at the zoo. “Animals in captivity don’t have a whole lot to do for themselves that they would have to in the wild.”
The zoo provides the animals with food, shelter, medical care and companionship with another animals, and that can lead to a lot of down time for them, Chappell said, and in some animals that can manifest to boredom and pacing. Some animals can even self-mutilate, Chappell said.
For all animals at the zoo the goal is enrichment twice a day, and will consist of anything that stimulates any of the five senses. Spraying perfume for the animals to sniff and providing the animals with a puzzle-opening feeder are just two examples, Chappell said.
“It’s a passion for a lot of us. It’s a very important part of their daily husbandry,” Chappell said.
There will be a jar for donations to purchase future enrichment items for the zoo’s black bears, Chappell said.