Animal playtime

The lions, tigers and bears at Roosevelt Park Zoo in Minot were a little more playful Thursday morning once they discovered new toys to amuse themselves in their exhibits.

The Minot Zoo Crew, formerly Greater Minot Zoological Society, received a donation from Hess Corp. in Minot to be used toward enrichment items for the larger animals at the zoo.

The official presentation of the play pieces was Thursday morning in front of the lion exhibit in the zoo. Representatives from Hess Corp. in Minot were present, as well as staff members from the zoo. With the funds from Hess, the zoo was able to purchase new toys for the animals.

Becky Zahn-Walcker, senior zookeeper, said she has wanted the weighted balls for a long time and was really excited to have finally received them for the animals. The balls are expensive though, and take up half of the budget typically allotted from the Minot Zoo Crew, she said. “I’m excited to receive the donation for them. Thanks to Hess, we were able to get several balls.”

The new toys are heavy duty and are currently placed in the lion, tiger, and bear exhibits. There is a 95-pound ball for the lions to play with, along with two smaller, non-weighted balls for the bears to amuse themselves with, and another oblong stone-type toy that doesn’t move.

Roosevelt Park Zoo participates in an enrichment program that promotes creating stimulation for the animals in their environment and they offer stimulation for their entire collection of animals. Different animals require varying amounts of time spent participating in stimulating activities. For example, the cats require stimulating activity five times a week, while the primates require stimulating activity twice a week, Zahn-Walcker said. “It’s good for their health and something for them to do,” she said.

The play items will be rotated every day, Zahn-Walcker said. She said the new balls can also be played with by other animals, like the warthogs, deer or bison. “It’s kind of a trial and error to find out what the animals like,” she said.

She said the zoo staff also will hide food in the animals’ exhibits which stimulates them and is fun for visitors to watch.

Zahn-Walcker said she hopes to get five years use out of the new toys. She said the zoo also hopes to get more stimulus toys specific for each animal.

“It makes me feel better giving (the animals) a better life,” Zahn-Walcker said. “It means a lot that people in the community care.”

Staci Kenney, Minot Zoo Crew executive director, said the otters and penguins will return to the zoo by the end of the season. She said that after this season the zoo will be out of the flood recovery stage and back to where they were pre-flood.

The zoo opens for the season on Saturday, May 3.