Lake Superior Zoo, Duluth, Minnesota

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

AZA inspection brings out best in zoo team!
Written by: Holly Henry

Everyone who has been involved in preparing for the inspection by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) knows how many monumental tasks have been achieved in recent months.

What has surprised me the most however, is how many interesting small tasks have been completed and by what a vast array of willing volunteers, board members and staff.

While the peeling railings on Polar Shores weren’t considered a huge priority on our list of things to do, our Director of Animal Management and our Volunteer Manager insisted it get done. Both of them, along with staff and volunteers, tackled the project after hours and on weekends.

In the days leading up to the inspection, unused clutter miraculously disappeared (OK, sometimes we simply relocated it to other areas), scuffs and scrapes were touched up and dust bunnies were swept away. People climbed up on ladders to tidy up even places no one was going to see. At one point a gaggle of us found ourselves giving sponge baths to leopard and tiger mounts (which, by the way, was NOT in my job description.)

We cleaned out the fridges, planted flowers, scrubbed toilets and cleaned up our work areas. Our keeper staff exceeded all expectations in the care and handling of our animals. Our CEO painted, our directors scrubbed and every member of our team contributed to this effort in one form or another.

I have a sign on my wall that reads “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly . . .”

I can’t help but think back to the zoo’s uncertain future after it lost accreditation, and to the transition from city operations to the Zoological Society. While I did not work here then, the zoo’s woes were big news and, of course, there were those who were certain of its demise.

“Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.”

Our zoo has, in many ways, become that butterfly. When I think of all the people through the years who formed and shaped its transformation I feel privileged to somehow be a part of it. Having come in during the last year of this awesome transformation it has been humbling to be only a small part of such an enormous task.

In the butterfly world, the caterpillar forms a protective shield called “pupa” and most of the transformation takes place inside that shield. Much like this transformation, a lot of the zoo’s transformation happened behind the scenes and the general public watched the butterfly emerge little by little. It has been a challenging, fun and sometimes amusing journey.

Margaret Meade once said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”

Here at the zoo, a group of thoughtful, committed people have indeed changed our little slice of the world.

Kudos to everyone who has helped turn our caterpillar into a butterfly!

posted by Keely Johnson at

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