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home : community : features May 24, 2016

6/29/2012 4:45:00 AM
Northwoods Dirty Jobs: Cleaning up at Wildwood Wildlife Park
Except for the park itself, being dirty is the norm at Wildwood Wildlife Park
Alex Dillahunt, UW-Green Bay pre-veterinarian student and Wildwood Wildlife Park intern, carries one-year-old Kelly the kangaroo around the animal encounter area while one of the goats lounges in the sun. Sarah Hirsch photograph
Alex Dillahunt, UW-Green Bay pre-veterinarian student and Wildwood Wildlife Park intern, carries one-year-old Kelly the kangaroo around the animal encounter area while one of the goats lounges in the sun.

Sarah Hirsch photograph
Judy Domaszek, director of Wildwood Wildlife Park, gives Petunia the pot bellied pig a bear hug in the animal encounter area.Sarah Hirsch photograph
Judy Domaszek, director of Wildwood Wildlife Park, gives Petunia the pot bellied pig a bear hug in the animal encounter area.

Sarah Hirsch photograph

Sarah Hirsch
Features editor

What do birds of all sizes, bears, tigers, goats, foxes, camels, kangaroos, skunks - really, all the animals at Wildwood Wildlife Park - have in common?

They need to eat, drink and sleep, and they have bowel movements on a daily basis.

Someone has to take care of all that.

"Every day you wake up and you know you have to do your protocol duties, but every day is a different day. You don't know what you're going to encounter," said Judy Domaszek. She's the director of animal care and park director for Wildwood Wildlife Park.

Together with her husband, Duane, and their two sons, Ryan and Shawn, the Domaszek's have owned and operated Wildwood Wildlife Park since 1997.

"Our structured zoo is not like a typical city zoo, because our directors - me and my husband - are out there doing the down and dirty work like everybody else," Domaszek said.

When Jim Peck founded the park in 1957, it started with only a trout and muskie pond and deer as its first residents. Since then, the wildlife center has grown exponentially.

"We have more than 2,000 animals, and that includes primates, reptiles, mammals, amphibians. There's just a wide range of animals, so we have all different specialty diets and different protocol that we need to do for each of the species that's here," Domaszek said.

When it comes to taking care of animals, the Domaszeks are no amateurs.

"We purchased the zoo 16 years ago, but we've been doing this all our lives. So it's a lifestyle of working with the animals," Domaszek said. "When you grow up on a farm, you learn to appreciate animals and you understand them. Eventually we had our own little private exotic farm in Stevens Point, and we were able to bring many of our animals here."

Though running Wildwood Wildlife Park requires a majority of their time and a large amount of effort, Domaszek knows it's worth it.

"Working with animals every day is a rewarding experience, and we really do care about them, otherwise you wouldn't be able to get into it. I do know all the animals by name, and I go out there and interact with them. We'll talk to them and they'll respond to us because it's like a big family."

The down and dirty of zoo keeping

"Every day there is cleaning. You clean and feed and water every single day, and it's in the morning and the afternoon," Domaszek said. "And then with that, we include enrichment in the daily routine. We want to make sure the animal is healthy and happy and enriched."

The first cleaning shift is 6 a.m. to power wash and disinfect animal enclosures.

"The next person comes in and they have something else they might have to do. They might have to rake or clean other enclosures that don't require power washing," Domaszek said.

Each area of the park is assigned to one of the zoo keepers, who is then responsible for the cleaning.

"We do zoo keeper areas, and typically it's different than other zoos because we rotate them. We feel it's better to have a fresh person look at a site, and they shift to another area maybe once a week," Domaszek said. "We cross-train in all areas, so then it makes things more interesting."

When it comes to disposing of animal waste, Wildwood uses a "green," environmentally-friendly approach - composting.

"We reuse and recycle. After a while we rototill the compost into a compost field located in another field outside of the park. We've been doing some major exhibit areas, and we've been using the black dirt to seed back in grass," Domaszek said.

Because Wildwood has such a variety and large number of animals, daily trips are made to the compost pile.

"A manure spreader goes out maybe two or three times a day to take out all the waste. We don't put any type of bones or manmade materials because they won't break down in the compost area, but we do haul a lot of waste out."

Not only does Wildwood have animal enclosures that need to be taken care of, it has a larger than average animal encounter area, Domaszek said.

"It's a lot of time, it's a lot of effort, and it's a lot of work to be able to have an interactive area. When you have animals roaming around, you have waste. And we pick that up by hand. We do it the old-fashioned way and take buckets and scoopers out there."

In the animal encounter area, guests can feed and pet the goats, deer, pot bellied pigs and more that wander around the waste-free area.

"Anything that's in the animal encounter area is brought down for people to see up close and personal. They all go into a secured location at night and they're fed up there, then they're brought down again in the morning to start all over," Domaszek said.

Working together is one of the most important aspects to ensure the zoo is running smoothly.

"It's a team effort, and we all work together as a team," Domaszek said. "Taking care of the animals is a continuous thing and we all do it. I do every single thing that my workers do, because I wouldn't give them something I wouldn't do."

In addition to zoo keepers, eight college interns help out during the summer to learn more about their field of study, whether it's to become a zoo keeper, educator or work with the DNR.

"We have wonderful zoo keepers on site. We couldn't do it without our staff, that's for sure," Domaszek said. "I supervise the interns to teach them about working with animals. They have to realize that many times it's 24-7, and you can't leave your job until it's completed."

Around the clock, dirty

"I tell my interns and volunteers that they won't stay clean here," Domaszek said.

Between feeding, watering, and holding animals, cleaning enclosures and doing the general upkeep of the park, being dirty becomes the norm.

"We're constantly dirty. We start out early in the day, and from the time you put your clothes on, you're dirty," Domaszek said. "You're on your knees cleaning out stalls, you could have feces on your jeans, an animal you pick up might pee on you."

Another dirty aspect of running a zoo is the sheer number of hours of work.

"Normally my husband and I start at 7 in the morning, and our last barn chores are not until 10, 11 o'clock at night," Domaszek said. "We do have a little window in there when we close the park to maybe get supper and relax for an hour before we have to head out for more chores."

Those long hours are for seven days a week, regardless of the weather or temperature. When it gets really hot, Domaszek said they "just use a little more deodorant."

"We are outside all the time in every element. It doesn't matter what the day is, what the temperature is or what the condition is, we are out there with the animals."

The benefits of zoo keeping

"Working with the animals - it's just so rewarding," Domaszek said. "One day you might be bottle feeding the fawns, and the next day you might be doing an educational program on kangaroos."

Domaszek stressed the importance of teaching their guests about the animals they have at Wildwood.

"It's so important that people know about animals. We need to learn to respect and understand animals, because if we understand them, we will love them and learn to live among them. Diversity is important - you need that."

Above all, the Domaszek family puts their animals' interests first at Wildwood Wildlife Park.

"Our animals are our family. We're always cleaning and keeping everything really immaculate for their health."

Sarah Hirsch may be reached at shirsch@lakelandtimes.com

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