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.