Saturday afternoon many Athens locals waded their way through the trees and trails to Bear Hollow’s annual “Zoo Day”, where ‘50s retro decorations consumed the park. This year’s theme was “DJ’s Diner,” named after DJ, one of the bears in residence at the zoo.
Visitors could spot many of the staff in pink poodle skirts with bright pink glasses, with paper records swaying along the rails walking to the amphitheater. The day was filled with educational presentations of respective animal diets, craft stations, honey stations/ bee conservation stations, animal encounters and, of course, the various animal viewing exhibits that Bear Hollow has to offer.
The main events of the day were held in the amphitheater. During the “Animal Diet Demonstrations,”program specialist, Jen Benoit and volunteer DJ Dobbs taught audiences about the diets of some of the animals in residence. First up was the opossum Roomba, followed by a 40-year-old red-footed tortoise, Morrocoy, who both enjoyed a selection of interesting salads.
“We are under [Athens-Clarke County] Leisure and everyone does programs throughout the year. [Zoo Day] is a fun thing for the community to come out and do,” Benoit said.
The last of the demonstrations introduced the newest resident of the zoo, Ponyo, the red eastern screech owl. Ponyo, who had been hit by a car, is now living with eye problems and head injuries and cannot hunt on her own. This means she will now stay with the zoo to be fed and taken care of. She was not bred in captivity, but cannot be released back into the wild as she would not survive, which is the case for the rest of the animals at Bear Hollow.
“All of our animals here have been deemed non-releasable for some reason or another. Some animals are missing eyes, or have wing injuries, so that’s why all the animals are here,” explained volunteer and University of the Georgia forestry student Megan McMillan.
McMillan and volunteer and UGA graduate Sylvi Oh ran the animal encounter portion of the day where visitors were able to get up close and personal with the animals, like Bear Hollow’s ball python Kaa.
Near the animal encounters were the different vendors who had come to set up booths at the event. These included organizations like the Sandy Creek Nature Center, UGA Entomology and the Georgia Museum of Natural History. At these booths, guests could find anything from a fox pelt to a Madagascar hissing cockroach.
“Obviously we have some materials out here — we assume that people who would bring their kids to ‘Zoo Day’ would want to bring their kids to the [Sandy Creek] nature center at some point,” said program leader for Sandy Creek Nature Center, Carmen Champagne. Champagne explained that the nature center and Bear Hollow are supporting each other in a majority of the events that they host, and have been vendors at “Zoo Day” for a very long time.
Another vendor at the event, Meg Abouhamdan, was someone that has been coming to Bear Hollow Zoo for as long as she can remember.
Abouhamdan is a local beekeeper and was volunteering at the booth “DJ’s Fav Honey.” The booth included honeycomb that visitors could touch, honey available for sampling, different types of honey, information on different types of bees and information on the conservation of bees.
“I used to come here in the ‘60s to look at the bears — I lived right on Milledge Heights,” Abouhamdan said. Abouhamdan has been volunteering at the zoo for five years and said that you can normally find her with the snakes, calling herself the “snake lady.” She said the quality of animal conservation development is increasing astonishingly compared to years ago, stating that “it’s all about animal welfare.”
A common theme surrounding the day was that the health of the animals was the staff and volunteers’ main priority. Bear Hollow takes care of animals that are unable to be released back to the wild in addition to animals that are not native to the area that were most likely pets that were not well taken care of.
For example, Morrocoy the tortoise was given up because the owner did not realize that he would live that long and could no longer take care of him. Benoit stressed to the crowd at the event that when buying a pet, it’s important to do research so these animals are healthy.
“Zoo Day” was not just a day for kids to come to see the animals, it was a way for Bear Hollow to showcase their animals while also educating visitors on conservation, volunteering and the caretaking of the animals in their facility.