People and Places
Keepers offer creatures comfort as animals pine for the public

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Like a lot of Peninsula businesses, the staff and owners of Moonlit Sanctuary are looking forward to opening their doors and welcoming back their customers – but it’s not only the humans who are feeling the effects of social distancing.

The keepers at the sanctuary say the animals are accustomed to routines and schedules that include hanging out with their human visitors, and some that are used to close human interaction with visitors when they take part in encounters and presentations are missing their human fan club.

“We were doing public encounters each day with our koalas, wombats and snakes, among other animals, so they are used to a lot of attention and it helps to keep them mentally stimulated,” said life sciences manager Lisa Tuthill. “For animals that are accustomed to seeing people nearly every day of the year, this massive change to their daily routine is being felt. 

“It’s now about maintaining our new normal and filling the gap that the visitors would otherwise fill with more animal enrichment and keepers and staff spending more time behaving like sanctuary visitors. The keepers are making an effort to keep to the usual schedules to minimise any disruption to the animals’ routines.”

One Moonlit office staff member said she never felt so popular during her recent visit.  “The cockatoos, who are very intelligent animals, were especially pleased to see me, all rushing over to chat away with a chorus of ‘Hello’ and ‘Who’s a good boy?’ They’re like, ‘Where are my humans?’ Even the wombats, who are solitary creatures, all popped out of their burrows and rushed to the edges of their enclosures to say hello.”

According to sanctuary owner and director Michael Johnson, some animals are continuing to turn up for their scheduled appearances despite having no visitors. “The kangaroos and dingoes particularly seem to be missing people,” Mr Johnson said.  “They really enjoy interacting with our visitors, and some of our animals miss being able to show off their talents and learned behaviours.

“Our visitors provide a fantastic real-life enrichment for the animals, and some of our social animals are very aware that things have changed but don’t understand why. We believe meeting each other is as engaging for many of our species as it is for the visitors.” 

Moonlit Sanctuary is home to more than 400 animals, and while all are fit and well as the pandemic continues, there is no doubt they will be happy to see visitors return. 

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