7/23/2013 10:17:00 AM Navajo Division of Transportation improves Navajo Nation Zoo parking lot
The Navajo Nation Zoo now has a gravel parking lot and entry way leading to the attraction. Photo by Rick Abasta
Zoologist David Mikesic of the Navajo Nation Zoo (right) presents Paulson Chaco, director of Navajo Division of Transportation, with a plaque in appreciation of the agency’s donation of equipment, material and manpower to put gravel in the zoo parking lot and entry way. Mikesic presented the award at the Navajo Transportation Complex in Tse Bonito, N.M. in June. Photo by Rick Abasta
WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. - To say David Mikesic loves animals is an understatement.
Mikesic is the zoologist for the Navajo Nation Zoo. Educated as a biologist and zoologist, he spent most of his free time working with animals before moving to the Navajo Nation.
His passion for helping animals in need brought him to Window Rock in October 1994 to work for the Navajo Fish and Wildlife Department as a zoologist. Mikesic eventually became the zoologist for the Navajo Nation Zoo in 2010.
Since then, he has focused on improving the living conditions of animals at the zoo and enhancing the zoo experience for visitors.
Recently, one such improvement elevated the Navajo Nation Zoo experience significantly.
The Navajo Division of Transportation (NDOT) put gravel in the zoo parking lot and roadway in early 2013 making the zoo more accessible for employees and visitors alike.
NDOT director Paulson Chaco received a plaque in appreciation of the donation of goods and services in completing major renovations to the Navajo Nation Zoo parking lot and entry road.
Mikesic presented the award to Chaco in June 2013 at the Navajo Transportation Complex in Tse Bonito, N.M.
"The graveling effort for the Navajo Nation Zoo was another improvement project completed by the Navajo Division of Transportation," Chaco said. "We continue to move forward with the mission of NDOT, which is to improve transportation infrastructure on the Navajo Nation."
The project cost around $15,000 for manpower, equipment, and materials. More than $10,000 in general funds covered the cost of gravel.
Mikesic said the zoo was greatly improved for employee access and parking. Previously, employees and visitors had to slog through mud during wet weather. Visitors tracked mud and dirt tracked inside the zoo as well.
"It has reduced our need to clean mud from the office space as often. When it rained or snowed, the parking lot was difficult and dangerous to drive into," Mikesic said.
The zoo opened July 4, 1977.
Today, the zoo features over 100 animals from 50 different species. Most of the animals are native to the Navajo Nation and came to the zoo as injured or orphaned animals.
Six permanent staff members operate the Navajo Nation Zoo, in addition to dedicated volunteers from the Office of Youth Development, Workforce Development and Program for Self Reliance.
More than 40,000 people visit the zoo annually. The zoo is nestled into the sandstone rocks near the Arizona-New Mexico state line. More than 3,000 school kids take educational tours each year.
Popular exhibits at the zoo include the Golden eagles, the Black bear, raccoons and cougars.
Mikesic has a vision of modernity for the future.
"Within 10 years, I want to see the zoo as a more modern zoo with renovated animal enclosures and more education and recreational opportunities for the Navajo people and visitors from around the world," he said.
Plans include an eagle aviary, nocturnal mammal house, duck pond and other additions.
The Navajo Nation Zoo welcomes donations from the public.
People can sponsor an animal through the zoo's Adopt-an-Animal program. Organizations can also contribute by sponsoring renovation or construction projects with money or labor.
On July 6, the zoo celebrated its 36th anniversary with a party, free birthday cake and 25 cent hotdogs.
The Navajo Nation Zoo continues to provide a sanctuary for nature and the human and animal spirit.
"We provide people with an opportunity to make a connection and learn about the plants and animals of the local Navajo lands," Mikesic said. "We provide a quiet place in Window Rock to just calm the spirit among our wildlife."
New additions to the family of injured and orphaned animals at the zoo are Abbey the Black Bear and Mule Deers Jasmine and Bella. The zoo adopted them into the family in November 2012 and found a permanent home in Window Rock.
The Navajo Nation Zoo is the only full-scale zoo owned and operated by a Native American tribe.
The zoo is open Monday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is open on most major holidays.
More information is available at www.navajozoo.org or www.navajodot.org.