- Associated Press - Saturday, July 2, 2016

MINOT, N.D. (AP) - Roosevelt Park Zoo Director Becky Dewitz has a business background, but she grew up hiking in the outdoors and loving pets. She enjoys educating people about her passion.

“I have a natural desire to learn,” said Dewitz, who was the zoo education coordinator from 2006 to 2011.

Dewitz and her family moved to Rugby after the Souris River flood of 2011, but she stayed involved in the zoo. She joined the Minot Zoo Crew board that year and served as treasurer. Later, the Minot Zoo Crew hired her as development director. This spring she took over as zoo director.

“I love the zoo,” said Dewitz. “I’m very passionate about the zoo and its future.” Her background in business and hospitality is useful in promoting the zoo as an attraction, she said.

Visitors to the zoo can see more than 200 animals and more than 80 different species during the summer.

Among the newest additions to the zoo are the bongos, a type of African antelope that is critically endangered. The hoof stock animals are a great attraction. A lot of visitors have told her how much they enjoy seeing the bongos.

Dewitz also helped bring the red pandas back to the zoo.

The reddish-brown animals are native to the eastern Himalayas and southwest China.

Dewitz said visitors to the zoo all seem to have a different animal that is their favorite. Some like the big cats, while others like the African penguins or the high-profile giraffes.

Zookeepers have been training with animal behaviorist Beth Ament Briggs to develop a strong animal training program that is based on the latest techniques in husbandry and animal enrichment. For instance, if they can train the big cats to stand up when asked and expose their underbellies, it will make it easier and less stressful to examine them for potential health problems.

At certain times, visitors might be able to stop and watch zookeepers working to train the different animals. Signs will be posted on their enclosures noting that training is going on.

Dewitz said animals are trained through barriers and zookeepers would not get into the cages with them. Their goal is not to “tame” the animals, said Dewitz. They want to keep them wild and true to their biology. Zoo staff use the most up to date practices when developing enclosures for the animals to best match their natural behaviors and habitats.

Two men were charged in May after they allegedly scaled a fence in the middle of the night, approached the bear cage. One of them was reportedly mauled when he stuck his hand inside the bear cage.

Dewitz said the bears appear to be none the worse for the experience and can be seen by zoo visitors this summer.

“The bear was defending its habitat,” she said, and there were no reprisals for any of the bears.

Dewitz said the zoo is looking at its security measures and will make changes if any are necessary. They do not want a repeat of the event.

Dewitz said there are a lot of fun things to do at the Minot zoo this summer.

Upcoming events include the Zoo Run from 7 a.m to 9 a.m. on July 4. The event is held in conjunction with Festival in the Parks. People can participate in the race, which will take them through the zoo, and then visit the zoo for a reduced charge of $4.50 per adult. Kids under age 12 will be admitted for free that day.

Another fun upcoming event is the second annual Bacon N’ Brew at the Zoo on July 14. Tickets are $50 per person. Attendees can sample 20 different types of bacon foods and 20 different brews while enjoying the zoo. The fundraiser for the zoo drew more than 500 people last year and was one of the zoo’s most successful events, said Dewitz. All attendees must be over age 21.

Dewitz said there are also still a few slots open for kids who want to sign up for one of the zoo camps in July.

Dewitz said her mission as zoo director is to educate people about the animals she loves. People are more apt to want to conserve what they love.

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Information from: Minot Daily News, http://www.minotdailynews.com

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