Wednesday, August 27, 2014


Born August 20, 2014
10:55 pm
245 lbs
not yet named 

I'm happy to announce that this not-so-little bundle of joy was finally born! 

Matt and I had already planned to leave August 15th in order to come back to east to prepare for school and spend a little time with our families before heading back to Otterbein for fall semester. Through out the summer we had hoped Semba's baby would come with plenty of time for us to observe and take data on the newborn. Then as time went on and still no baby we began to just hope that the baby would come before we left.  Semba contently carried on with her daily activities showing no signs that labor would be happening anytime soon. 

It was extremely difficult to leave Tucson for multiple reasons. Obviously it was difficult knowing that after all that time we had not been able to see the baby but over the eleven weeks I'd spent there, I made connections with all of the elephant staff and I now felt apart of their family. They had brought Matt and I in with open arms. They even threw a surprise party for my birthday;  the  first year I was away from my family. While they may not realize it, meeting each of them has impacted my life and inspired me to continue doing the work I was a part of this summer. 

In the early morning of Wednesday August 20th, Semba began showing signs the baby was coming. Even being hours away from it all I was still over the moon to know it was finally time! A few hours after the birth Matt and I were told the baby had arrived and it was in fact a girl, what we had all been wishing for! She was seemingly in good health and had no problem nursing from her momma. I was thrilled but it did not come without the sting of sadness knowing I wasn't there to celebrate with the elephant team. But the most important part of it all was the baby was healthy and finally here! 

She began exploring quickly after birth and it wasn't long before the elephant team decided to let her out into the grass yard (much sooner than they had previously thought). She has now met everyone in the herd including her father Mabu. It will probably be awhile before she is allowed on to the pool yard which is closest to the public's view but that is for her own safety. 24 hour watch is still going on as the staff continues to monitor the babies progress and health, along with Semba's and she recovers from labor. As of now the baby elephant will continue to explore the grass yard, building relations within the herd and getting to know the elephant staff. 

Now I'm making plans to return to Tucson and meet the baby I waited eleven weeks to see. I'm trying to fly out over fall break in October and Matt plans to return in December. Unfortunately this time neither of us will have a stipend from the college that helped with travel expenses in the beginning of the summer. I've started a page for donations for anyone willing to help me return to Tucson and see the baby elephant. This page is in no way officiated with Otterbein University or the Reid Park Zoo. 

This will most likely be my last blog post, but I would like to thank Otterbein University Science dept. for awarding me this internship that has changed my life, to the elephant staff and Reid Park Zoo, to everyone that has read my blog and followed me throughout my summer internship. If you would like to continue to see the elephant baby I was recommend following Reid Park Zoo on Facebook as they post pictures, videos and baby updates almost daily (including a video of baby's first mud wallow, too cute not to see!) Also check out their website for more info and access to elephant cams that stream live footage of the herd. 

Thank you!

**All baby elephant photos on this blog were provided by the Reid Park Zoo's Facebook page**

Sunday, August 17, 2014

'Till Next Time, Fishes.

Hello my fellow vertebrates!  It is with the greatest amount of sadness that I share I have finished my internship at the Newport Aquarium. An incredible experience, I do not have the words to describe just how thankful I am to have been given this opportunity.

 My last few days were spent doing a lot of things. There was a lot of the usual window cleaning and house-keeping, but I also had to spend a day in the Water Quality Lab. While I was only in there for a couple hours, I learned a lot about all of the chemistry that goes into running and sustaining aquariums; making sure certain tanks have appropriate pH levels, salinity, and monitoring the presence of nitrates. Even though the people in the water lab aren’t responsible for particular animals, they’re responsible for EVERYTHING else. They make sure the animals have a place that they can live in! And that’s a lot of work! I acquired a new level of respect for those biologists, for I admit that I didn’t understand just how much they did and were responsible for in the aquarium.

One of the days I was there, the aquarium had scheduled a time for some of the biologists to meet and give a presentation about the shark ray pups that were born earlier this year. A lot of questions have recently been re-visited about what happened to the pups and why things didn’t go the way people expected them to. While the presentation was intended for the workers and volunteers of the aquarium, it was given out of importance for the certainty of correct information to share with the public. Haz and Jolene, as well as one of the head people of the husbandry department, gave this presentation. It wasn’t a very long presentation, but it was very, very informative. Given in a “semi-scientific, professional” format, they talked about everything from the rarity of shark rays to the complications after the birth of all seven of them. I’m not going to go over every single thing they discussed, but if you’re interested, feel free to ask me! Shark rays are incredibly rare in the wild, which leaves us so little information about them, and makes them a [quite] mysterious responsibility to an aquarium. The Newport Aquarium was the first aquarium to successfully have FOUR shark rays, and also have a successful breeding program. So why did the pups die? Because shark rays pups have never before been bred, birthed, and cared for in captivity. Newport tried all sorts of ways to try and care for their new babies, but ultimately deemed unsuccessful, first time around. They were under CONSTANT care, non-stop from day one until the last pup died. Weights, diets, activity levels, and general observation of the pups was constantly being taken and recorded, in order to try and find out what the shark rays needed the most. While this attempt was unsuccessful in resulting in a surviving pup, it was extraordinarily successful in groundbreaking information; obtaining information that has never been done before! And hopefully soon, the aquarium will be able to successfully present more shark ray pups to the world.

Scratches from a sea turtle. Who knew THAT was possible?
I’ve ripped heads off of shrimp (dead, frozen ones), stuffed lobsters with vitamins, ripped frog leg muscles off of the bones, and squeezed juice out of a handful of krill. I’ve been splashed by a shark ray, scratched by a sea turtle, smashed by a magnet, and stepped on by a crab. I’ve learned that people skills are just as good to have as animal skills, and that being organized is one of the best practices you should have. I’ve also learned to never ignore the idea of writing your name with a Sharpie on anything that’s yours. I’ve seen my mentor wrestle an albino alligator, and I carried said alligator to a truck (don’t worry, it was in a box). I’ve fed the most venomous fish known to man, I’ve seen one of the largest captive alligators swallow a chicken whole, and I’ve been spit on by a fish. I’ve scraped salt off of floors and ceilings, and I’ve cleaned lobster antennas out of a sink.

Although my time at the aquarium was short, I learned and witnessed so much, it makes me look forward to being in this working world, but also for other people that enjoy this career as much as I, to experience these things as well. The biggest thing I learned? Never expect a strict schedule. Just like human health, the animal world is unpredictable, and things happen. Fish get sick, animals die, water salinities change, life support systems malfunction or need tuning. The hardest part of this job? You can’t communicate with the animals; they can’t speak for themselves. They can’t tell you “hey, I’m not feeling too good. I think I’m getting sick.” Sometimes you have to make decisions that you don’t want to make, and no matter the amount of experience you have, difficulties are ever present. This kind of job can’t really be a part-time effort, simply because you won’t understand what a strange behavior is in your animals if you only see them a couple times a week. The animals need to get to know you just as much as you need to get to know them. Yes, they are wild animals, which is REALLY important to remember, but familiarity is better for them. Biologists and zoo keepers don’t get near enough the amount of attention, or a salary, as I think they deserve, simply because they do all sorts of things. I’m not saying they don’t get paid enough because I hope to be a biologist one day. I’m saying it because, like moms, they are multiple things in one. They’re researchers, record keepers, veterinarians, chefs, maintenance keepers; they’re all sorts of busy and occupied.

I’ve enjoyed my summer, and I would like to thank everyone for your support and encouragement. Your words of praise and congratulations warm my heart, and your questions and exclamations of excitement for me really make me believe in myself. So, once again, thanks so much for everything my loved ones have done for me. I know I wouldn’t be writing these blogs if it wasn’t for you!!

P.S.  Of course there’s no way that I can post every experience or picture on this blog. Sharing is caring, so if you ever want to talk to me about this or have any questions about what I study or do, just ask! Science is wonderful, and I won’t turn down an invitation to talk about it!          -Jill :)

Friday, August 8, 2014

Still waiting

Still waiting. Waiting waiting patiently. It’s starting to feel like Semba isn't pregnant and that it’s just a giant food baby! It’s obviously not, but that’s the way it feels!Amanda and I have both worked the evening shift and the overnight shift. As of now the main difference on watch is eating or sleeping. During the evening shift, 2:30 PM-11 PM, Semba mainly eats. During the overnight shift, 10:30 PM-7 AM, Semba mainly sleeps. She sleeps in roughly an hour to hour and a half increments two or three times a night. She gets up to use the bathroom, aaaannnnddd eat some more. She will also interact with Lungile or Punga through the fence, but most of the time is spent eating and sleeping. She is pretty much a baby in that sense.
Now, Sundzu on the other hand will entertain himself when he gets tired of eating or sleeping. He’s only 3, so some of the things he does are pretty cute.
1)      One morning at about 5:30, Sundzu stood in a stall and started twirling his trunk like a helicopter.
2)      He will randomly start to walk backwards around the stalls. When he does this, Amanda and I both think of the Spongebob episode where he says “Backing up. Backing up. Backing up.”
3)      This is what the keepers call the sprinkler. African Elephants have to “fingers” at the tip of their trunk while Asian elephants have only one. Sundzu will fill his trunk with water and pinch the fingers together and blow the water out in spurts to make it look like a “sprinkler”
4)      Sundzu is a mamma’s boy to say the least. He’s always hanging around Semba and just won’t give her the space she needs. This includes when she is sleeping. Sundzu will occasionally wait for Semba to fall asleep and then he will go try and squeeze next to her. Most of the times, Semba will sleep in a corner of a stall leaving very little room for Sundzu, but that doesn’t matter for him! He will do his best to squeeze in right next to her no matter how uncomfortable it looks.
5)      Some nights, there is not enough room for Sundzu to wedge himself next to Semba. He still tries to find a spot as close to her as he can get, sometimes waking her up. One night, Sundzu was searching for his spot by Semba and he woke her up, and if you ask me, he did it on purpose. Well right when Semba stood up, Sundzu immediately laid down right where Semba was sleeping.
6)      And the last one. I’m not sure how he does it, but he’ll put his trunk in his mouth and makes a fart-like noise. This usually happens multiple times in the morning, and I still laugh every time he does it.
Outside of the elephants, there are still some differences between the evening and night shift. At about 5 in the morning, it starts to get light out, and the flies swarm. One morning I counted 6 flies on only one of my legs. During the evening, there aren't as many flies, but the flies are there longer.
Amanda Primarily does night shifts, usually 5 nights in a row, and I primarily do evening shifts and cover the two nights that Amanda is not there. If a volunteer is unable to make their shift, then Amanda or I will step in when needed if we are able to. I find myself being a couple steps behind in the morning. I am riding the struggle bus for sure whenever I work a night shift.
Sue, the elephant manager, will also give us projects to work on while we are there. Since there is always a keeper with us, we rotate Semba watch, which allows us to work, aaannd to give us a break from watching Semba eat or sleep. Our most recent project has been a map of Africa with elephant populations which will be used in informing people about 96elephants. The Reid Park Zoo has recently partnered with 96elephants. This organization gets its name from an average of 96 elephants being killed every day for their tusks. There is a federal ban on ivory in the US, but that does not put a stop to the black market ivory trade or selling ivory that has been around. New York and now New Jersey are the only two states that have put a complete ban on the sale of ivory! 96elephants works to educate and help put an end to ivory trade.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Waiting, Hoping, and Wishing

Still no baby! 
Twenty four hour watch has been going for close to a month but still no signs that we are any closer to having the new member of the elephant herd joining us. Semba appears quite content and she continues her normal activities, and her appetite has not slowed down. 

Litsemba, Semba's full name, is swahili meaning "hope". Semba is approximately 24 years old. She, along with Mabu and Lungile were born at Kruger National Park in South Africa. From there many of the elephants in the park were moved to Swaziland in 1994. The elephant populations started to become overpopulated in the area. Because of this two family herds were moved San Diego Safari Park in 2003. Breeding within these herds was very successful at San Diego. That is where Semba had her first and second calves Punga and Sundzu. Both were fathered by Mabu. Due to the success of the herds at San Diego, it was decided that they needed to be expanded and in March of 2012, a small breeding herd of five elephants was moved to Reid Park Zoo. Semba is the matriarch of the herd. In elephant social dynamics, one female will lead the family herd. Most males once they reach sexual maturity will go off on their own, sometimes joining a separate bachelor herd. 

Mabu and Semba were observed breeding in October of 2012. It was quite the display of the entire herd running and trumpeting through out the exhibit over multiple days. Mabu also mated with Lungile but it didn't result in a pregnancy. The news of Semba's pregnancy was a delight to the zoo and community. This was exciting for everyone because this will be the first elephant born in the state of Arizona!

Now we are anxiously awaiting the arrival of the baby (sex unknown). Semba is still within the healthy window for delivery. Urine analysis predicted between July 16th and August 21st. At this point this pregnancy has surpassed Semba's previous two due dates with Punga and Sundzu and has also gone pass the mean delivery date. Everyone is on edge waiting for some sign that labor is coming. Matt and I are especially anxious because our internship and time at the zoo is coming to a close. We leave soon and we want more than anything to get to see this baby born. So keep fingers crossed that this bundle of joy comes soon!

*Photo taken from Reid Park Zoo's Facebook page*

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Results, Conclusions, and Acknowledgements

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

Hello again... from Columbus, OH! I am now home from my time at the Wilds, and beginning the task of unpacking. It really does seem like just the other day that I was doing this at the Wilds, while excitedly texting Mollie, who was en route, about our awesome cabin! Truly, our time there went by with a speed rivaling that of one of the Wilds' cheetahs. 

When I last posted, we were about to head into analyzing data, writing the rest of our papers, preparing PowerPoint presentations, and our poster presentations. This was definitely a busy time, but it was not without fun. Last weekend, a few of us went on what is called a Wildside Tour at the Wilds, where you get up close with the animals in pasture while riding around in the back of a truck. Here are a few pictures:

Saying hello to Sonya the Indian rhino!

As you can see, I was not excited about this at all. :)

The beautiful African wild dogs! I am always awed by their incredible coloration.

Offering some lettuce to Tafari the giraffe.

A few of the Sichuan takin. There were a lot of them gathered around this mud hole. 

The end of week 8 and beginning of week 9 involved several lab work marathon days for fellow intern Melanie (whose project also involves qPCR) and I as we finished DNA extractions, prepped and ran qPCR, and all of the steps those two processes entail. At the right is a picture of me in the midst of the DNA extraction protocol. This project has definitely been a great opportunity to continue to refine my pipetting skills! I have also learned a lot about precautions you have to take when performing research involving molecular/DNA work, such as being very careful about preventing possible DNA contamination across samples that could skew your results. Due to lots of pipette tip changing, glove changing, and cleaning/sterilizing, and other assorted precautions, we appeared to be successful in preventing this. 

At the end of week 9, we submitted our posters for approval and possible selection to be presented at the Columbus Zoo on Friday. I was very excited to find out that I was one of those whose posters were picked (Mollie was selected too)! On Thursday, we presented our PowerPoints at the Wilds. We had the opportunity to present to many individuals with high-ranking positions from both the Wilds and the Columbus Zoo, which was exciting, but also quite nerve-wracking! I  really appreciated that they were willing to take the time to come listen to us interns present our work, though. I am very thankful to report that my presentations went well both at the Wilds and at the Columbus Zoo, and I received very positive feedback from those I presented to, which I was (and still am!) very grateful for.
Mollie and I after presenting at the zoo.
As I sit here typing this blog post and reflecting over the last 10 weeks, I am amazed and humbled by all that I had the opportunity to see, learn, and do. Being a Conservation Science intern through the Wilds Scholars Intern Program was a fantastic experience, and I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to work with and learn from my great bosses, Joe and Caitlin, and so many others. Thanks to all of my loyal blog post readers for following my adventures over the last 10 weeks, the Wilds for this great opportunity, the Otterbein Biology and Life Science Department for funding my time at the Wilds, and my fellow interns for a great summer. 

Now it's time to prepare for my next adventure-- junior year at Otterbein! 


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 :)