When Zachary and I spoke with Tim Smith, Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s Manager of Zoological Operations, he was very excited about the upcoming season.
To be completely candid, we have been concerned about the recent, dramatic cuts to the zoology programs across the SeaWorld Parks chain, but he sees the reductions as an opportunity to focus on BGW’s strengths and guest experience.
We asked him a wide variety of questions about the current and past non-human residents of the park, as well as the direction the zoology department plans to go in the future. Here is what we learned.
Tim referred to the budget cuts as a company-wide “restructuring.” He is currently concentrating on maintaining great guest experience, ensuring everyone’s safety, and improving the core animal exhibits. There may be future additions to Lorikeet Glen, and the park will continue to maintain Wolf Haven and Eagle Ridge.
The number of animals at the Highland Stables, however, has been reduced. Tim emphasized that the numbers and types of exhibits are always under discussion, and the park could and would make changes at any time.
We asked specifically about Thistle, the Highland Cow. As you may know, her friend, Rose, passed away last season. Because cattle are herd animals, we were very concerned about our Scottish cow. Tim told us that the keepers have been socializing her with the four sheep, and they are now keeping each other company. He doesn’t know, if they will find a second Highland Cow, or leave the unusual herd as it is.
As a side note, the park reduced its flock from 13 sheep to four. Tim said the remaining ruminants were selected because they were the best suited for guest tours and selective grazing.
Last year, when we spoke with Tim, he introduced us to the park’s new Tawny Frogmouth. We were huge fans, and so we asked about him, as well. Because the aviary may become home to a variety of species, Tim said we might be able to see the feathered ambassador there.
As with all of BGW’s animals, he will only be put in the highly interactive exhibit area, if he is comfortable with the large numbers of (sometimes rambunctious) guests. Because he was hand-reared, the keepers will have to assess his willingness first.
Finally, we must address the obvious elephant in the room: the former Wild Reserve.
As anyone who has been to the park this season knows, the rotating animal exhibit structures and canvas cabanas have all been removed. All that remains are concrete platforms, landscaping, ponds, the gazebo, and the aviary.
Tim said he wasn’t sure how that “green space” will be used in the future. For now, he believes the Zoology Department can bring animals there for demonstrations and talks.
While the Zoology Departments has shrunk, Tim seems confident that Busch Gardens Williamsburg can still provide great animal experiences. He says they are open to expansion, and in fact will continue to support rescue operations. He assured us that the all of the animals are either still at the park, or were moved to zoos better suited for their care.
Hopefully he is right, and the animal exhibits and interactions will continue to improve and possibly expand. For me, at least, the conservation aspects of Busch Gardens have always been a huge draw. SeaWorld Parks offer a unique mix of top-tier thrill rides and educational and adorable animal experiences. I sincerely hope that does not change.
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