This past Saturday, five CC students braved the cold and snow to volunteer at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. Sponsored by BreakOut, the trip’s original plan had been to help make toys and treats for the animals, but due to the recent weather, more active help was needed. Together with 13 FIJI pledges from CC, the BreakOut volunteers worked to clear the snow from the giraffe and elephant yards.
As one of the zookeepers explained that if giraffes fall over in the snow, they are physically unable to rise again, and elephants have no fur or blubber to protect them from the cold. Since the animals’ origins in the African savannah had not evolved them for below-zero temperatures and snow, they had been forced to spend the past few days inside and were becoming restless.
Because of the weather, the zoo was almost completely empty, and the visit allowed volunteers a behind-the-scenes look at life at a zoo. The highlight of the trip was getting to interact much more closely with the animals. Volunteers were able to go into the animal houses to feed and pet a black rhino named Jumbe, an African elephant named Malaika, and a giraffe.
They also got to see some of the daily work that zookeepers do. After feeding Malaika, the volunteers watched as she was given a bath. This was also an opportunity to witness the bond between zookeepers and their animals; the elephants had been trained to turn around, lie down, and present their feet so that they could be washed. Training the elephants makes it easier for the zookeepers to care for such huge creatures.
Elephants are highly intelligent and display strong family ties and complex social behaviors. For example, elephants in the wild have been seen covering the bodies of dead herd members with sticks and leaves, mourning over them, and returning to the gravesite again and again. Black rhinos have been severely affected by illegal poaching, and are extremely endangered in the wild. They are hunted for their horns, which are made of compressed hair.
The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo was started in 1926 by Spencer Penrose, who also founded the Broadmoor Hotel. Penrose began collecting animals in 1916, when he was given a bear as a present. Attractions at the zoo include the Shrine of the Sun (the historic carousel, which was a popular attraction at the 1932 World Fair), over 200 species of animals, and North America’s largest captive giraffe herd. The zoo, which is only 15 minutes from campus, is a great place to volunteer or visit. To learn more about their exhibits, fundraising efforts, or volunteer opportunities, visit www.cmzoo.org.