THE FOX TALE
for Visions Magazine
by Elaine Mayfield
As the Director of the Spring River Zoo, I have a wonderful job. I get to "talk" with the animals, chat with the public, be creative with plans and designs for the future, work with a fine zoo crew of dedicated people and generally have a great time. I wouldn't want to change my career for all the tea in China.
Occasionally, though, I have to deal with a sad situation such as the illness or even death of one of our zoo animals. It is one of these that I want to explain in hopes that visitors will understand and abide by one of our newer rules at the zoo.
One year ago the zoo staff recommended to the Roswell Parks and Recreation Commission that they adopt a policy prohibiting having pets in Spring River Park & Zoo. Prior to last Labor Day, pets were allowed on a six foot leash according to City ordinance. The decision to enact this regulation was made on several factors including the threat of diseases transferred from the visiting animals to our zoo animals, the harrassment of zoo animals by barking and/or lunging dogs, and the fears many zoo visitors have of dogs in general, especially those encouraged by laughing owners. This ordinance was passed and properly posted at all zoo entrances and most people have abided by the rules. However, we have had to ask several people each week to remove their pets from the grounds and occasionally meet with angry words. The rules are there for everyone's protection. Why would they want to jeopardize the health and well being of the very animals they came to see at the zoo?
Unfortunately the worst case scenario occurred this summer. For many years we have had a trio of Grey Foxes living in the first section of the zoo called the River Bottoms. This Spring we were excited that the younger female was pregnant for the first time and were looking forward to watching the playful little "kits". Within days of whelping she became sick and died. Before we could even get necropsy lab reports back the male was found dead. Our veterinarian diagnosed old fashioned distemper. Hopelessly we watched the virus spread to our remaining female, Edith, who has resided at the Spring River Zoo for seven years. Being a virus, there is no cure for distemper and we could only treat the symptons. She was gone a week later. The only way this virus could be transmitted was from a passing canine. Since the Fox inhabit the second enclosure from the entrance it is conceivable that many of those dogs we had to remove had gotten beyond that point by the time zoo staff spotted them.
Why were the foxes so vulnerable? Most canines are vaccinated with a certain type of vaccine called modified live virus and though not dangerous to your average pooch, the vaccine can be deadly to foxes. Therefore, zoos avoid vaccinating these and some other exotic animals for common canine diseases such as parvo or distemper. We must then control exposure to these dangers to our zoo critters and have joined with virtually every other zoo in this country and prohibited visiting pets. (Service dogs are permitted by law but they are always current on all shots and health certification.) This event has prompted the zoo staff to once again approach the Parks and Recreation Commission to put some teeth in this policy by recommending it be made a City Ordinance. If you have any questions about this policy feel free to contact the Zoo at 505-624-6760.
It is such a shame that we have lost these zoo family members but it is made worse knowing that they probably died as a result of someone's ignorance or their conscious disregard of the rules and policies that protect the animals and visitors.