A Night in the Zoo

By: Stefanny Santana Rivera

            No matter your age, you are never too old to go to the zoo. On Thursday October 20, 2011, the Dr. Juan A. Rivero zoo hosted an event for the annual National Puerto Rican Parks Week. The invited guest for the event was maestro Cucco Peña directing the Puerto Rico Orchestra. The event started at 8p.m. and lasted until 10:30p.m. During which time, people got to see the animals, listen to the orchestra, buy local arts and crafts and eat native Puerto Rican food.

A woman selling her handmade native arts and crafts.

The Dr. Juan A. Rivero Zoo was established in 1954, and it is managed by the Puerto Rican National Parks Company, which is government affiliated. According to Luisa Cupeles, the zoo contains a wide selection of animals in which are divided into two groups: the African Forest and the African Savannah. In there, people will find snakes, chimpanzees, elephants, giraffes, camels, lions, tigers, pumas, jaguars, birds, amongst many other amazing creatures.

Puerto Rico National Parks Company logo.

In the mean time, the zoo houses 600 vertebrates and 135 species. In between those species, there are endangered species like the Carey sea turtles and jaguars, endemic species like the Puerto Rican Parrot, and other foreign species. Animals from this zoo are either from Central America, South America, the Caribbean, Africa or Australia. “The animals brought to this zoo have approximately the same climate. They have to stay on quarantine, after this period is over; they are ready for public exposure. By this time, they have adapted to the local climate. We try to make it as easy as possible for them to adapt but it is not that hard because as I said before, they are used to being on tropical climates, ” said Dr. Luis Figueroa, the Dr. Juan A. Rivero Zoo curator.

Butterfly Sanctuary entrance.

The zoo exchanges exotic species with other zoos. Throughout the year, animals are going in and out of the Puerto Rico zoo and into different parts of the world. “In the second week of November, two new species are getting out of quarantine and into public exposure. I cannot say what they are because it will ruin the surprise. Every few months we have new arrivals as we have departures,” said Figueroa.

The zoo is ranked as the best zoo in all Central America and the Caribbean for its wide animal diversity. It competes with high raking zoos in the Americas. “We have a greater variety of animals than Animal Kingdom in Walt Disney World.” said Dr. Luis Figueroa. The zoo receives around 300,000 visitors each year, in between school trips, tourists, locals and other organizations. “Everyone just loves the zoo, it brings out their inner child,” said Deric Ortiz, University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez Campus student.

Mainly researchers from the University of Puerto Rico conduct research programs at the zoo. Professors have to submit proposals for the zoo to verify and grant them permission to use the facilities and the animals. They prohibit invasive studies, in other words researchers cannot harm the animals in any way with any type of drug or procedure.

The National Parks Company of Puerto Rico has an animal sponsorship program called “I love the animals of my zoo”. With this program, people adopt a pet without taking it home. They just sign up and send money every month for the nurturing of the animal. On the zoo night held on October 20, employees of the National Parks Company had an information booth and were encouraging the public to join. They handed out the application forms and told the public step by step what they had to do to adopt animals. People were enthusiastic about adopting a pet and not having to take care of it. “I work all day and do not have time to take care of animals. Since I have always wanted to have a pet, this is the perfect way of making my dream come true.” said Madeline Rivera, local resident.

Huge termite inside the Butterfly Sanctuary.

When people entered the zoo, they encountered with vivacious National Park employees who informed them about the whole week’s activities among other things. People had the chance to enter the butterfly sanctuary. Kids were stunned after seeing huge ants and termites. Inside the butterfly sanctuary, people of all ages had a blast either reading interesting animal facts or playing hide and go seek. Others chose to explore the zoo at night; visitors from 10 to 60 years, had a thrilling experience feeding camels, seeing tigers sleeping and hippos bathing. The only difference: IT WAS DARK. But it is not over yet!!! According to zookeepers, zoo nights are happening once a month. “First people get to explore the zoo and go on their own adventures; then, everybody gathers in front of the butterfly sanctuary and enjoys a movie. This whole experience is completely free of charge,” said Roberto Gonzalez, zookeeper.

Kids playing hide and go seek in a small cave inside the Butterfly Sanctuary.

Meanwhile, kids and young adults were busy exploring, maestro Cucco Peña and the Puerto Rico Orchestra entertained the adult and senior public. He directed the orchestra into a 1920s melody, which was the first song ever recorded by Puerto Rican musicians. Singer Leyla Martinez accompanied him in the performance and she also sang a Puerto Rican woman medley. The crowd was amazed by the performance, some even danced to the melody. There were close to 400 people at the event. “It surpassed our expectations, but then again, people in the community are very supportive of our work and they are always present at our events. We are delighted with tonight’s performance,” Figueroa said.

Maestro Cucco Peña and the Puerto Rican Concert Orchestra entertaining the older public.

Zoo nights are being held every month right here in Mayaguez, at the Dr. Juan A. Rivero Zoo. For more information, visit the facility, open Wednesday-Sunday from 8:30a.m.- 4:00p.m.

A family enjoying the wonders of the zoo.


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