Tuesday, July 7, 2015

What a Wild Week!

Name: Kelly Jackson
Class/Year: Class of 2017, Junior
Hometown: Waterford, Wisconsin
Location: Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China
Internship: Animal Behavior Research

            On Sunday, Macie and I decided to go to the Chengdu Zoo. We wanted to see what zoos outside of the United States were like, and of course the animals that were in them. :) When we first got to there we saw a TON of stands with food and gifts to buy outside of the actual zoo entrance. For any future students who chose to go to the zoo, definitely stop at one of these stands. Unlike zoos in America, the Chengdu Zoo did not have actual sit down restaurants or meals to purchase. It was more of snack options, and pricey too! On the plus, it was only 10 RMB for each of us to get in. That’s less than two US dollars…the perks of China! ;)

            The zoo was more accommodating to English than I thought it was going to be. On the back of our ticket, they had pictures of the animals and where they were located throughout the zoo. In addition, at each enclosure they had the animal’s name in Chinese, and what it was in English too. They also had basic biology of the animal, and even listed the IUCN status of the creature, which both Macie and I thought was very important to have. There were tons of animals at the zoo, including everyone’s favorites such as elephants, zebras, bears, giraffes, and monkeys. The amount of birds they had at though was insane! There were so many different kinds from parrots to flamingos to storks, you name it, they had it. Dr. Young would be thrilled. ;P However, they did have goldfish you could look at, and a very large variety of deer. Macie and I never knew there were so many different types of them.
            Besides a few of the animals, the Chengdu Zoo was very different in enclosure design. They have a lot of places you can walk above the enclosure, to view the animals from a bird’s eye view. Usually, this was incorporated into what appeared to look like an arena, where you could walk all the way around the enclosure to view the animal. Another aspect of enclosure design I found interesting was the use of concrete like material. Several of the enclosures had this incorporated into them. Here in America, we always focus on making the place “look like they do in the wild,” and we add a bunch of grass, dirt, plants, etc. that make it difficult for keepers to clean.  Because the amount of animals the Chengdu Zoo had, it seems as though they want to keep the enclosures as clean as they can. Therefore, the material appears to be added to some of the animal’s homes to make it easier and more efficient for the keepers. Of course, other elements were present in the area, such as trees and shrubs to give it more of the “wild” feel. It reminded me a lot of how the city life of Chengdu is. There are very many people here, that if concrete wasn’t used on most of the streets, it would be absolutely filthy here because the people wouldn’t be able to clean the roads like they do!
Overall, the Chengdu Zoo wasn’t that much different than zoos at home. It was a little smaller than the Columbus Zoo, but larger than the Central Florida Zoo I went to over spring break. There were rides like merry go-rounds you could go on, and camel rides. A bunch of animals, a bunch of people, and a bunch of fun! As we wandered throughout the zoo though, I wondered if they had an organization that they are a part of. In America, we have the Association for Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), and I was curious to find out if China has any groups like that. Definitely going to have to do some research. :)
Speaking of research, our project has been going as your typical research projects go…trial and error. We have found it has been the easiest to record the pandas’ behaviors in two ways, based on what location they are in. If the five pandas are in their outdoor enclosure, it seems as though watching one single panda is our best bet. Because we are observing their personalities, we want to record their proximities to the other pandas in the enclosure, as well as what action they perform. For example, if one of our pandas is playing with another panda, we want to record who they are playing with, and if they are in contact with that panda or not. When all of the pandas get together and play with each other (we call this a panda pile :P) it becomes difficult to record who is on top, bottom, and/or biting the other panda. Therefore, to reduce the risk of the pandas getting into a “panda pile” and us loosing track of who is who, we watch one panda at a time, if all of the pandas are in one area. Usually, this happens outside, but sometimes it does occur indoors too, which in this case we would still only watch one panda.
If the pandas are indoors, they are for the most part sectioned off into different rooms. There are two rooms available for the public to see, and one in the back that the keepers (and thankfully us) have access too. If the pandas are separated into rooms of two or more inside, Macie and I will randomly flip a coin to see which room we watch. Let’s say two pandas are in room one, one is in room two, and two are in the back room. Macie and I will randomly pick which room, either room one or the back room, because they both have a pair in them. If we decided to watch one panda by itself, we wouldn’t be getting an accurate interpretation of what the animal’s personality is. That panda doesn’t have the opportunity to play with other pandas, even if it wanted to, and therefore we would be assuming the panda isn’t very social, when in fact it could be.
Recently as well, the keepers have been entering and leaving the enclosures more often. Most of the time they are doing basic checkups, like checking their temperatures and collecting saliva. However, there are times as well when they will end up taking away the pandas to gather blood samples, etc. While it is great that the keepers are monitoring the health of the pandas, it does interfere with our data collection, which has made it tricky to have full thirty minute sessions. We are considering establishing a baseline; if we have at least twenty minutes of data from the thirty minute session, we do not have to scrap the whole data set, even if the keepers end up taking away the panda from the enclosure to run some tests. This will definitely help us gather as much information on the cubs as we possibly can.
Although our ethogram is finished, each day we notice something that occurs with the cubs that we should go into more detail. The other day, one of the cubs was rubbing his back against one of the structures in the enclosure. It appeared as though he was trying to scratch his back, something we had not seen with the pandas before. Typically, they would rub their behinds on the structures, which we defined as “scent marking.” In addition to minor adjustments with the ethogram, we also have been playing around with data we have already collected. Microsoft Excel can be your best friend, or your worst enemy when it comes to entering in data, and knowing some of the tricks of the program has helped Macie and I make this task a bit easier for us! (Thanks Dr. Bouchard) :)
On Saturday, the Fourth of July, we went to the Black Bear Center, where James worked before coming to the panda base. We traveled there with three other American interns we met at the panda base. When we first got there, we were ushered into a little room, that basically gave us the schpeel of what the Black Bear Center is all about. In China, there are things called “bear farms.” Basically, it’s a giant room, filled with hundreds and thousands of bears squished into what they call “crash cages.” The cage barely (no pun intended) fits the animals in them, and causes them pain. If that wasn’t bad enough, each bear has an incision into their abdomen, where a tube is inserted and bile is collected from them. Bear farmers will sell the bile to companies, so they can use it in products, such as eye drops. The bears remain with the open wound, in the crash cages, for their entire lives. What the Black Bear Center does is it goes into the bear farms, frees the bears, then houses and cares for the bears they rescued. It was very sad to hear that these things even exist, and how such beautiful creatures can go through so much torture. Thankfully, Chengdu is one of the places in China were there are no more bear farms, but other parts of China still have them. L
Afterward, we got to walk around the bear center, and see the hundreds of bears in their massive enclosures. Never in our lives, have Macie and I seen so much enrichment! From tires, to wooden puzzle feeders, they had it all! As we continued the tour we went through a remembrance garden. Obviously, not all of the bears make it when they get rescued, due to various health complications they already have from their wounds. The Black Bear Center has a walkway with all of the names of the bears they have lost, so everyone can remember the animals. Going to the Black Bear Center was definitely an experience that will stick with me forever. #freedom4thebears
On Sunday, Macie and I went to the Haichang Polar Ocean World to see our favorite aquatic animals! When we first arrived, we noticed there was a shark show. Wanting to see what it was, we went on over to watch it. There were so many people waiting to see the spectacle we couldn’t breathe. Turned out, two scuba divers went into the tank to clicker train the sharks, while four girls in orange swimsuits did an underwater performance in the tank...with the sharks. After the girl show, the trainers came back and actually demonstrated some tricks the sharks had learned. It was interesting to see, because I had never really heard of a shark being trained, let alone witness it with my own eyes! I guess what we learn is true, you can really teach an animal to do anything, as long as you are willing to take the time to do it!
We also watched a couple more shows that day, including the dolphin/beluga whale show, and the sea lion show. In addition, we also got to see a polar bear and some seals get fed by staff. My favorite had to be the penguin exhibit. Typically you would see maybe one or two species of penguin, but there were at least four different types all in one enclosure! It was cool to see all of them interact with each other in the enclosure. In addition, they had a lot of enrichment in them too. Plus, penguins are just so fluffy! :)
So I guess you could say Macie and I really like animals….it’s a good thing we’re Zoo majors. ;P
Me posing with the Beluga whale :)

View of the bears at the Black Bear Center

Pushing the panda ;P

Crash cage that the bears are housed in at the bear farms

Chengdu Zoo entrance!

Red panda posing :)

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