Thursday, July 2, 2015

My Days With The African Unicorn

Name: Lauren Silla
Class Year: 2017
Hometown: North Royalton, Ohio
Internship: Animal Care Intern at Dallas Zoo
Location: Dallas, Texas
June 16, 2015

Hi y’all!

I am just finishing up my fourth week here at Dallas Zoo so I thought I’d share some of my adventures so far.  I am an Animal Care intern in the Upper Wilds of Africa section.  Since the Dallas Zoo has such a large African themed section, it is broken up into many smaller keeper sections.  The Upper Wilds section houses okapis, yellow-backed duikers, bongos, a waterbuck, elands, dik-diks, a blue duiker, and caracals.  For most of my time here so far I have been working with and caring for the five okapis and three yellow-backed duikers.

Ever since I was little and started riding horses, I have always had a fascination with hoofstock so I am so thankful to be given this amazing opportunity to work with these exotic species!  Over my time here I have learned so many interesting things about the okapi and duiker.  For example:
·      Okapi have the ability to lick their own eyes.  Yes, that’s right, their eyes!  They have about a foot-long tongue that is used to grab browse out of trees, much like giraffes.  They also use this long tongue to clean their face and bodies.
·      Okapis are covered in this natural oil, which turns your hand red almost instantly when you touch them.
·      Okapi generally only make two vocalizations, a “honk” when they are interested in breeding and a “chuff” when they are excited.  They also communicate through infrasound at a much lower frequency than human hearing can detect.
·      Okapi are currently only found in the Ituri rainforest in the wild, in the Democratic Republic of Congo and are solitary animals.
·      Duikers are the only hoofstock that consume meat (mostly rabbit at the zoo). 

·      The word “duiker” means “diver”; the name was used to describe the way they dive through the brush when frightened.
Our daily routine starts with a morning meeting at 7:00 AM to discuss the previous days events and discus plans or projects for the afternoon.  We then head to our designated route, which for me is the okapi and duiker barn. 
  • We start by doing a visual check of the animals and feed breakfast.  Next we clean out each individual’s yards and the exhibit.  Checking the exhibit is a very important part of a keeper’s day.  Since okapi are rainforest animals, their exhibit has a lot of trees and ground covering plants.  It is very important for the keepers to check all the tree limbs for any instability and also the ground to make sure it is not slick for the animals.  Our most time consuming part of our day is cleaning the barn.  Each animal has his or her own stall with a hay bed and free choice alfalfa.  Everyday all the hay is picked up from the stall, the stall is hosed and squeegeed, and then a new hay bed is made.  Each hallway and grate is also hosed to make sure all the hay and dirt goes into the drains.  This whole process usually lasts from about 7:30AM until noon. 
  • In the afternoon we usually do a “project” that needs to be done around the barn.  For example, fixing the animal transfer lane after it gets washed away from rainwater, cutting browse, trimming hooves, fixing gutters, providing enrichment, ect.  We also are training the okapi to receive injections and have radiographs taken.
  • The Dallas Zoo has an awesome intern program that allows the interns to see all different sections of the zoo.  We have the opportunity to attend a behind the scenes tour each week along with career and professional development seminars. 
One of the most important career ideas I’ve learned about zoo keeping- it’s really not about working with animals as it is working FOR the animals.  All day everyday is spent making the animal’s days better and their lives more fulfilling.

As a side note-if you have not heard Dallas has had the rainiest May on record this year, so yes its been very wet and mucky and flooded pretty much everywhere!  As I am writing this tropical storm “Bill” is making its way out of the city, leaving behind another 5+” of rain.   Not exactly the way I pictured Dallas weather, but I’m sure it will get much drier and hotter in the weeks to come.  

Anyways here are some pictures of my Dallas Zoo adventure so far

Niko on Exhibit


Squeegeeing one of the stalls

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