Friday, April 17, 2015

A look into my future life

Name: Mara Eisenbarth
Class Year: 2017
Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA
Internship: Animal Care Intern, Perth Zoo
Location: Perth, Western Australia

Hi again! So I know last time that I said I would update every other week or so, but unfortunately the semester started to become a bit busy.  But I'm back now, with lots of fun and exciting stories! (don't worry I'll try not to tell them all).

So over the last few weeks I've been continuing my work in the Australia section.  When I finished going through every round once (nocturnal house, reptiles, wetland birds, southwest birds, bushwalk, education, discovery) I doubled up on ones that I really enjoyed.  Bushwalk was by far my favorite because it held some of the most recognizable Australian animals, as well as some of the cuddliest.  
The Bushwalk animals included: dingoes, kangaroos, wallabies, quokkas, wombats, koalas, echidnas, and tasmanian devils.  The husbandry for most of these animals was very similar, so here is a recap of a typical day on bushwalk:

  1.  In the morning we would go around and check to make sure all the animals were accounted for and not injured or sick (you don't want an injured animal on display when the public arrive) and that they had sufficient water.  
  2. We would do some cleanup of their exhibit, and this consisted of raking up most of the poo and picking up food bowls from the previous day along with any browse that was dried up or chewed up completely.  
  3. Hopefully this would be finished before 10:30 when they had morning tea, or as they called their 20 minute break: smoko (this was just a slang term for the quick little food and water break, obviously no one smoked in the zoo).  Along with cleaning enclosures, dishes were also done before break.  The dishes that were left in the yards where any wild animal could reach were also sprayed with a disinfectant called Trigene and left to soak for 30 minutes before they were rinsed and put on the drying rack.  This was to stop disease from spreading if a sick possum, or similar animal, used an animal's bowl. 
  4.  Between morning tea and lunch, the afternoon food was prepped.  This was a cool experience for me, and had a bit of a learning curve, as I tried to quickly pick up on the routine the keepers had that was the most efficient way of doing things.  Throughout my time here, I've gone from feeling anxious about hindering the keepers and lengthening their day, to knowing that they wouldn't let me do anything I wasn't capable of doing (or quickly learning).  So, after deciphering the feed board, with the help of the keeper, I got to work on preparing the bowls of food for the animals afternoon meal.  I drew on my experience at the Ohio Wildlife Center food preparation when weighing out and distributing the food into the right bowls.  While doing the food prep, I got to ask a lot of questions about the process of making an animal's diet.  At the Perth zoo, the vets are in charge of making the animal's diet so as to keep its weight in check.  However, it is obviously the keeper's job to make sure that diet is actually being received well by the animal.  For example, one day the keeper noticed that one of the wombats was not eating most of her food, so she notified the vet through the daily log, and made a change to the food that was given.  When that didn't help, they decided to chop the food into smaller pieces to see if that was the issue. When that had somewhat of a positive effect, they checked out the wombat's mouth and saw that her bottom teeth were much too long and it seemed painful for her to eat.  Up until the day of the vet appointment to get them trimmed, the keepers had to grate her food completely.  That seemed to do the trick as all of the food was gone the next day.  It was really interesting to watch the process of seeing a problem (no food eaten), reporting the problem, and trying one solution after another until something worked.   
  5. After lunch, we would go around and deliver everyone's food for the day and give them some fresh new browse.  For some animals, especially the quokkas, the browse was not just an extra goody but an important part of their diet.  At this zoo, the browse for each section was placed in one giant refrigerator by the horticulture team.  This made it easy to grab, but sometimes frustrating if the team cut the same thing several days in a row. 
  6. While giving out the food, we would do another head count and check of each exhibit and as soon as the last dish was done for the day, we would head back up to the office to fill out the daily report.  Everything was noted in the daily report that wasn't the daily routine.  So since I was not normally with the keeper, my presence for that day was noted in their logs as well as other things.  Then, depending on what was happening with their animals (for example if they weighed them that day) they might go into the online zoo database ZIMS to record weights and things.  It was interesting to see what we learned in class put into practice.  

So that is a typical and hectic day spent with some of the most wonderful animals on earth.  

To finish off this post, i'll just share a few key things I learned while working with the keepers in the Australia section. 
  • Being a keeper is not an independent job.  You are an important member of a very close knit team, and working together is imperative for your animal's well being.  Whether or not you agree with how your team mates choose to do things, you have to work together for the animals benefit.  That includes knowing when to speak up if something isn't working, such as routines need to be updated or something of that nature.  
  • One of my discovered passions is formally and informally talking to people.  While a keeper was giving a close encounter talk to a couple in the Galapagos Tortoise exhibit, I got to chat to a few five year old's and their mothers about the beautiful creatures and just felt truly happy sharing my love and knowledge of the animals.  This was only one instance that repeated itself over the six or seven weeks I was there.  You know you're on the right career path when you get that feeling of just pure joy while doing your job.  As keepers, don't forget about the requirement of the job that includes educating and working with the public.  Also, don't downplay that aspect either.  Sharing our love of all living creatures and the knowledge we have gained is an amazing and incredibly important part of our future careers.  If we don't do that, there won't be any animals for us to take care of.  I got to see this education first hand as the keepers were sharing their passions and careers with me.  
On that note, I think I'll wrap this post up with some more pictures and will say see ya until next time! Thanks for reading! 

Echidnas (easily one of the coolest mammals ever