Camp Zama housing community organizes neighborhood zoo

Photo By Winifred Brown | A sign welcomes visitors to a display at the Fuentez residence during the SHAfari Neighborhood Zoo at Sagamihara Family Housing Area, Japan, April 14. Community members created the zoo to help improve morale during COVID-19 restrictions.
April 15, 2020

SAGAMIHARA FAMILY HOUSING AREA  – The sign in front of Keisha Fuentez’s exhibit for the SHAfari Neighborhood Zoo here April 14 welcomed visitors with a sign that also asked them not to feed the animals.

The smiley face after the request was a wink to the fact that all the animals in the zoo were of the stuffed variety—in this case, a panda, tiger and monkey.

Magdalena Meadows, a member of the community, organized the event on the Camp Zama Classifieds and Community Information Facebook page so people at home due to COVID-19 concerns could participate in an activity that would keep them mentally and physically engaged while observing social distancing rules.

“Especially now, with kids being at home and the playgrounds closed, I always look for ways to engage my kids in physical and mental activities,” Meadows said. “So I felt the neighborhood zoo gets families out, and while they walk, they can look at animals and kids and adults can learn about some amazing facts.”

Meadows created an exhibit on her front lawn that included an elephant, penguins and chimpanzees, all with information about the animals. Kian, her 7-year-old son, researched the facts and drew the maps for the species, she said.

Dianna Chambliss and her children Zackary, 14; Charlotte, 7; and John, 3, visited Meadows’ exhibit during a walk through their neighborhood.

“I think it’s so cute,” Chambliss said. “We’re glad the community is doing this for the kids. They are so bored in their houses, and they can’t go out and play with their friends, so this keeps them out and about and exercised.”

Charlotte brought along her stuffed puppies, Fluffy and Bella, and said she liked looking at all the animals.

“I think it’s good and fun because my little brother and I really like animals, especially puppies,” Charlotte said.

At the Meadows residence, the penguins were Charlotte’s favorites. “They like snow and I also like snow, and I like how they go on their bellies and slide down,” she explained.

John, on the other hand, liked the elephant. “They can shoot water out of their noses,” he said.

Zackary said he was glad community members created the zoo.

“I think it’s fun, especially for [my sister and brother], because they’re kind of bored and so am I,” Zackary said.

Johanna Robinson also visited the zoo exhibits with her children, Xavier, 7, and Valerie, 5.

“The kids needed something to do, and because we can’t go anywhere really, this is the best we could do,” Robinson said. “I just love how creative everybody can get, and this community just comes together.”

Robinson also contributed an exhibit for the zoo that included a koi fish and a bear.

Meadows said she also walked around the neighborhood with her children to see the exhibits, and the number of creative ideas impressed her.

“We had a great time walking around and finding animals to explore,” Meadows said. “We learned interesting facts, such as how big a giraffe’s head is, how long sloths sleep, what animals eat, and so much more.”

Meadows said she and her children visited 12 exhibits, but she knows there were more, probably about 20.

The exhibit at the Rojas residence was the one that featured sloths.

Tara Rojas, who put the exhibit together with her 7-year-old son Noah’s stuffed sloths, said the family decided on the slow-moving, tree-dwelling animals because they are Noah’s favorite, but also because she has an affection for them after getting to hold one during a trip to Honduras.

“They really are that slow,” Rojas said. “After seeing the movie Zootopia, you could completely understand [the sloth character] Flash.”

Rojas said she was happy to put together an exhibit after learning about the event.

“I think it’s really neat to get people out of the house, and they can go as a family and check out the neighborhood, get some fresh air, get some exercise, learn about zoo animals,” Rojas said. “We can’t physically go to a real zoo, but we can pretend. It’s the best we can do at times like this.”

Meadows said she does not have any definite plans, but might organize another zoo in the future.

“I would love to do another SHAfari again soon and maybe get even more families involved,” she said.