A concerted effort — Teamwork key in maintaining zoo grounds, experience

5/16/2014

By KELTON BROOKS

By KELTON BROOKS

kbrooks@gctelegram.com

Maintaining the Lee Richardson Zoo requires a non-stop, total team effort.

Whether it's the executive director managing the daily operations, the maintenance crew securing the grounds and keeping the area in tip-top shape, the education coordinator providing information to the community about the zoo and its programs, or even the animal keeper ensuring a safe environment for animals, all the working parts come together to create an unforgettable experience.

"We wouldn't be where we are without teamwork," said Kristi Newland, who has worked at the zoo for nine years and was named zoo director on Friday. "We're a small zoo. Here, it's all hands on deck. Everybody is involved, and coordination is the key."

It may sound simple, but Newland said making sure everyone is in attendance is the first step to getting the ball rolling. By assuring maintenance, keepers and education staff are organized and ready to get the day started at the zoo, it makes operations run smoothly.

One of the main reasons the zoo is able to maintain its landscaped beauty throughout the park, well designed exhibits and upkeep of the grounds is because of the maintenance crew, which covers about 50 acres.

Louis Elchuck, who has worked in the maintenance department at the zoo for eight years, said each day the crew prioritizes activities such as building facilities, groundskeeping, mowing, irrigation, vehicle maintenance and signs.

"We try to maintain the safety," Elchuck said. "Anything that would be a hazard to the animals, the keepers or the public, we do those first."

Some of the animal hazards would include if a limb falls on a fence that would cause an animal to escape or injure themselves, if a lock on a stall for the animals wasn't secured, a hole in the ground that could cause trip hazards, or something as simple as debris in the way of those who come to the zoo.

While preserving the appearance of the zoo, Elchuck said maintenance has to show great awareness when it comes to working around animals.

"You have to always be aware of what animals are there and how our actions would affect them. Using a power tool outside of the zoo, you wouldn't even give it a second thought, but in the zoo, any kind of power tool and what noise it makes could stress them or change their behaviors," he said.

This particular situation goes hand-in-hand with animal keepers who routinely monitor the animals' behaviors and have to partner with maintenance.

"We have to be able to trust each. If I'm going out into the lion yard to do work, I have to trust the keeper that the lion or any animal is locked up and everything is safe for myself and the public. That's a way we build trust," Elchuck said.

Lee Richardson Zoo contains more than 300 animals from more than 100 species. Pablo Holguin, who has been with the zoo for 10 years as an animal keeper, joked and said, "I'm the 'a lot of animal

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