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!