Class Year: Junior
Hometown: Medina, OH
Internship: Research and Enrichment
Location: Toledo Zoo
Hi everyone! My name is Haley Wasserman and my major is zoology and conservation science at Otterbein University. I am spending my summer interning at the Toledo Zoo in the animal behavior department. My supervisor is Beth Posta, who is the head of the animal behavior department. I am specifically focusing on enrichment and research. The Toledo Zoo and the AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) define enrichment as “the addition or modification of an animal’s environment that encourages the animals to make choices, exhibit natural, or species-appropriate behavior, presents mental challenges, encourage physical activity/exercise and enhances the animal’s overall well-being”. I have been learning the entire process of enrichment; from designing new enrichment items and having it get approved, all the way through to the actual assessment of the enrichment to evaluate its effectiveness. Later on this summer I will also be doing research on some new additions to the zoo to help us gather a better understanding of how these animals like to spend their time.
|This is a lowland paca. This is one of the species I will be observing.|
|One of our aviary birds, a victoria crested pigeon!|
A typical day for me starts at 8:30 AM. I come in to the zoo and report to the head gorilla keeper, Mike. I then spend about 45 minutes scattering the gorilla's diet out into their enclosure so that they can forage when they shift to their outdoor exhibit for the day. It is actually one of my favorite things that I do here so far! I usually also scatter enrichment items that I had delivered the day prior to the keepers. Once the enclosure is ready to go, we shift the gorillas outside and I get to watch their reactions to my enrichment. We currently have Western Lowland Gorillas on display. There is one male, the silverback named Kwisha. We have three females and all are approved for breeding with Kwisha. Their names are Johari, Nia Lewa and Kitani. Each gorilla has its own personality and enrichment preferences and they truly keep me on my toes. I return here at 1 PM every day for a roof feeding. Mike, another intern named Diana, and myself head up to the roof of the indoor gorilla habitat which overlooks the outdoor exhibit. The gorillas come running and sit with anticipation because they know that we are about to throw food to them. The silverback Kwisha will perform certain behaviors for his food, such as clapping and making a silly face where he shakes his mouth from side to side. On certain days of the week I stick around after the roof feeding to listen to Mike give a keeper talk, and we answer any questions the visitors have about the gorillas.
|Silverback Kwisha using his mouth to get raisins from a raisin log I created for them.|
Once this is done, I head over to deliver enrichment to our reptile house's feeder mice. Though these animals may have short lives and are not on display to the public, they are still animals who deserve to have good welfare so I bring them daily enrichment. Most of their enrichment is either food based or something that they can gnaw on to assist with their constantly growing teeth.
On Mondays, after feeder mice are done I head over to the science museum and give a talk on enrichment and training to the weekly zoo campers. I teach them about how we define enrichment and what enrichment looks like here for different types of animals. I keep the talk interactive and pass around plenty of old enrichment items and photos of animals using them. Then I move on to talking about behavior training and explain how we use positive reinforcement to train the animals. I make sure the children understand that the animals are not trapped and come up and stay at training sessions with the keepers on their own free will. I enjoy being able to help the young campers learn more about how these important areas of the zoo work!
I spend a majority of the rest of my day making enrichment for various departments at the zoo. My list usually includes gorillas, feeder mice, Tasmanian devils, maned wolves, aviary birds, aviary mammals, goats, and soon, elephants. I speak to keepers about what they would like more enrichment of or what kind of natural behaviors they would like to see more of from their animals. I have created a monthly enrichment calendar with all of this information in mind and use this to stay on track of what I am responsible for. This past weekend, I worked with the other interns and their respective departments to create some clever Father's Day themed enrichment to celebrate the zoo's animal fathers. Some examples of enrichment I have created include scent bags, paper mache boards stuffed with food, cardboard box animals, oatmeal wreaths, and treat tubes.
|Father's Day enrichment for our otters. It is a block of ice with words made from dried seaweed.|
|Snow leopard enjoying some "box animal" enrichment I created!|
I am really enjoying my time at the Toledo Zoo so far. Beth is a great role model and has been teaching me so much information which I can use the rest of my life in this career. I spend time each day chatting with Beth about what we can do to improve enrichment for different species around the zoo. Beth also teaches me more about training of animals here and how we accustom the animals to make them willingly come up daily to be inspected by keepers to monitor their health. Sometimes, I even get to accompany Beth to go and observe her working with keepers on training. All of the keepers have been very welcoming and willing to answer any questions that I
have. It is amazing to watch what goes on behind the scenes here! Speaking of which, the second week of the internship the zoo was having their AZA inspections. It was a great opportunity for me to experience what it is like working in a zoo when these inspections roll around.
I have also worked some events for the zoo. My favorite so far was when Amber Pitsenberger and I ran a table about elephant enrichment for the African elephant Lucas's 6th birthday celebration. I am eager for what the rest of the summer has in store for me here at the Toledo Zoo. I will send more updates later on!
|Talking to guests about elephant enrichment.|
|Amber speaking to guests about enrichment. Behind me is a "pin the trunk on the elephant" game that kids could come up and play.|
|I like to explore the zoo during my lunch breaks. This week I decided to go and feed our masai giraffes!|