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 :)

Monday, July 6, 2015

Fun in China!

Name: Macie Smith
Class Year: Senior
Hometown: Beavercreek, OH
Internship: Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding
Location: Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China

It’s hard to believe that Kelly and I have already been in China for just over a month! Four of the nine one year old panda cubs we have been watching were moved to Dujiangyan Research Center of Giant Panda Breeding and Release. Dujiangyan is also in Chengdu and the panda cubs will help with research looking into the release of giant pandas into their natural habitat, which is really exciting! Kelly and I are extremely happy to now be able to identify the five remaining cubs fairly easily. Because of this, we have finally begun recording data that we will actually be able to use toward this research project! By the end, we hope to be able to obtain at least 10 hours of data for each of the five panda cubs still at the panda base.

Now that we have had some time to get used to the area, Kelly and I now have a sort of routine established. On Tuesday and Thursday mornings we go into the red panda enclosures to collect fecal samples that will assist with a study the veterinarian staff are working on. Sometimes we get to look for fecal samples with specific colors of glitter in them, which we see as a sort of challenging scavenger hunt and actually enjoy our time in the enclosures. Plus, how many people can really say that they’ve been in an enclosure with red pandas?! On a rare occasion we get to follow James, our research advisor, and watch him do a training session with one of the adult pandas, which is really interesting! In the short time we’ve been here he’s already worked with her on holding her arm in the correct position for if veterinarians need a blood sample from her. Aside from this, we spend as much time as possible trying to observe the giant panda cubs in the mornings and afternoons. It’s been getting warmer out so the panda cubs are moved to the indoor enclosures earlier now so most of our data has been collected from indoors, which is much cooler for us as well as the pandas. If we have extra time we sometimes stop by the room with the newborn giant pandas on the walk back from the one year olds. At this point in time they are about two weeks old and already we can see the black and white coloration showing!

On the weekends we occasionally have Chinese lessons in the mornings and then explore the Chengdu area in the afternoons. The Chinese lessons have been better recently, but I’m afraid very few people understand us when we try to speak to them. There was even one night when we tried to order dinner and ended up with a plate of mushrooms! The students teaching us have been extremely kind and patient, but I’m afraid that I sometimes accidentally say curse words because they oftentimes laugh and just move on to another word.

After work and on the weekends, Kelly and I have been travelling all over the Chengdu area. A few places that we have visited include the China Bear Rescue Center, the Sichuan Opera, a Buddhist temple, Jinli Street, the Chengdu Zoo, a huge indoor waterpark inside of the Global Center, the Chengdu Haichang Polar Ocean World, and several malls and art/antique market places. We have seen a couple of movies in theaters and were happy to find that several movies play in English with Chinese subtitles. This weekend we plan on going to do KTV, which is really just karaoke, with a few of the Chinese interns also working at the panda base. We are also hoping to go to Leshan, which houses the world’s largest stone Buddha at nearly 250 feet tall as well as other scenic areas.

Overall, I have very much so been enjoying my time here in China and I cannot wait to see what this next month has in store for us!


Ohio Wildlife Center Hospital- working the front desk

Now that I have been interning at the hospital for more than half of the internship I have really gotten into a routine. One day I work in the hospital and the other I work the front dest, hotline, and at the pre release facility.

The pre release facility is a great place to work knowing that these animals will be released into the wild the way the are supposed to be. We give them their daily diet (written on a white board in the kitchen). Each enclosure is on the white board with a list of what animals are inside and what they eat. While feeding and watering we make sure to clean up any old food or debris. The resident pigeons are also cleaned and fed. They enclosure is swept and hosed. New feed with grit and straw are added as well as water. We also care for the mice colonies. They are spot cleaned and fed lab blocks and cat food as treats. While cleaning them we also write down how many females, males, and babies are in each cage.

I check the hotline almost every Tuesday afternoon depending on what other volunteers are there for the day. We go through and write down all the information in the voicemail in the hotline log to be kept for OWC. Once all the voicemails have been heard we start to call back. Sometimes a solution is easy to find. If the caller is sure a baby is orphaned we have them bring them in. If not we ask them to keep and eye out for the mother (since the mom is usually around more often than the caller realizes). Other calls are unique and hard to answer. There have been many calls about white domestic ducks, which OWC cannot take in. If they are injured sometimes they can be brought in to be euthanized to end the suffering of the duck. Otherwise the duck must be taken to a regular vet. Returning hotline calls is very important and often gets my creative side working as finding the best solution can be a challenge.

Working the front desk is not only about taking in animals that people bring but helping the customer fill out the paperwork and explaining to them what will happen to the animal. This can be rather difficult when the outcome doesn't look good or when there isn't a way for us to know until we have had the animal for a few days. It is my job at the front desk to organize and enter paperwork into the database. This can become confusing when an animals goes to multiple home cares or when a group of baby bunnies has some survivors but others that don't make it. On really busy days its easy to get behind on paperwork but there are usually multiple people around to help throughout the day. Once and animal is release or dies/ is euthanized this is entered in the data base. Sometimes this is the hardest part of my job as you can see the number of animals that don't make it. There are days where many need to be entered as euthanized which can seem extremely sad but I remind myself every day that we are caring for these animals in the best way possible and ending their suffering if necessary. I am also very happy to enter all of the paper work for released animals as well.