Pine Grove Zoo in Little Falls has wild summer lineup

Staff Writer


Zookeeper Beth Dieser gets a Siberian tiger at the Pine Grove Zoo to follow the baseball on a stick with his nose. In return, the tiger gets a treat of beef.
Zookeeper Beth Dieser gets a Siberian tiger at the Pine Grove Zoo to follow the baseball on a stick with his nose. In return, the tiger gets a treat of beef.

Guests at the Pine Grove Zoo in Little Falls this summer are getting to see animals usually not in the public eye, as well as what the zookeepers do to take care of the animals on display.

As part of the Critter Encounter events on Mondays, visitors get to see animals usually used in community outreach events by the staff.  Educational Coordinator Haley Appleman said these animals are usually not on display because the zoo just doesn’t have the space for their own exhibit, and to make them better for outreach.

“We’re able to work with them and build relationships with them and not have them be constantly bombarded with people,” said Appleman, she said this helps the animals become more comfortable around groups.

On Monday, the zookeepers brought out a 25-pound tortoise usually on display that lives in the desert and a baby Russian tortoise named Vlad. The zoo’s website says these weekly events are used to give visitors an up-close look at animals.

As Appleman and Zookeeper/Veterinary Technician Becky Charpenter told the visiting children and their families about the tortoises, the kids spent their time listening and petting the animals’ shells. One parent asked if the tortoises could feel the petting and Appleman said they could, but it’s similar to a human touching something with their fingernails.

The lesson was informal, and when attendees decided to go on their way and visit the rest of the zoo, Appleman and Charpenter gathered up Vlad and the tortoise, put them in the back of the golf cart and drove them to their places at the zoo, Vlad to the educational center and the unnamed tortoise to its habitat.

On Wednesday, at the Wild Wednesday training demonstration, zookeepers showed visitors how they  train the zoo’s two Siberian tigers to cooperate with them. Zookeeper Beth Dieser went up to the fence of the tiger’s habitat, a baseball on a stick in one hand, a pair of tongs in the other. Dieser had one of the Siberian tigers follow the ball with its nose, feeding it strips of beef out of a bucket when it did well.

The training is meant to help both the animal and the zookeeper. It helps the zookeepers get the animals to obey their commands, so they can more easily give sedatives and vaccinations to the animals without having to shoot them with a dart, said Charpenter.

The training also helps the animal by making them think about how to get food, something they don’t do  when they live in the zoo and the staff brings meals to them.

Niki Wolf, who was visiting the zoo with her husband and children while on vacation, said the event was great to watch.

“I’m definitely glad we came here,” Wolf said. “We’ll definitely be coming back.”

This excitement is one of the benefits of the programs, said Dieser. Siberian tigers are endangered, so having events that give people an actual look at them has a bigger impact than just hearing about them being endangered, Dieser said.

“It just helps build a passion for them if you can see them and learn about them when they’re right next to you,” said Dieser.

The zoo also hosts Carnivore, Herbivore or Omnivore Meal Presentations (CHOMP) on Saturdays. This event gives visitors a look at what zoo staff do to feed the animals.

Summer presentations go until Labor Day. For more information visit the Pine Grove Zoo’s website: