Duluth zoo’s updated barnyard exhibit features better animal contactThe barnyard exhibit at the Lake Superior Zoo is back, and it has gone touchy-feely.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
The barnyard exhibit at the Lake Superior Zoo is back, and it has gone touchy-feely.
“This is where someone who has never been exposed to wildlife or nature can step into a facility and actually touch an animal, whether it’s a goat or a miniature horse,” said Peter Pruett, director of zoo operations, during a brief dedication ceremony on Saturday morning.
The zoo long has had a barnyard, but in the past visitors had to reach over a fence to touch the animals, said Jennifer Eickhoff, one of the zoo’s primary barn keepers. A new fencing system was installed last year allowing visitors to come through a double gate and stroll among the goats, sheep and other farm animals in what’s called a contact yard.
A grand opening ceremony had been planned last summer, Eickhoff said. But the June 20 flood intervened, killing 14 zoo animals, including 11 of the 12 in the barnyard. Only Darla, a miniature horse, was able to swim for safety and survive.
The flood left a mess but did surprisingly little damage to the barnyard structures, Eickhoff said. But it was a barnyard without much life.
“It was just eerie and uncomfortable,” Eickhoff said. “It was too quiet down here for a little too long.”
All of that seemed like a bad but quickly fading dream under blue skies and welcome warmth on Saturday morning. The zoo made a festive occasion of the event, with a maypole dance and folk music by Terrance Smith, and other activities through the day.
But the stars were the barnyard animals, now back up to a count of 13 with more on the way, said Kim Matteen, the zoo’s marketing director. Two of those additional animals already are on zoo property and just need to finish a mandatory quarantine before meeting the public.
In addition, a coop is being constructed for 15 chickens in three breeds: Modern BB Red Game, Lakenvelder and Silver Penciled Rock. The first two, although domestic, are endangered species, Pruett said. The Silver Penciled Rock is, well, just cool, because its feathers can be used to make lures for fly-fishing.
Pekin ducks (think: Aflac) also are on the way, Matteen said.
Of the current group, the sheep were mostly taking refuge in the barn, which is off-limits to human visitors. Goats seemed to relish the attention, and the feeling was mutual.
“I like the goats,” said Nathan McIntyre, 10, of Duluth, who added that he likes to see “every single animal” in the zoo.
“I like the goats,” agreed Lucas Ruotsalainen, 7, of Proctor. “I like the feeling of the horns.”
The barnyard is the zoo’s “gateway exhibit,” Pruett said, because it gives some people their first experience with animals.
“This is where it all starts,” he said. “It can start with a 3-year-old or a 30-year-old or a 90-year-old. It doesn’t really matter, as long as you get in there and you wrestle a goat.”