Eagle (copy)

An eagle is among the new animals on display in the Irvine Park Zoo. New animals arrived in the park in recent weeks, and the petting zoo has reopened, featuring sheep, goats, a horse and a donkey.

CHIPPEWA FALLS — In another sign that life is returning to normal, the petting zoo and pasture animals are back in the Irvine Park Zoo.

Those animals weren’t brought to the park in 2020 because of COVID-19. In typical years, the petting zoo opens after Memorial Day. This year, the petting zoo features goats, sheep, a horse and donkey. In the pastures, the Nilgai antelope and Watusi cows are also back.

“It’s pretty exciting. It’s good for the community; it’s good for the parks,” said parks director John Jimenez. “The petting zoo is such a neat feature to have. People come from all over to see our zoo. We get calls from schools all over to come in. Having it back is a testament to where we’re going, and overcoming COVID.”

There are some new animals on display this year as well. An eagle and two other predatory birds have joined the two owls in the aviary.

Jimenez said many visitors to the zoo aren’t aware of the antelope, cows and elk that reside in the pastures on top of the hill. (The elk are a year-round exhibit.) Another permanent fixture in the park are the bison, and Jimenez said a baby bison was recently born.

Jimenez is new in his role as parks director, and this is his first summer working with the Irvine Park Zoo animals.

“I’m excited to have these animals here,” he said.

Mayor Greg Hoffman said he’s thrilled the animals are back.

“These are animals you can bring your kids and grand-kids to the park, where they see animals they don’t see at home,” Hoffman said. “It’s fun; it’s part of our community. It’s amazing to watch the community support everything we do at the park.”

Hoffman said just like events coming back and restaurants reopening, this is a sign of life resuming.

“It’s really great to get some resemblance of normalcy back to our lives,” Hoffman said. “We’re getting past this pandemic.”