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 :)