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Screams, squawks and smiles: Animals, humans reunite as Santa Ana zoo reopens

Matteo couldn’t have appeared happier when he spotted Steve Fast on re-opening day Sunday at the Santa Ana Zoo.

The 12-year-old capuchin monkey spied the Mission Viejo man and sprang toward him, grasping the links of his cage.

Fast, a 10-year season pass holder, hadn’t been to the zoo since it closed in December because of COVID-19. Matteo spotted him among a group of people from inside two layers of caging.

“Hi, Matteo,” Fast said. “Yes, it’s been awhile.”

Fast’s wife Nancy said she has no idea why the monkey likes Steve so much.

“He picks his people,” Steve Fast said, adding that he’s even tried not wearing a hat to see if it threw the monkey off. It didn’t. And on Sunday, Matteo tracked Fast’s movements, following him from one end of the cage to the other.

The Santa Ana Zoo reopened a week after Gov. Gavin Newsom lifted the stay-at-home order — but with some attractions still closed, including rides, the cafe, the playground and all indoor exhibits.



After almost two months apart, some of the animals seemed as happy to see the visitors as the visitors were to see the animals.

Education Specialist Terri Hernandez put on an educational show, Critters for Conservation, one of two featured during the day, with an assemblage of animals including a boa constrictor and a hedgehog. Lou, 38, a blue-and-yellow macaw and the oldest resident of the zoo, squawked loudly and disruptively from his perch during the show. At one point Lou had to be removed and taken backstage.

“He’s very jealous,” Hernandez told her laughing audience of grown-ups and children. “He thinks all the people came here to see him.”

After the show Hernandez said the primates and parrots were probably most affected by the shutdown.

Lou thrives around people, she said. “When we were closed he’d get quiet and then demanding, screaming for attention when he’d see workers go by.”

Employees would take him on walks through the zoo to keep him happy and entertained because “large parrots are said to have the intellect and emotional development of a 3-year-old,” Hernandez said.

Staff kept an eye on the birds for any signs of depression or stress like feather picking.

Back in the primate section, Zoo Educational Specialist Lauren Bergh described the gibbon and howler monkeys as, “very active today.”

The Fasts said they could hear the monkeys from the parking lot, several hundred feet away.

Bergh said the gibbons’ high-pitched fire-engine scream and the howlers’ dad-snoring sound is their way of “re-establishing their territory,” with visitors who have been absent.

“They’re social animals just like we are,” Bergh said. “Just like we’ve been feeling lonely and missing activity, so have they.”

But she, like other zoo workers, was careful not to “anthropomorphize” them. “We don’t like to project human emotion onto animals.”

Still, Matteo, the capuchin monkey, seemed to be smiling on Sunday.

Source: Orange County Register

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