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Wildlife Watch: Critter care continues at ECHO during closure

(WCAX)
Published: May. 12, 2020 at 3:18 PM EDT
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The coronavirus pandemic has forced all sorts of workplaces to change up their procedures to accommodate for physical distancing and that includes the ECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain in Burlington.

The doors are locked to the public at ECHO, but inside work continues.

"Animal care can't stop, so we have to be here to maintain the animals, maintain the habitat, feed the animals, so we are here," said Steve Smith, ECHO's director of animal care.

He says the place looks a little different then what people may remember from their last visit. "When we were closed, when all of this started in March, we obviously couldn't have all of our volunteers continue here and we also went to staggered shifts. So, there is a great reduction in the amount of labor that we had available to care for the animals," Smith said. "We sort of moved things around towards the upstairs animal care space so we didn't have to move things around to do all the maintenance, so it made it a lot more efficient for us -- it's a good mess right now."

That good mess includes moving wildlife exhibits to different parts of the building to help with physical distancing and more work friendly spaces as necessary to help feed the animals and clean the tanks.

"We have hoses that we don't have to haul around any more and it just makes it a lot more efficient for us when we are trying to scramble and get it done every day," Smith said

Ira Powsner, an animal care specialist, is among those staff that agree the temporary fix helps while they are closed to the public. "We miss the public, but its great to be able to spend more time with the animals then we normally would during the day. Doing all the tasks, making sure they are good, observing animal behavior that I haven't gotten to see before because the building gets so busy," Powsner said.

But some tasks, like changing the water in tanks, would be a part of normal every day life. "This is a regular task. This is regular animal husbandry -- providing good water quality for the frog," Powsner said.

Right now there are at the most five employees in the building while normally there could be up to 40 employees and volunteers on a normal day.

"It's challenging in different ways then it is normally challenging," said Shannon Kane, the animal care coordinator. She says it has been tough adjusting to the work that's done behind the scenes at ECHO without the help of volunteers. "Instead of having extra time to do projects and stuff, we have been doing all of the animal care ourselves," she said. "I think that we have come up with a lot of really good ways to reduce the work load to a more manageable level and I think that will help us moving forward."

And the work has been more then just every day maintenance. They are also taking the time to update the facility and exhibits while they are closed. Although they don't know when they can reopen, they say the facility and its wildlife will be ready.

"We are doing the best we can. We are developing protocols to make sure we keep this place safe for everybody, staff and guests," Smith said.

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