A Spotlight on The Micke Grove Zoo in Lodi, CA

[caption id="attachment_1980" align="alignleft" width="246"]snow leopard Micke Grove Zoo's famous snow leopard.[/caption] Lodi California is filled with activities and attractions that keep locals and visitors smiling. One of those treasures is the Micke Grove Zoo, home to native and exotic species from all over the world, including many endangered species. Visit Lodi! recently sat down with Allison Meador, the Micke Grove Zoo’s Director of Conservation Education, to learn more about what makes this local attraction so unique! Here’s what Allison shared with us:

Visit Lodi!: Which zoo exhibits are “must-sees?”

Allison: All of them! But I suppose our most popular animals on exhibit year-round are the fossa, bobcat, spider monkeys, and snow leopard. Each of these animal ambassadors are from different parts of the world, so you can really trek the globe in one single loop around the zoo. Additionally, they tell very important conservation messages unique to their type of ecosystem. Another fan-favorite exhibit is the Gardner Mediterranean Aviary, which is a walk-through exhibit housing about six different bird species. Lastly, people absolutely love when the lorikeets are here during the summertime because visitors can directly feed nectar to the birds.

Visit Lodi!: What makes the Zoo unique?

Allison: Although it is small, Micke Grove Zoo houses some of the most rare and unique wildlife on the planet. We are one of the few zoos in California to house the fossa, the top predator of Madagascar. We also have the largest captive population of golden lion tamarins (a fifth infant was born in early February 2015). We were also chosen by the AZA Species Survival Plan program to receive a fossa and a snow leopard for conservation breeding purposes, all thanks to our amazing track record and dedication to high quality animal care. Additionally, because we are a small zoo outside of a metropolitan area, we are not as crowded as most zoological parks. As a result, every visit to Micke Grove Zoo is an intimate one. People don’t have to worry about large crowds or high ticket prices. We are located inside of a beautiful park with a disc golf course, Japanese garden, picnic areas, play structures, and a small amusement park. A visit to the zoo can truly be a great family experience.

Visit Lodi!: Can you describe the most interesting endangered species that you have?

Allison: Nearly half of the total species and almost all of the mammals at Micke Grove Zoo are currently recognized as threatened or endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The most critically endangered species we have is the Waldrapp ibis, also known as the Northern bald ibis. I personally find this species to be incredibly fascinating, primarily because they are the most at risk as well as the most misunderstood. There are fewer than 420 of these birds left in the wild and their population is limited to a very small sparse range in both Morocco and Syria. In fact, there are three times as many Waldrapp ibises in captivity than there are in the wild. Zoos are working hard to save this species. The ibis population decline is likely due to habitat loss, uncontrolled hunting (their meat is considered a delicacy), and pesticides. [caption id="attachment_1979" align="alignleft" width="225"]ibis The rare Waldrapp Ibis.[/caption] The Waldrapp ibis is often mistaken as a scavenging vulture because of its bald head and black feathers, but it is actually an insectivore that uses its long beak to pluck out insects from mud, grasses, and rocky crevasses. Its bald head helps keep it free of mites, but each bird’s head is uniquely marked. We can always tell the difference between individual birds! During the mating season, the males lift their crest of black feathers around their neck and it looks like they’re wearing spiked collars. They may also be the very same species so well recognized from Ancient Egyptian culture, such as the head of Thoth: the god of knowledge.

Visit Lodi!: Who are the most entertaining animals you have at the zoo?

Allison: Nitro, our bobcat, is probably the most entertaining animal we have. He was found as an abandoned kitten and was sent to a rehabilitator who kept him in too close proximity to humans. Despite further attempts to rehab him back into the wild, he demonstrated too much comfort around people. This made him a threat to humans and to himself. Now that he will live out his life at Micke Grove Zoo, he’s perfectly content “flirting” with the public. He always runs to the front of the enclosure and will sometimes jump as high as fifteen feet! One of our family members entered a naming contest for him, and her choice was Nitro. We thought it was perfect because nitrogen can be an explosive compound, and this bobcat just explodes off his feet into the air!

Visit Lodi!: Which animal facts do you think people are most surprised to learn about when they visit the zoo?

Allison: To rattle off a few...
  1. The fossa is not a cat or a dog or a monkey; it’s the top predator of Madagascar and it’s most closely related to the . . . wait for it: mongoose!
  2. Snow leopards not only use their tails for balance, they also use them like scarves around their necks - to keep their faces warm.
  3. Tamarins and marmosets are usually born as twins or triplets; it’s very rare to have a single born infant.
  4. People are amazed at how old our spider monkey is. He’s 48 and the oldest living animal in the zoo (and rumored to be the oldest black handed spider monkey in captivity).
  5. A non-animal fun fact that always gets people: Micke Grove Zoo is not named after a person with the first name Micke and the last name Grove! It’s named after William G. Micke who donated an oak grove to become Micke Grove Park. He also built the zoo with his own two hands (with the help of some friends).

Visit Lodi!: How can kids experience hands-on learning at the zoo?

Allison: The Micke Grove Zoo Education Department provides educational field trips and outreach programs to students in preschool all the way up through college. In one of our programs, “Eco Explorers,” students in 6th grade and up come to Micke Grove Zoo to learn about and implement research on animal behavior. They are actually contributing valuable information about how our animals use enrichments in their exhibit or interact with one another. We also go to schools in our “Zoo Mobile” and bring critters and bio-facts (skulls, feathers, skin, scales, pictures, replicas, etc.). It makes the classroom a special place for a day and raises the ordinary to the extraordinary. These programs can be explored in more detail on our website. In addition to providing programs for students, the Education Department hosts a variety of hands-on discovery programs for the general public throughout the year. The first, third, and fifth Sunday of every month, we offer a “Toys for Critters” program where families with children over the age of four can build enrichments (toys/treats that keep our animals mentally and physically stimulated) for the animals. We offer toddler programs on a seasonal basis, and our birthday parties, Zoo After Dark, and Zoo Camps are our most popular “behind the scenes” experiences.

Visit Lodi!: How can Lodi locals get involved and support the zoo?

Allison: Micke Grove Zoo relies on the generosity of its community and supporters for its continued growth and success. People can support Micke Grove Zoo by becoming a zoo member, adopting an animal, attending fundraisers, and much more. More information about supporting the zoo can be found online.

Visit Lodi!: Thank you Allison for the great interview and to the Micke Grove Zoo for being a part of our blog!

Allison: Thank you so much for the opportunity to answer your questions. Have a great day and thank you for supporting Micke Grove Zoo.