Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A Baby Shower for an elephant? Why not!

Hello, my name is Matt Vieth, and I just finished my sophomore year at Otterbein as a Zoo and Conservation Science major. Sophomore year was an amazing year for me, and it started off with a lovely study abroad time in Costa Rica for the fall semester. Since then, I guess you could say I’ve been bitten by the travel bug, and I’m looking for every opportunity possible to travel, which brings me here, to Tucson, Arizona where I will be spending ten weeks at the Reid Park Zoo! During my time here, I will be working as part of the elephant baby watch team along with fellow Zoo student, Amanda Stillwell. For this blog entry, it will build off of what Amanda has previously gone over with docent training.
Who said we can’t have a baby shower for an elephant? On June 29th we celebrated Semba’s pregnancy and had a baby shower for her! To start things off Mabu, the dad of the baby, predicted the gender. A pink stick and a blue stick were put into the exhibit, and Mabu was told to retrieve one of them, pink representing a girl and blue representing a boy, and the one he retrieved would be his guess as to what the gender of the baby will be. His prediction? Girl! We are all hoping for a girl too so let’s hope his prediction is right! Mabu is already the father of 12 other elephants, making this his 13th. Four of his current offspring are girls, and the other seven are boys. Semba has two kids with Mabu currently and both of her kids are boys, so a girl is wanted to increase future genetic diversity.
A little after Mabu made his prediction, it was time for cake and presents. Semba has a 3 layer ice pop cake. The three layers were made of watered down Kool-Aid with pieces of fruit frozen inside of them. Semba went straight for her cake, and the two boys passed on the cake, and went for the presents. These presents were just boxes with treats inside of them, but that did not matter, the two boys had fun with them, and ripped the boxes apart.  The ice cake was a little more of a challenge, because well, it was a giant block of ice that was hard to break, but it actually lasted all day and all the elephants had their turn at trying to eat some of the cake.

To end the shower, the keepers had a pool training session with Mabu and Semba, but of course the kids had to join in for some fun. This gave the visitors the chance to see training take place, plus a pool training session is always a nice way to cool off the elephants, especially in this heat.

While the baby shower was happening, Amanda and I were busy getting the other baby watch volunteers and docents ready for Semba watch.  As Amanda has previously mentioned, we already had a training session, but this is the real deal! This is the first time since we’ve been here that someone else besides us will be recording her behaviors. Today was the start of daytime watch, and Tuesday July 8th starts 24 hour watch. The daytime watch started earlier for a couple reasons. One was so that the volunteers and docents could practice recording and to see some of Semba’s normal behaviors. The other reason is because when Semba has access to the pool, someone needs to be watching her just in case she was to have her baby by the pool. When she doesn’t have pool access, she has access to a mud wallow or AC so she can stay cool. It was a crazy yet exciting morning for the elephants and the keepers.

I got splashed by Scooter, and I'm okay with that.

It’s been another super amazingly crazy two weeks at America’s #1 aquarium. Last week, I was Haz’s only intern (my other fellow intern, Will, was on vacation). One day, I got to feed the black tip and white tip sharks. Now, I know I’ve posted videos of us feeding the shark rays, and mentioned here or there about us feeding the other sharks, but this time I, Jillian Keefer (me, myself, and I), got to feed these bad boys (and girls!) by myself. Sorta. For the first 10ish minutes or so, it was just me and Haz standing on this little docking station type thing at the top of the shark tank. But then she asked me if I wanted to feed them, to which I said “yeah, sure!” But in my head I was more like “IS THAT EVEN A QUESTION HECK YES I WANT TO FEED THEM THIS IS SO COOL YOU DO THIS FOR A LIVING AND I’M JUST A LOWLY INTEN BUT SWEET SISTER FRANCIS I WOULD LOVE TO." Next thing I knew I was feeding a couple of mackerel to a few of the black tips and white tips. 

The rest of that week involved me getting to help ‘catch’ or freshwater rays and bring them up to the vet lab for their “check-up.” If you read my last post, you’ll remember that I mentioned one of our vets is conducting research on our rays and the effects of birth control on their reproductive habits. Well, after catching them and bringing them to the lab, we were able to take some tissue samples that would then be analyzed to provide Jolene with any necessary information. I honestly can’t tell you what all they would tell her/what she found out, but it was so cool to be a part of that and witness what they do. And may I just add, one of our vets, is crazy good at sewing stitches on stingrays. Have you ever felt a stingray? They’re super slick and their skin almost feels slimy, like a slick, algae-covered rock in a creek. So I can only imagine how difficult it is to not only hold onto the ray, but also sew up a couple stitches!

And now, a big, happy announcement: THE STONEFISH HAVE LEFT THE BUILDING! Yes folks, I was also able to help catch those lazy bums out of their tank as well. After having practiced packaging details the day before they were being shipped, Haz and I felt pretty darn prepared for these guys. And it was a good thing we practiced. These fish were stored in individual plastic containers with holes drilled in them, to allow air and water flow. Then both containers were placed in a giant plastic bag (x3) that was filled with water. [FUN FACT:  Stonefish can actually live outside/without water for many hours. Do to their wild habitats being typically low-tidal areas, they’re used to being exposed to dry land. Stonefish can hold water in their gills for a long time! Long enough to last through low tide, and plus some!] (I digress,..) THEN that trilled bagged job was inside a giant Styrofoam box which was inside a giant cardboard box, in order to be shipped. These bad boys were sent off to an aquarium in California! Adios, venomous fishes!

Last week has been found with new ways to remain just as exciting. Tuesday brought a busy day filled with big-diet day (every fish gets fed!), water changes and window washing, and moving an electric eel from one tank to another. Now, I gotta say, THIS was exciting. The electric eel has been transitioned into Haz’s care now, which means I have to be super extra careful around that tank. This process was a lot more time consuming than any of the other previous captures/movings I’ve helped with. That eel is incredibly stubborn. To get him from his old tank to the transport container was the hardest part of the challenge. When you’re at the top of the tank, you can’t see ANYTHING in the water; partially because the surface is covered in lily pads and duckweed, and also because he blends in really well with the logs and stuff. So in order to get him into the transport, Haz and Scott stood at the top while I communicated with them over the walkie talkie as to where he was exactly in the tank. It might not sound too difficult, but it was a huge challenge, and incredibly difficult. At one point, the water was so cloudy and dirty because of all the debris being tossed around; I couldn’t even see him, and I had a flashlight! Bless the people that stood there and watched this entire thing go down. I was being asked a million questions: What’s in there? What’s going on? Why are you trying to get the eel? Is he okay? Why is that water so dirty? (I even had a little girl who was maybe 12 say something like “I can’t even believe they would let an animal live in such disgusting water. That’s gross.” Yeesh.) I even had a couple of people help me find him when I lost track of him. But, due to my great use of details and obsession with preciseness, Scott was able to scoop him right up into the net. Haz finally got him into his transport container and we maneuvered him through to this new home, where he is currently doing just fine!


On Thursday, I had a very accomplished, eventful (and somewhat stressful) day. It started with me going in a little bit earlier than Haz, as Thursdays are water sample days for our tanks. As I was collecting water samples, I noticed that the sump on the tank that holds our lionfish was CRAZY full, and almost overflowing. This is like the biggest red flag, because it could mean a multitude of things; the pump isn’t working, a pipe is closed, etc. Specifically, the filter bag had come OFF the tube it’s supposed to be attached to, and gotten stuck in the pump intake in the sump (confused yet?). Logically, I drained the sump some to get that water level down and remove the filter bag from the tube. Called Haz to straighten things out to make sure everything stayed steady, and all was well! Later that day I got to peel shrimp, help monitor our shark ray Sunshine’s check-up, collect a tooth of a stingray (ask me to see it sometime, it’s not what you would expect!), feed Scooter, one of our shark rays, all by myself (held the tongs and all!), and move a new fish to one of the tanks I take care of, only with the assistance of another biologist, Margaret.

Bonus-Side Material:  I also want to take this moment to say a giant thank you to all of the people who have had a giant impact on my life. The people who have pushed me to give my best in everything that I do; whether it was a sport, a difficult class, a job, or being a leader in a club. I have had some of the greatest role models and influences on my choices and decisions. You guys have been a constant source of support and praise; you’ve been looking out for me, praying for me, rooting me on, even when I didn’t know you were keeping an eye on me. I have one of the absolute greatest sources of love from you all, and I don’t know where I would be without your constant approval, support, and push to be the best and not giving up on me when I’m struggling because you knew I could do it. As I am constantly reminded how incredibly blessed I am to have and be given so many unique opportunities, I am awestruck in the amount of people that believe(d) in me. So, to you, THANKS SO MUCH. I wouldn't be anywhere near the person I am today, with the accomplishments I have made thus far, if it weren't for all of you. From my whole heart, I am incredibly thankful for you!! :)
                                                                   -Jill :)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Meaghan Graver - San Diego Zoo Global

Name: Meaghan Graver
Class Year: 2016
Hometown: Enon, OH
Internship: Conservation Education Intern, San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research
Location: Escondido, CA

Palm Oil
So, for this summer I am focusing on the palm oil issue. This is a really big deal! Palm oil is in virtually everything, from shampoo to cookies! Sometimes, you don’t even realize the product you’re using has palm oil in it! (See attached link to 50(!) names for palm oil) It is the most used vegetable oil in the world, and rightfully so. Oil palm, the plant from which palm oil is derived, yields much more oil per acre than any other plant! So what’s the issue? The demand for palm oil is causing an increase in oil palm plantations. It’s where all the money’s at. Unfortunately because of this, loggers are clearing most of the rainforests. They often utilize the “slash and burn” method, where everything viable is taken and the remaining land is burned. Because of oil palm plantations, and roads to access them, much of the natural rainforest is being destroyed. This is not good because it takes away the natural habitat of many endemic species. Many species are now endangered or threatened due to the effects of deforestation; but, there is hope! As a response to this crisis, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was established with the vision of ensuring all palm oil on the market is sustainable (e.g. not harming species). Many corporations are members of the RSPO which means they are committed to selling only sustainable products (check out links at the end to find out more).

Picture taken at the Orangutan enclosure at the San Diego Zoo

What Else Have I Been Doing?

In addition to reading, I developed a human behavioral study and have been in the San Diego Zoo observing visitors around the palm oil signage. Now I am gearing up to survey people about their palm oil knowledge! I’ve also had the opportunity to talk with some pretty cool people including the head of the Zoo Education department! I’ve gone behind the scenes with the tigers and learned a lot from the lion and elephant keepers. I hope to get to talk with the Red Panda Keepers sometime before I leave! I've also been sure to spend lots of time just enjoying the Zoo and Safari Park! 

The California Experience
So while in sunny Southern California, I’ve also been sure to do some exploring. From Hellhole Canyon to the beach, weekends are certainly busy. Macie and I have finally narrowed down a beach we think is pretty cool (there’s less kelp) but now that we’re schmoozing with the locals who knows! We’ve tried the highly built up California Burrito – it has French fries in it. It’s pretty good. We’ve also experienced the madness that is the San Diego County Fair. IT’S HUGE!

You can almost see the seals at La Jolla

Fun Facts!
-Some of the tigers at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park are still young enough that they enjoy being together in pairs. However for the keepers, who need fecal samples from each individual daily, this can be tricky. How do they fix it? GLITTER! The tigers ingest different colored glitter every few days to ensure that their feces are identifiable.
-San Diego County has more biodiversity than any other county in North America!
Check out this site for lots of information including 50 names that palm oil is also called:
Philadelphia Zoo UNLESS project (Personally love this project especially because they make use of my fave quote):

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Conservation Education at the San Diego Zoo's Institute for Conservation Research

Hi all! It’s hard to believe that Meaghan and I are already over halfway through our internships with the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research. We have both been busy with our own research projects: hers focusing on the Palm Oil issue and mine focusing on the conservation of Vaquita, the smallest known species of porpoise and most endangered marine mammal in the world. The largest portion of this internship has allowed me to develop student activities to promote education and conservation efforts with the Ridge to Reef curriculum, more specifically for the Vaquita, which may be applied to a teacher workshop series that will take place in San Felipe, Mexico. In addition to this, I have had the opportunity to expand my knowledge on the complexity of changing human conservation behaviors, develop a teacher workshop based on inquiry learning, go behind the scenes of the new Tiger Trail exhibit (which is incredible), learn basic field research techniques, practice surveying guests, and meet some of the most welcoming, inspirational people I have ever been fortunate enough to work with.   
Here are a few pics from around the Zoo and Safari Park:
In the five short weeks since arriving in Escondido, CA I have had the opportunity to not only partake in an amazing internship, but also explore this incredibly diverse area. The beaches and hiking destinations have all been beautiful and I’ve been able to explore places such as the Del Mar Fair, Balboa Park (and museums), downtown San Diego, a Padres game, Birch Aquarium, and of course the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park. I look forward to exploring more of the San Diego area and seeing what else I will be able to accomplish through this internship over the upcoming weeks.
Here are a few pics from different beaches, Balboa Park, the Del Mar fair, and Birch Aquarium:

Conservation Camp

This week was quite different for me. Instead of working at the zoo with the keepers, I played camp councilor to 32 Belizian kids ages 12-17. They were here for the week and learned about the conservation efforts and struggles in their country. They had guest speakers about the lionfish issue, scarlet macaw poaching, and problem jaguars. They also watched several documentaries about conservation and what they can do to help, and (partly due to my recommendation) they also watched The Lorax. Although I missed the zoo and caring for the animals, I learned so much about the country through the eyes of these kids, and got a much better understanding of their relationship with the wildlife around them. We also went on many trips, from Mayan ruins to cave systems. I got to see a lot of the country I wouldn't have been able to have under normal circumstances. 
Here are some of the pictures of my week with the campers. 
First zoo tour. 
Feeding jags with Sharon. 
Hiking in the bush. 
Cave exploring. 
Field trip to Lamanai the Mayan ruins. 
I made a lot of great friends at camp and it was a week I won't forget. Everyone here was so incredibly accepting of me, which is something I love about this beautiful place. I'll admit it, I didn't know how to be in charge of kids, but we had fun and we all learned a lot from each other. 

It really made me wish that there were things like this in the states. Something that teaches the importance of water and recycling and conserving species. Children especially are who we are going to rely on, and I think Belize and the zoo are making great strides with this camp and educating its youth. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

A Tale of Many Water Samples

Name: Rachel Dalton
Class Year: 2016
Hometown: Columbus, OH
Internship: Conservation Science Research Intern, the Wilds
Location: Cumberland, OH

Amazingly, we are now in week 8 out of our 10 weeks here at the Wilds! I cannot believe how quickly time has gone. Our final few weeks will definitely be a sprint to the finish as the time for data collection finishes up and data analysis/Results & Discussion writing/poster & powerpoint making begins. During our last few weekly class sessions we have been learning how to use "R", a code-based statistics program, to analyze data. I found R a little intimidating initially, but I am becoming more comfortable with it. Here is a screenshot of what working in R looks like:

We have also been learning about some of the more advanced multivariate statistical tests, such as principle component analysis, analysis of similarity, etc. A lot of my fellow interns have studies that incorporate multiple environmental variables and call for these more intense, heavy-duty stats. They are a little more challenging to wrap your mind around, but I have read other primary literature papers that use them, so I thought it was really helpful to go over them and gain a better understanding of how they are used.

Over the last couple of weeks I have been collecting and filtering water samples from the lakes we are attempting to detect rhino eDNA in. Because we are trying to filter out any DNA or DNA-containing tissue fragments, the filters we use are quite intense in terms of their ability to catch very small particulate matter-- including any silt or dirt suspended in the water. As such, filtering is a quite time consuming step. This may sound less than thrilling to some, but, I recently discovered that there are a lot of David Attenborough documentaries on Netflix! So, while I am filtering for extended periods of time, I am also learning about humpback whales, wolves, birds of paradise, and much more. What zoology nerd does not love a good David Attenborough wildlife documentary? 

This week I will be collecting and filtering the last of the water samples we need, and then a plethora of DNA extraction and PCR work begins! I am really excited to see how far down the lake system we will be able to detect rhino eDNA. Not much eDNA work has been done with terrestrial mammals yet. 

One of the lakes in the rhino pastures that we sampled.

Here's one of the residents of the rhino pastures-- Sonya the Indian rhino. She was grazing a little distance away, looking over at us occasionally.

Here I am taking water samples from one of the wetlands!

Wading through wetlands in the name of science! I had a sampling site that was beyond this stream. 

The rushes and reeds around the wetlands are so tall! They often tower several feet above us.

PS: It's Mollie's birthday today! Happy Birthday Mollie!
I don't always have eDNA work to do everyday, so when this is the case, I often go out in the field with another intern assisting them with whatever they are surveying/studying. Mollie and I have logged quite a few hours trekking through the wilderness together now in search of the ever elusive terrestrial salamanders. Here's Mollie blazing a trail through some rather dense forest brush! 

My last round of filtering for the day is finishing as I type this, so I will leave you now with a few more facts about the Indian rhino. They are the largest of the three Asian rhino species (the other two species are the Sumatran and Javan rhinos), and are capable of reaching speeds of 30mph when charging. They have fairly poor eyesight, but excellent hearing and a very sharp sense of smell. 

Until next time,