Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Week Six and the final goodbye

My last week at MZIB was a good week, if somewhat sad. I spent my time at the farmyard, and of course in the antelope and warthog run. The keepers and I did our normal routine, cleaning, feeding, cleaning, enrichment, more feeding, extras, and shifting of animals. I finished up my enrichment project with Ray Ray, which involved writing up my findings about what did and did not work with him and recording what I thought would be good for future enrichment for the rest of the addra gazelle.

This week we had to be extra careful while shifting in our Guineas because Fat Tony has been lagging behind the others and panting heavily during shifting. This of course worried us so the vets came down and checked him over and sure enough it turns out that poor Fat Tony has pneumonia. He was put on antibiotics and is hopefully on his way to a full recovery, however, he is an old man, at 17 years of age. The antibodies did seem to be working though, as his panting has greatly reduced and he is keeping up with the other guineas. He also seems to be getting lost in the tall grass less frequently.

The warthog piglets are continually growing. Their diets are so large that we need not one but two buckets of fresh produce on order to keep them healthy, with the addition of two heads of lettuce, four flakes of hay, and 3.5 pounds of ADF/minipig grain. They are now at sexual maturity and in addition to all the other tasks that we needed to preform we had to be constantly checking to see if male piglet was attempting to mate his sisters. At the first sign of any attempts he will need to be separated from his sisters.

Even though it seems as though keepers come in everyday and do the same things over and over and over again (clean, prepare diets, feed, shift, clean again, train) I have noticed throughout my stay here at MZIB that no day at the zoo is ever the same as the day before. Things break, animals get sick, animals get lose, equipment goes missing or refuses to work, coworkers call in sick, animals refuse to cooperate, and thing all around seem determined to set you back and mess with your normal routine. You have to be able to make quick decisions and think on your feet. Pay attention to detail and be organized. Your time management skills have to be impeccable. If you are running behind, you have to be able to prioritize. You need to be able to read animals, and more importantly, you need to understand and remember that they are not your friends. You may love them, and they may think fondly of the person they associate with food, but they are wild and still dangerous. And more importantly... they associate you with food. You equal food. Think that one through.

Most importantly though, you have to love what you are doing. Being a zoo keeper is a hard, thankless task. It's scooping poop, scrubbing buckets, getting hay in places hay should never be, cutting countless fruit and veggies, picking up guts leftover from carnivore diets, staying late because your animals won't shift, lifting 50 pounds or more on a regular basis, spending lunch on call, constantly worrying about your locks and your animals... and training. Seeing your guys enjoying an enrichment item. Watching a calf, cub, kit or pup take it's first step. See it's first tree. Frolic on exhibit. Hearing the children's excitement as, for the first time, they see a dik dik or warthog, kudu or cheetah, lion or stork.

It's a thankless, smelly, difficult job. But if you love it, it's worth every little hardship and worry. And to those of us in this field... it is more than worth it. The animals may never thank us, but it doesn't matter because of our passion for the conservation and preservation of the diversity of the wildlife on this earth.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Week Five

Week five marks the second to last week of my stay here at MZIB. It has been a fun stay… and I still have one week to go! During week five I did the usual clean-up, diet, enrichment, clean-up, dishes, assist training, and(guess what?) clean-up. I was also in charge of determining which of my enrichments were effective and which were not, and whether they should be improved upon or chucked. 

I also found a large orange buoy in the hay shed… with the approval of the manager and my supervisor Erin, we made some minor adjustments to the buoy and hung it from Ray Ray’s zipline. After a few minutes of Ray Ray not having any idea what in the world to do with this weird orange object floating in the sky he finally seemed to catch on… and for the next few hours the little man did nothing but play with the buoy! A success if I ever did see one! The cardboard idea has been rejected as unsuccessful, however, everything else caused Ray Ray to be more interested in his environment and brought a little variability to his otherwise normal stall and holding yard (and feeding habits!).

This means that all that really is left to do, other than the hard every day work, is my paper about Ray Ray’s enrichment. It’s almost disappointing. Work here at the Zoo has been pretty fun (though hard!) and I love all the keepers and supervisors here. They’re great fun to work with, patient and hardworking and passionate about their jobs. It’s something that I’ll miss when I’m back at Unity! 

Though the heat and humidity will be a blessing to say goodbye to…

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Week four

This week was enrichment time for Ray Ray! Since I spent my precious spare moments observing Ray Ray and more time away from MZIB coming up with and researching new enrichment ideas during week three, during week four I spent my time making and introducing those new enrichment ideas to Ray Ray. Now, that’s not the only thing I did, of course. As usual I was in the Farm Yard, the Giraffe House, and the Antelope/Warthog runs doing the diets, clean-up, assisting training, enrichment, and more clean-up. 

Spare moments were spent gathering supplies for the enrichment and putting it together. Then, in the afternoon once everything else was done I would place the item in Ray Ray’s stall and observe him nonstop for an hour. This cushy job included sitting (or standing if I so chose) in the sun with a pen and paper and writing down all observations. For example, was Ray afraid initially? How long did he interact with the item? Did he try to eat it if it were uneatable? How about the edible stuff, did he eat that? Did he leave and then come back to the item, or stay with it the whole time? Were any signs of aggression shown? And so forth.

The reactions of Ray Ray to his new forms of enrichment were varying and often slightly entertaining. Some of the enrichment that he received were; old browse branch with lettuce and fruit skewered on it, scents, a cardboard tube hung in his stall, and fruit hidden in his stall. His favorite, it seemed, was the lettuce and fruit kabob. It was hung so that the highest fruit and leaves would be just barely out of his reach. The idea was that he would have to work a little for the treats… and work he did. For the first 45 minutes Ray Ray worked at this branch, using his lips to pull the branch down and the leaves/fruit into reach. The last 15 or so minutes that I watched him with his branch was spent chewing off the ends of the branches… apparently in the absence of leaves and fruit mulberry branch tastes delicious.

The enrichment that Mr. Ray Ray was least interested in? Definitely the cardboard. While he did spend a solid 15 minutes with it, that was all the time he gave to it before becoming bored and walking off… and not returning.

 Over all, this week was definitely a blast!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Week three, days nine, ten, eleven, and twelve

It's officially been three weeks since my arrival in the City of Baltimore and the beginning of my internship at BZIM, and man does time fly! It feels like it has only been a handful of days, not weeks. I have started my internship project for the zoo and I am excited to say that I will be creating enrichment items for Ray Ray, the zoo's youngest dama gazelle. Ray Ray is a special case because he was bottle raised by the keepers and so has a dangerous interest in people and views them as play mates. And when an animal has sharp, 14 inch horns you do not want to be viewed as a playmate... and because of this and his father's dislike of another fully mature male he is unable to go out onto exhibit. This means that until a new home for him is found he has to stay in his stall and holding yard. And while these yards are a good size, they aren't large enough for Ray Ray to stay entertained and the lack of interaction with other animals is not ideal.

This means that special care is taken to ensure that Ray Ray has the proper amount of enrichment and stimulation, this way stereotypical behavior does not develop and the health and happiness of the animal is preserved. So, in order to determine what types of new enrichment would be best for Ray Ray I have been observing him with his current enrichment items. Things that he is most interested in are, of course, food and large items that he can spar with.

For example, here is one accidental enrichment item that Ray Ray loves to play with. It's actually his holding yard water bucket... but it tends to only have water in it for 10 or 15 minutes before Ray Ray knocks it over and puts it on his head. This is a picture of him after 10 or so minutes of playing with the bucket. He had managed to keep the bucket on his head long enough to bring it all the way back into his stall. This just proves that you never know what is going to interest animals!

Anyways, all this week was spent at the antelope/warthog barn observing Ray Ray in between doing the normal chores of a keeper intern.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Week two, days five, six, seven, and eight

I'm now entering my second week of my internship here at Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, and it is still going pretty well. I have worked the barnyard run (goats, pigs, cow, sheep, chickens, barn owl, and donkeys), giraffe house run (okapi and giraffes), and warthog and antelope run (kudo, gazelles, warthogs, dik dik, guineas, and storks) often enough to know the routine fairly well, and I've closed the cat run (lions and cheetahs) with the keepers. The warthog and antelope run is, by far, the most complicated and difficult run of the four due to the sheer number of non domestic animals needing to be shifted in, out, and around the run. Barnyard comes in a close second of course, also 'cause of the sheer number of animals in the area.

Even though the antelope and warthog run is complicated and a whole ton of work, it's still been my favorite run so far, and I'm sorta hoping that my supervisor decides to keep me in this run for the majority of my stay. The warthogs are wonderful, they shift well (as long as you don't startle the piglets!) and they are very food motivated which is always a good thing. The storks are very smart and, though messy, are fairly easy to care for as long as you don't mind cleaning (if you mind cleaning, zookeeping is not for you!). All the gazelles are pretty easy to shift and not to bad to clean up after, and of course they are entertaining to watch, especially the calf. Then the lesser kudu... what can I say about him except that he is possibly the coolest hoofstock animal in the world? Or at the very least, the prettiest. And he is a very well mannered and easy going young man as well, making him nice and fun to care for.

Now, when doing the antelope/warthog run the first thing that I do is I clean out the warthog and dik dik exhibits. Did dik are real easy, since all that really needs to be done is water changing/cleaning and a fence walk to make sure no visitors dropped anything into the exhibit. The warthog exhibit is a bit more intensive, since I need to walk the fence and check for anything dropped in and for any breaks in the fence, clean the water, check the electric fence, rake up yesterday's hay, place today's hay, place today's produce (veggies and fruit all cut up for warthog momma and babies), shovel up poo, and last but not least turn the wallow and add water to it so it is nice and muddy for the warthogs.

Next are the holding yards. The holding yards are easy, poo is raked up and hay is placed if the yard  is going to have anyone in it. Then the warthogs and dik dik are shifted into their respective exhibits. Next is cleaning the antelope yard and the holding pens that are going to have occupants for the day. Then Ritter, the kudu, is let into the yard, followed by the four female gazelles, the storks, and the guineas.

The two male gazelles are not on exhibit, as Ray Ray was bottle raised and is now too 'keeper friendly' and is dangerous to shift back in, and his dad doesn't like him to be near the herd and bullys him when they are out together. His dad, Makuro, is simply not allowed in with the females because of the calf, and because they don't want to breed Pearl, the calf's mom, again so soon (calf is only one month old now). This means that they are always in the biggest holding pens and they get the most enrichment of the gazelles. Soon Makuro will be allowed back in the yard, but Ray Ray is on the lookout for a new home, where he will able to be the dominant male.

Now that all the animals are out the holding pens and the stalls are all cleaned up, water is changed/cleaned, hay and grain (and fish and mice for the storks) are place, dishes are washed, tomorrow's hay, grain, produce, and fish and mice are prepared, the days extras are done (clean fridge, clean work area, clean shed, organize shed, organize work area, give out extra enrichment, do training, clean something you never thought would ever need cleaning, clean more stuff, clean stuff that's already been cleaned, organized something... the list goes on forever), and finally it is time to bring everyone straight back in!

So, as you can see, being a zookeeper is a lot of shoveling poo, changing water, and more cleaning than you can imagine! But the training sessions definitely make it worthwhile!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Days Two, Three, and Four - Giraffe House, Warthogs, and Antelopes

My second official day at the Zoo I was placed in the Giraffe House, as expected, and the day was spent cleaning, cleaning, and cleaning. Some people may be a little surprised by the fact that 85 percent of a Keepers job is not playing with and cuddling the animals, but cleaning up after them. Which means that keepers are washing dishes, scrubbing stalls and toys, and yes, shoveling poo. most people would be surprised to hear also that the remaining 15 percent of a Keepers job is diet preparation, medicine distribution, paperwork, training, and observation. And that none of the work a Keeper performs is animal cuddling.

Of course, this means that so far my internship has involved an awful lot of cleaning, cleaning, and cleaning. However, all of it is made worthwhile by the small brief glimpses of training that I am able to see. For example, I have watched Angel, a 15 year old giraffe, be trained to stand still as medicine was applied to her knee and arthritic ankle. I have watched as the warthogs are trained to shift from exhibit to holding pen, and I have watched as Caesar, the 5 year old male giraffe was trained to shift from outside to inside (the new lights at the gate leading in seem to really weird him out, making him forget all his previous training...).

It is exciting to see the training methods taught to us in school by our amazing Professor Sarah Cunningham actually applied in a captive wildlife setting. There is a big difference in watching a dog or cat be trained using operant conditioning and watching a giraffe respond eagerly to the same training.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Day One - Barn Yard

Today was my first day interning at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. I am an Animal Keeper Intern for the Giraffe House section of the zoo, meaning that I will be in the Giraffe House, the Barn Yard, and the Big Cats. Exciting, eh?

Today was the Barn Yard. Ann was my supervisor for the day. She showed me the ropes, told me what would need to be done first thing in the morning when I came in, and how to do it. Once that was done we (of course) went through and cleaned all the enclosures, fed, watered, and gave the animals their enrichment. There was a cow, lots of goats, a pig, chickens that we also needed to weigh, a pig, and donkeys! Not as exciting as Tigers, but still really cool and plenty of fun. Last we cleaned the barn owl's exhibit and left him his daily (nightly?) food.

Just before the exciting barn owl feeding time, however, I was able to watch on as my supervisor and a handful of other Keepers trained Angel, one of the Giraffes! She has a minor sore on her knee that needs to be medicated, so the keepers are working on training her to stand still as they apply antibiotics and moisturizer to the spot. The training was going very well! Angel held still as the medication was applied and the keepers had absolutely no problems whatsoever.

All in all I'd say today was an eventful and exciting day in which I learned a lot about what it takes to be a Zoo Keeper. Can't wait til tomorrow!


Orientation to the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore was yesterday for me. Due to me starting so late in the summer I was the only intern at the orientation meeting, so Kristi, the volunteer coordinator, and I flew through the orientation with no hitches. We spent an hour and a half going through rules and regulations, paperwork (Woot paperwork!) and getting my uniform, zoo access card, and picture for my badge. My first day of work will be on Saturday, from 8:30 until 4:30. Then every Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday I will be coming in and working from 8:30 until 4:30. It should be a very fun and interesting learning experience!