Wildlife find second chance at Navajo Nation Zoological and Botanical Park
WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — With more than 100 animals, the Navajo Nation Zoological and Botanical Park, the only tribally-owned zoo in the United States, helps injured and orphaned animals and educates students and the public about wildlife.
Dave Mikesic, manager and zoologist at the Navajo Zoo, said the zoo also has several endangered species, including the Black Footed Ferret and Mexican Gray Wolves. At one point, the Black Footed Ferret was considered the most endangered species in America.
“We also have some locally rare Golden Eagles,” he said. “We will also being getting some new Mexican Gray Wolves soon.”
A Golden Eagle sanctuary houses 18. Zoo staff retain the feathers shed from the eagles and give them back to Navajos through a permit process. The feathers are free. Instead of being called an exhibit, the Golden Eagles reside in a sanctuary because this is where the golden eagles will call home the rest of their lives as the zoo makes sure they are fed, well-cared for and that all their needs are addressed.
The injured or orphaned wildlife include black bear, mountain lions and bobcats. The wildlife agencies in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, as well as rehabilitation centers, bring the injured or orphaned wildlife to the Navajo Zoo. These are animals that cannot be returned to the wild.
Mikesic, who has been with the zoo for 12 years, said the Golden Eagle Sanctuary is well attended.
“But we hope that people enjoy everything else,” he said.
Mikesic said the Navajo Zoo is family friendly and also a place for people to gather.
“The zoo provides a wonderful location for families to come to learn about the culture and the connection to animals,” he said.
Mikesic said the zoo also has a playground and a food pavilion that can be rented out for special events.
“We’re more than just a zoo. We hope that people think of us as a community destination where they can spend the day. These days there aren’t a lot of places people can go with their families, so that’s important,” he said.
Before the pandemic, the Navajo Nation Zoo was getting 55,000 visitors per year, but during the pandemic, the zoo was shut down for a year.
Now, they are getting close to normal attendance with about 45,000 visitors during the past year. In the past, the Navajo Nation Zoo also had a special Halloween event that would bring in about 5,000 people for the day. They hope that event can return in the fall.
Mikesic said the Navajo Nation Zoo also encourages schools to bring their students. He said many of the schools cannot afford to take their students to the Phoenix or Albuquerque zoos. He said during the spring, 35 schools brought their students to the Navajo Nation Zoo. He said people from outside the Navajo Nation are starting to travel more again.
The Navajo Nation Zoo has six full time employees, one temporary employee and several volunteers with more volunteers used during the summer, especially from the chapter houses or workforce development.
The Navajo Nation Zoo originated in the 1960s at the fairgrounds in Window Rock before moving to its present location in 1977. Most of the animals are from the Southwest or the Navajo Nation.
“We try to teach our traditions and culture and how we relate to animals. We make that tie whether it’s with the Navajo Nation people or people from around the world,” Mikesic said.
The Navajo Nation Zoo receives 95 percent of its funding through the tribe with 5 percent coming from donations or special project sponsorships. Those project sponsorships have come from the tribe’s tourism, and parks and recreation departments, as well as the president’s and vice president’s offices.
The Navajo Nation Zoo is open from 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Mondays through Saturdays. It is closed on Sundays.
More information is available on the Navajo Nation Zoo’s website at www.navajozoo.org.