5/14/2013 10:33:00 AM Navajo Nation Zoo a home for orphaned animals
The Hogan Greenhouse is a new addition at the Navajo Nation Zoo. Photo/Geri Hongeva
Kayla Notah, 7, from Ft. Defiance, Ariz. and Nicole Pappastamou, 7, from Sawmill, Ariz. enjoy the company of Eddie the Eagle, Smokey the Bear and Woodsy Owl May 4 at the Navajo Nation Zoo. Photo/Geri Hongeva
WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. - The Navajo Nation Zoo and Botanical Park is the only tribally owned zoo in the country and home to more than 100 animals representing 50 species.
Navajo Nation zoologist David Mikesic said the idea for a zoo started back in the late 1960s when someone found an orphaned bear on Defiance plateau, and brought the bear down to Window Rock where it became an exhibit at the Navajo Nation fair.
"This was before rehab centers and things like that," Mikesic said. "The bear was a big hit and a lot of people really liked it and there were a lot of other orphaned and injured animals that started to become available. The decision was made, at that point, to begin keeping them and exhibiting them."
Mikesic said about 80-90 percent of the animals at the zoo are injured or orphaned in the wild and can't be returned to the wild and survive.
"We have hawks and eagles and owls and most of them have a very severely broken wing or a wing that had to be amputated. Many of our mammals, our raccoons, bobcats or mountain lions were orphaned in the wild too young to be able to survive on their own."
Mikesic said while the public sometimes brings animals to the zoo directly, most are brought by wildlife agencies like Arizona Game and Fish or New Mexico Game and Fish or rehabilitation centers for animals.
"These agencies bring us animals that are in need of a home after they have been triaged to recover," Mikesic said. "If we have a space available, we will give them a home."
He added that the agencies and the zoo release animals if it is possible.
"We had two very young raccoons a week or two ago. They were picked up in the farm fields in Farmington, N.M. and the adult was nowhere around. They were probably three or four days old," Mikesic said. "We basically nursed them with a syringe for about five days. Once we knew that they were going to survive, we sent them to a rehabilitation center so they could be raised partly wild and then be released.
"It would have been very easy to keep them and raise them and make them more tame and animals for exhibit but the best thing for them was to get them in the wild. We try to do that as much as we can."
The zoo is also meant to be a botanical park.
Within the last year the zoo has put in about 100 locally native plants and because of a donation from the Navajo Nation Telecommunications and Utilities, the zoo was able to have a landscaping crew come out and help plant plants and put in rock and brick for a more manicured look. Volunteers come in regularly to help put in new plants and to manage what the zoo has.
"If we can add 100 plants a year for the next five or so years we could be officially a native garden, I hope," Mikesic said. "We're really trying to grow the facility and make it a modernized zoo and botanical garden that the Navajo people are proud of."
Zoo officials like to refer to the zoo as a sanctuary.
"When orphaned, injured animals cannot live in the wild we provide them a sanctuary," Mikesic said. "We provide them food and shelter and fresh water and clean up after them every day and keep them healthy throughout their natural life."
The zoo puts on three events every year. Zoo Fest celebrated spring May 4. Zoo Boo takes place around Halloween and involves a costume contest and arts and crafts geared around Halloween. A summer event takes place around July 4.
"It's a way for us to thank our visitors for their support of the zoo by coming and observing our animals, by asking questions and making donations, if possible," Mikesic said.
The zoo is free Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
"The zoo is geared to be an educational facility so right now we have schools coming by the busload," Mikesic said. "The more students that we can bring in and give a private tour to the better."
The Navajo Nations pays for about 80 percent of the zoo. The remaining money comes from donations and merchandise sales. Mikesic said the zoo has wonderful project sponsors.
Navajo Nation telecommunications sponsored the gardens, and Navajo Division of Transportation helped with new parking lot. The Navajo Nation facilities maintenance helps with frozen water lines and building maintenance. The Navajo Nation vet program helps the zoo with a vet who comes once a month or as needed to help with animal health issues and vaccinations.
Mikesic emphasizes that people should come out and enjoy the zoo.
"There are places in the zoo you can get away from the hustle and bustle of the day and just kind of sit and watch some of our animals," Mikesic said. "It is a sanctuary for nature and the spirit."