Friday, June 24, 2016

Enjoying Otters in Chicago


My name is Hannah Musser and I am a rising junior in the Zoo and Conservation Science program at Otterbein University. I am from Cincinnati Ohio, and am living in Chicago, IL for ten weeks this summer doing a research internship in animal behavior under the direction of Dr. Lance Miller at the Brookfield Zoo! I am finishing up my third week there, and have enjoyed the experiences that I have gotten there so far!

A panoramic view of the Asia exhibit at Tropic World. Otters can access water, island, & land on the left & right.
For my project, I am observing and recording the frequency of the superstitious behaviors of four Asian small-clawed otters. They live in one of three large exhibits that make up the building called Tropic World, and share an exhibit with White-cheeked gibbons on one side (with whom they have occasional interaction- usually a gibbon coming down and grabbing at or chasing the otter on land) and Orangutans on a mountain above them. I got to go behind the scenes of this exhibit with one of the keepers the other day which was a really neat experience; I saw the feeding machines and learned how they work, saw the otters (that are smaller up close than they look from outside the exhibit!) in their holding/behind the scenes living area, and even got to wear waders and go out into the exhibit to help set up the feeding machines for that day!

The automatic feeder
Feeder in cooler on exhibit
The otters have two automatic feeding machines in their exhibit each day that drop out fish periodically- it could be every couple minutes or every twenty; it is random, depending on the placement of the fish on the conveyor belt inside the machine. The otters exhibit these behaviors such as head bobbing, begging, and intently staring at the feeders because in the past, when they have performed these behaviors, they have gotten a reward; therefore we believe that they continue to do them thinking that they will get fish (but there is actually no correlation since the feeders drop fish randomly, resulting in these “superstitious” behaviors.)

One of the begging behaviors under a feeder

One of the begging behaviors under a feeder

In the otters' exhibit!

I work Mondays through Fridays and observe the otters for two 1.5 hour sessions each day. So far I have seen the otters exhibiting the superstitious behaviors quite frequently and so I am excited to see how the project continues. After another week of observations, the keepers will introduce ice blocks that contain fish frozen in them, (about 75% of the otters’ diet, with the other 25% staying in the feeders), into the exhibit, and I will continue to observe to see how this addition may help decrease the amount of superstitious behavior that occurs while the otters wait for or try to make the fish fall out. In addition to observations/data collection, I am also working on literature review and beginning the writing of my project report. As a part of this zoo’s internship program, I have also gotten the opportunity to go behind the scenes in a few other exhibits (some highlights being feeding a zebra and petting an okapi!) and I am looking forward to the other opportunities ahead to learn more about the care and keeping of the Brookfield Zoo’s animals.

I have had to adjust to the public transportation way of life as I have to get up at 6am to take a train and two buses to get to the zoo (arriving around 8 when I start work), but I have learned to be flexible and keep my phone charged to use Google maps to track the buses when they are running late and it has worked out pretty well! I am living with about 95 other college students in a college loft-style dorm on the East side of Chicago downtown, so the commute has been long to get to work and back but totally worth it. Along with these other students I am participating in a summer mission project for these ten weeks through an international Christian campus ministry organization called Cru. Along with our day jobs throughout the city, we have weekly meetings, small group Bible studies, and do outreaches and service on local college campuses and around the city. I am really enjoying this part of my time here as well, and making some great friends as well as growing in my faith.

I have already gotten to explore some of Chicago, and am looking forward to seeing more sights and eating more bites in my remaining seven weeks here! Overall it has been a really great experience (besides the fact that I sprained my ankle on my lunch break at work we’ll see how quickly that heals and how that is feeling when I go back to work Monday) and I look forward to sharing again soon!

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

My Cape Parrot Progress

Name: Jessica Stiles
Year: Junior
Hometown: Milford Ohio
Internship: Cape Parrot Project
Location: Hogsback South Africa

  We have been in Hogsback for about a month now and it is amazing. Each morning we wake up and watch the parrots as they fly down the mountain for the day. We were set back a week because of a dispute between the community and the local municipality but we were able to use the time to bird watch and explore some other areas of the country. Despite the setback we have been able to get some good data and vocalizations of the parrots. We got up extra early on June 9  to drive down to a town called Alice where there is a pecan orchard that the project knows the parrots go to. I was in charge of the vocal recordings for the day, so I went out and chose a spot in the orchard to wait for the arrival of the cape parrots. Within a few minutes they began to appear and chose a tree one over from where I sat to record. We ended up with some very nice recording before a jackal buzzard scared most of the parrots away. I noticed two had stayed and upon further investigation with the camera Cassie noticed that the female that had stayed has Psittacine Beak and Feather  Disease Virus (PBFDV), but the male that stayed with her did not. We suspect the male was either a mate or a friend that stayed when the others left. About 15 minutes after the jackal buzzard had scared most of the parrots away, a flock of about 23 came in together and we managed to get some more audio of all the parrots before we packed up to head back to Hogsback.

On the left is the female with the Psittacine Beak and Feather Virus. You can tell she is a female by the patch of red on her head just a over beak. The yellow discoloration on her wings are the indications of the virus. On the right is the healthy male that stayed with her. Makes do not have the red just above there beaks, which is really the only way to tell the difference. (Pictures  courtesy of Cassie Carsten. I am actually standing right below them when he took the pictures.)

  After we took lunch we basically hiked down to The Big Tree and did some phenology along the way. We have been going around finding all of the nest boxes on the gps and updating our data on them. What we do is collect data such as the circumference of the tree, calculate the diameter at breast height, the species of tree, whether the nest box is for birds or bees, it's material, it's hight above ground, the nests aspect, the trees height, the trees latitude, longitude, and altitude, and the state of the tree ( alive, snag, canopy cover, and the stage it is in). We were only able to do three trees with nest boxes along the way because we did not have enough tags left. On the way to The Big Tree we acquired a little companion who stayed with us for about three hours or so, a little Jack Russell mix.
When we left the tree we went to the View Point at the Away With The Fairies back packers lodge to watch the parrots return for the night. We ended up getting new data to add because the parrots landed down at The Big Tree and stayed down in the valley below which is not like the usual behavior of the parrots. I can not wait to see what else this internship has in store for me.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Welcome to the Dallas Zoo

Name: Abigail Smith
Class Year: 2018
Hometown: Troy, OH
Internship: North Savannah/Registrar Intern
Location: Dallas Zoo

Dallas Bound
Hello all! I am a Zoo and Conservation Science major at Otterbein University and I am pre-vet as well. This summer I will complete a 10 week internship at the Dallas Zoo as a North Savannah/Registrar Intern! I am accompanied by another Otterbein student, Eliza Hanes, who is completing an internship in the Hospital at the Dallas Zoo. We are also very fortunate to be housed by Miss Myra who works in the Advancement Department at the Zoo. 

Eliza (left), Myra (middle), Myself (right)

It is the end of my second week here in Dallas and I am finally getting accustomed to the swing of things.  I work Monday-Friday 7 A.M to 4 P.M. Every day I wake up at 5 A.M. to get ready and eat a huge breakfast because I need the energy. The day starts out with a morning meeting in the North Savannah section. This is when the keepers decide what animals are going out on exhibit and what the goals of the day are. Then I normally accompany a keeper or two out to the various exhibits to clean up from the animals the day before and prep them for today. This includes scooping poop, checking the automatic water dispensers, pulling weeds, filling in huge hoof prints, and putting fresh food out. We also set up the feeding platform where guests can feed giraffes lettuce, carrots, etc. This includes bringing up the food to be dispensed and affixing browse to the platform as a reward for the giraffes when they come out on exhibit. After all is prepped, we shift the designated animals out onto exhibit. 
First Day

Shifting animals can be a complicated process involving many people with specific roles. Someone to open the doors/gates in the barn, another to open the gate to the exhibit, and many others to station animals at their posts. Stationing an animal is calling an animal(s) to a designated location in the exhibit and giving them a reward for doing so. This is important because we do not want the animals to attempt to go back inside before the gates get closed. The North Savannah has giraffe, zebra, ostrich, lechwe, greater kudu, and guinea fowl. Many of these are featured on any given day in a mixed species exhibit. So far I have been trained to station giraffes. I stand on a platform above the exhibit and my job is to call them over and reward them with giraffe crackers until all animals are on exhibit and the gates have closed. I have also observed the stationing of the zebra, ostrich, and greater kudu. This whole process can take anywhere from 20 minutes to over an hour.

After the animals have been shifted we go to cleaning the holding yards and the barns. We have two barns: "hoofstock" and "giraffe." So far I have been trained in the giraffe barn. We spend about two hours each day cleaning, feeding, and putting up enrichment. A lot of the enrichment we have are logs and browse attached to the walls for chewing. We also hang various items up for them to investigate such as tubes filled with lettuce, a pipe with dangling spoons, a christmas tree, etc.

Browse Collection
That concludes the morning activities. After lunch is the registrar portion of the internship. I was trained on how to operate ZIMS (Zoological Information Management System) and input information into the system. My supervisor has assigned me a project where I sort through necropsy files dating back all the way from 1995 to the early 60's. My job is to input the diagnosis from the final histopathology report for all the records so it is easily accessible from the database. Unfortunately my supervisor had to take leave almost as soon as I arrived, but fortunately there were a lot of other sections needing my help! Two days a week I monitor the cameras on the new baby elephant and record observations on him for their department. This is one of the best ways I could imagine spending an afternoon! For another two days a week I work on my records project at the hospital where I have a stand-in supervisor to answer any questions I may have. And for one day a week I help the elephant department again, but not monitoring baby cams. With all the new elephants they recently rescued from Swaziland, the demand for browse is larger than ever. So every Friday I go out with a keeper to collect browse from the surrounding neighborhoods. Each week the city collects brush/trees/large items from different sections of the city, depending on the schedule. We go out in a large truck and pick up browse-able items for the many elephants. It has been really fun learning all the different types of browse they have in Texas and how to identify them all!

 One of my favorite things about this summer is that I am doing something different every day. At the end of my first week I was fortunate enough to watch and be of help in a veterinary procedure where we shifted an animal from one section of the zoo to another. I was responsible for helping carry the animal to the van and then into its new home. I was also able to observe the routine checkup!

Myself and Chris
I am very fortunate to be trained by, in my opinion, some of the best keepers in the world. Everyone I have met has been very helpful in showing me the ropes and answering my many questions. We all work together to give the best care we can for all the species in the North Savannah and have a great time doing it! One keeper specifically, Chris (pictured right) has given me great advice on all things from my poop scooping technique to tips on achieving my greatest goals.

Overall I am having a wonderful time in Dallas and I cannot wait to see what else it has in store for me! Look for more posts from me in a few weeks!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

More China Fun!

Name: Kelly Jackson
Year: Senior, Class of 2017
Location: Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China
Internship: Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding- Animal Behavior Research

            Taryn and I have been enjoying our time in China and have had new adventures each day! Last week Sunday we went out for breakfast, drank boba tea and went to the panda post to send postcards back to our friends and families at the Panda Post. Eldora had taken Macie and I there last year, and all of the workers had spoken English very well while we were there. Afterwards we came back to the school to do laundry. It was very nice out so I decided to read one of the books I brought outside while my laundry dried in the sun. Our neighbors saw me and talked to me for a bit! They are very nice people. :)
            We started off last week by watching the pandas (of course). They had brought the pandas in because it was too hot for them outside. Once they brought them in, one of the keepers, Mei Mei, asked us if we would like some watermelon. So we took a break from the pandas and ate the delicious fruit with them! In the afternoon we also had the opportunity to see them put the pandas back outside from the back area (it had cooled off a bit). It definitely helped a lot when trying to figure out who was who!
            The following days at the panda base were some of the most exciting ones thus far. On Tuesday, Ju and I decided to walk around the panda base during lunch while Taryn watched Game of Thrones. While this is my second time being at the panda base, I still haven’t explored the whole area because it is very huge. As Ju and I were wandering around the panda base, we ran into an enclosure that had a familiar sign…it was the cubs from last year! Finally found them! All five of them were inside and SO BIG! It is crazy to me just how big they get in such a little time. Unfortunately, I could not tell who all of them were, except Shuang Hao. :P Ju and I also walked to Bird Lake, and took lots of pictures of all the beautiful birds.
            On Wednesday, Taryn and I had the chance to help out with some enrichment! A lady had donated enrichment items to the panda base and James had asked if we could give it to the cubs. The husbandry department gave us the okay and off we went! Pandapia, the official photographing company of the panda base, decided they wanted some video footage of the pandas playing with the handy dandy enrichment item, otherwise known as “the amazing graze” (it is for horses!). Taryn recorded video and I used my camera to take some great pictures! The cubs absolutely loved it. :P

            The rest of the week we actually had off due to the Dragon Boat Festival Holiday. On Thursday I decided to go ahead and explore the east side of the campus. I ended up walking to a place called the Jiulidi Site. According to the writing (it was in English), the area was built in order to protect Chengdu from floods. However, most of the area had been destroyed and now it is much smaller. I also found a pet store too that had puppies and kittens for sale! Later on in the day Taryn and I went to the art market. My favorite part of the market is the beautiful paintings artists create. The extensive detail that is put into each piece is so precise; you can tell they put so much effort into it. We then met Ju later for dinner at the Shangri-La. :)
            The next day we spent the whole day with Ju. We went to a sandwich place (recommended by James) for lunch which was SO GOOD and got boba (yum!). We headed on over to the Sichuan Art Museum for a good majority of the day. Almost all of the signage at the art museum was translated into English, so we could read a lot of the descriptions of the pieces. I really enjoyed reading the signs, and learned a lot about the history of the sculpture, painting, or object being displayed. One of the several I personally enjoyed was the Tea contrast. When designing certain pottery items, the sculptors took into account the tea that would be poured into them. The color and the uniformity of the tea, as well as whether or not the foam disappeared, determined who would win “the game.” I’m not sure what “the game” is, but it sounds mysterious! :P After the museum, we went swing dancing with Ju again! I had the chance to dance with several people this time, and felt a whole lot more confident in my swing skills!
            On Saturday Taryn and I hung out with our new friends Andrew and Melody! We had met Andrew on the campus one day and she wanted to spend the day playing with us. :) And what better place to go on your day off then the panda base? ;P Andrew had never been there before and we wanted to show her around, and give her the full panda experience! She was so happy watching the pandas, even though most of them were sleeping by the time we got there. Melody and Andrew even got us selfie sticks so we could take pictures of the pandas later on! We went to lunch next and ate delicious hot pot! The two of them had to go and so we said farewell. I decided to go to the track and dance Zumba with the ladies there! They were so much fun, but it was definitely a workout! :P
            Sunday we went back to the panda base, where we were thrown for a loop. The keepers had put some of the cubs with the moms! While it was exciting we were not sure what to do, and whether or not this would affect our data. After discussing it, we determined that it would still be okay to watch the cubs with the moms. It will be exciting to not only be able to watch the cubs, but to also watch the adult pandas a bit too, and see how the cubs interact with their moms. :)
Taryn and I have started collecting our actual data this week, which is also awesome! :) We’ve talked with James about entering data into excel and what in theory our results should look like to support our hypothesis. Each day we still continue to watch the cubs, and each day they do something crazy and/or cute! :) Hopefully, they will continue to be highly active so we can get a ton of social interactions between them!
Even with watching the pandas every single day, one of the highlights of the trip would have to be when I walked to the mall the other day. I decided to explore the road on the opposite side of the mall, and see if there were any cool new food places there Taryn and I could try. There was not a lot of restaurants, and mainly clothing stores so I ventured back to the mall. I was curious to see the roof of the mall, and made my way up to the top. There was a quaint little tea shop surrounded by a garden of greens and various crops. I continued to walk till I found myself alone, sitting on a marble ledge just looking out into the horizon watching the sun. It was getting dark, and I figured I might as well stay and watch the sunset. It was absolutely breathtaking. I had never seen a sunset in the city before, let alone in China. You could barely hear the cars and the busy street down below; the only sounds were the planes flying overhead and above you. Yes, I love so many things about Chengdu. From the food to the people, China will always have a place in my heart. But in reality, it’s the little moments like this that make me realize why I really truly enjoy being here. It makes me sad that almost half of our time is gone here. :( I am looking forward to what the rest of the trips brings for Taryn and I! :)

P.S. James also surprised me by bringing the best mangos in the world to lunch yesterday. Needless to say, Kelly’s Belly was VERY happy. :)


Monday, June 13, 2016

Life in the desert

Mara Eisenbarth
Elephant Intern
Reid Park Zoo, Tucson Arizona

Hello from the wild west! 

This blog post is coming to you from the super hot, incredibly beautiful Sonoran Desert.  Tucson is such a change from the rainy, muddy spring in Pittsburgh...but i'm definitely not complaining! It's only been three weeks, and i'm as tan as I usually am at the end of the summer.  

But, this is supposed to be about my internship, and not how much vitamin D i'm getting, huh.  

I arrived in Tucson on a Sunday, three weeks ago, and started my internship with the elephant team on Tuesday.  My supervisor and I are working on a project together, so i'm on her schedule which means I work eight hours a day Tuesday through Saturday (more on the project later). 

The heat is definitely something that took some getting used to, especially working out in it 40 hours a week.  At first I was wearing shorts and my volunteer t-shirt, but soon I switched over to pants and pull-on sleeves, for a variety of reasons.  The elephant team work really hard to feed their elephants only the best, and to them that means providing tree branches to fulfill a majority of their diet.  To do this, they have asked tree trimming companies around the area to consider dropping off loads of certain types of trees to us instead of throwing them away.  When we get a load dropped off, it's unofficially my job (and anyone who isn't busy) to sort through the pile and trim the branches down to a manageable size as well as make sure there isn't anything in the pile that we can't feed out to the elephants.  Doing that with exposed legs and arms resulted in lots of scratches...until I realized pants and sleeves were really good ideas! 

In order to get all the work done around the elephant barn and yards, the team relies on volunteers every day.  Each day they have one or two volunteers that commit to helping that day every week.  As soon as I arrived, I worked alongside the volunteers and learned the ropes from them, and the keepers.  In the morning we clean the yards, scooping up poop, cleaning up leftover hay, and collecting all of the used tree branches.  When that's finished we help them unload the carts into the compost dumpster and then get ready to clean the barn.  There are three stalls, and three outdoor paddocks, as well as the two yards that the public can see.  After about day 2, Sue (my supervisor) asked me to make a power point outlining instructions for everything I had learned so far (which was a TON).  She wanted new volunteers to be able to go through this power point as training before they even started helping.  This way, it wouldn't all be on the keepers to make sure they tell the volunteers everything they need to know and be aware of.  It was really cool, after only a week, to be able to compile everything I learned into a format that would teach another person how to do the job I just learned.  They used it soon after to train a new volunteer, and the keepers said they loved it! Success! 

Most, if not all, of the cleaning is done in the morning so the afternoons are free for training and other things that need done.  To keep the elephants healthy in the over 100 degree heat, they usually try to get them in the pool in the afternoon, which has been pretty fun to watch!  Watching that from the public area has also been helpful in doing one of my favorite things: interacting with the public.  I love it all, the good comments and the bad.  It's really fun when people are interested in learning more about the animals I am dedicating my life to taking care of, but it's cool to educate those who aren't so supportive of zoos, too.     

Overall, my first few weeks have been very exciting and full of learning.  I'll introduce the elephants next post, and hopefully more about my new, exciting stay tuned! 

Left to right: Sundzu, Nandi, Semba (mom with 2 out of 3 kids)


Sunday, June 5, 2016


Name: Taryn Chudo
Year: Junior, Class of 2018
Location: Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China
Internship: Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding- Animal Behavior Research

It’s so weird to think that we have been in Chengdu for almost a month now! Time sure has flown by here! We are finally completely settled in and are starting to fall into a routine. Every morning we watch the panda cubs and work on identifying all nine. Each day we are getting better and better. Currently we are able to tell all of the sets of twins apart from the others, but we are still working on telling each of the twins apart! With each passing day I realize how different these ‘identical’ animals really are. We have practiced collecting data quite a few times and we are working on setting up the excel sheet to accommodate both the continuous and the point time sampling data that we are collecting. Both Kelly and I are pretty anxious and cannot wait to start collecting actual data! If you ask me I will not admit that my favorite panda is Meng, the only cub without a twin.

Not only have we been watching the cub’s behavior, we have also gotten several opportunities to learn more about panda husbandry. On hot afternoons (and even some mornings) we get to go behind the scenes to watch the cubs. This has allowed us to get closer to them than I ever thought I would get. It is interesting how different it is to identify an animal up close and far away. We also got the chance to help James give one of the adult pandas enrichment. He filled a Kong with apple and gave it to her. She went right to it and carried it around for a little bit. Although both us and the panda quickly realized that the apple was too tight in the Kong and almost impossible for her to get out. Next time we will have to make sure that it is easier for her to get it out.
            The food has been a pretty big adjustment for both of us, but at this point it’s pretty much smooth sailing! I am very thankful that Kelly already knows some great places to eat around us. We have gone to a dumpling restaurant (so far my favorite place) more times than I can count and also have found a really good noodle place that has a picture menu (a true life saver!). We went to a fancier restaurant at the nearby mall and had roasted duck tacos, which were pretty amazing! Ju, Kelly and I also found this amazing vegetarian hot pot place that is phenomenal! It was buffet style so we could go and get the exact food that we wanted and however much we wanted! I cannot wait to go back! Every chance we get to go to hot pot we take, it is just so darn good. This guy that Ju met at the airport offered to take us and of course we agreed. He ordered for us and urged us to try new things which we agreed to. When the food came explained that he had gotten various vegetables and a couple different kinds of meat. We got lotus root (Kelly’s favorite), potatoes, mushrooms, tofu, cow stomach, pig esophagus, and much more! It was an interesting experience, but as always the hot pot was delicious and so spicy that I couldn’t feel my lips afterwards. Ju has also shown us the joys of Boba Milk Tea. The food is definitely something that I am going to miss!
            We spend a lot of our free time with Ju, which is great! She has some friends here in Chengdu and she took us to meet one. Her friend graciously fed us traditional Thai food (which was amazing) and then we had chili chocolate ice cream bars for dessert. I have got to find these back in the states! After dinner Ju and her friend taught us how to salsa dance and then took us to dance! It was so much fun! Later that week Ju took us to a swing dancing group. They had a quick lesson for those that were new and then we got to dance with some amazingly nice people! Both Kelly and I agree that we will have to go back with Ju sometime soon! All three of us have gone to Jinli Sqaure where we ate Tibetan food, including spicy yak, and continued the tradition of adding our own wish bag to the wish tree at Jinli. We found Kelly’s and Macie’s bag from last year and tied our right next to theirs! We will have to be sure to tell whoever comes next year exactly where they are so they can add their own bag!
We also went to the Chengdu Zoo. It was an interesting trip that made all of us appreciate the zoos and regulations in place in America. It was definitely an amazing experience to have and I would recommend this to anyone that goes. The collection had a pretty strong emphasis on goldfish and birds, which was pretty interesting.

            So far China has been great to Kelly and I and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the trip has to offer us. I look forward to every minute of every day and I know that it is always an adventure!