The quiet vocalizations made by a contented moose are both unexpected and charming. In order to be privy to these rare sounds, one needs to be closer than the average viewer. The same holds true for the distinctive scent of bison and big horned sheep, and the eerie sounds of elk bugling during the rut. Luckily, these uncommon sensory experiences are as close as a Keeper Tour at Northwest Trek in Eatonville, WA.
On an overcast, 43-degree day, Trek keeper and veterinary technician Deanna, myself, and two others hopped into the company Chevy to see these critters firsthand. Deanna, an 8 year veteran of the park, was happy to answer questions ranging from antler sheds to reproduction as we made our way among some of the 38 species of wildlife that call the 435-acre park home.
Following the same winding path used by tram drivers, Deanna counted the animals in each herd and observed them for signs of illness and overall health. Every day is different, but animal husbandry is one of her daily duties. She observes bighorn sheep for hoof rot and makes certain all herd members are accounted for. When the job calls for it, she may assist a veterinarian with field work, or search for a missing animal on foot.
Herds are managed to keep current populations viable. Too many mountain goats, for example, can destroy an ecosystem. To date, 32 young swans, called signets, from Trek have been relocated to areas in the Midwest, and help bolster breeding populations. In February, caribou will be added to the free-roaming area, once the elk’s antlers have dropped for the season.
Animals are fed custom grain, specially formulated for their needs. Moose, for example, are fed a diet high in fiber and low in starch. Alfalfa hay is also offered. After a night of strong winds, Deanna gathered choice limbs that had fallen in the path, declaring them a special treat for some of the animals in the park.
A standard 8 a.m. – 10 a.m. tour consists of 12 to 15 visitors, who ride on benches in the back of the keeper’s truck. Layered, waterproof clothing is recommended, and the seating area is covered on rainy days. Children five and older are welcome, and three adult-only (ages 13+) tours are available.
Keeper tours run $60 per person, $55 for members, with admission to the park included, as well as a $5 food voucher. Reservations are required. Please visit Northwest Trek’s website for more details.
* Adult-only (ages 13+)
If two hours is too long a commitment for younger visitors, a Winter Wildland Tour may be in order. Running Dec. 29 to Dec. 30, guests can “See animals throughout the park enjoy winter-themed enrichments like fruit, evergreen trees decorated with treats, ice piles, and snowmen!”
Following the treats, the park will offer heated tram rides and an indoor presentation on how animals acclimate to winter, at the Cheney Discovery Center. Activities are free with admission.