Saturday, July 2, 2016

My Journey Continues at the Dallas Zoo

Name: Abigail Smith
Class Year: 2018
Hometown: Troy, OH
Internship: North Savannah/Registrar Intern
Location: Dallas Zoo

It is the end of my fourth week here in Dallas and the time is flying! As the weeks go on I am getting more accustomed to my daily routine. One thing I am still not used to is the weather. For the past two weeks it has been in the upper nineties with heat indexes of over one hundred degrees in the afternoon and temperatures are expected to continue increasing. To combat these high temperatures it is important to drink lots of water to stay hydrated and always wear lots of sunscreen. Although, fortunately for me, I am usually inside during the hottest hours of the day.  The rain here is also intense. One minute it will be sunny and blue sky and the next it will be thunder storming out of nowhere.  Sometimes it causes problems because in the main savannah exhibit heavy rain causes trenches in the soil/sand that can be dangerous for the animals.

I have been working hard to learn to be able to identify individual animals and so far I can identify all giraffe and the two warthogs. Giraffe include: Katie, Chrystal, Jade, Ferrell, Tebogo, Five, Jesse, and Auggie. Warthogs include: Toby and Teddy. I am working on identifying individual ostriches but they are a little more difficult. Ostriches include: Paprika, Sage, Nutmeg, Saffron, and Cinnamon. We have one greater kudu whose name is Bo and five lechwe (which are a type of antelope) whose names I have not learned yet. By the end of my ten weeks here I will hopefully be able to identify all animals in my section by name. This is an important skill to have especially in case one of the animals is injured, it is important to know which one. It is also for the reasons of keeping track of behaviors of individual animals over time.

Warthog training
As I am getting more comfortable in my internship I am being trusted with more responsibilities. Last week I was able to help with warthog training one morning. The warthogs have training sessions at least once a day, preferably twice a day. The two brothers, Teddy and Toby, were born at the Dallas Zoo in the Savannah section, but were moved to a different section for an extended period of time. Just a few months ago they returned to the Savannah, but they have forgotten how to enter and exit the barn. We have been working to get them to enter the barn when they are given a “cue” by a keeper.  To do this we start getting them used to following commands. We ask them to “come” and reward them with fruits and veggies when they do so and then we ask them to “go” and another person on the other side of the exhibit rewards them for going to them. These are called “A to B’s” because they are being trained to go from point A to B. Last week they passed the milestone of entering the barn all on their own, hopefully soon they will be able to do this consistently and be comfortable with spending time there when we clean their exhibit.

On a normal day I am normally tasked with stationing giraffes when we shift them from the barn to the exhibit. It has been getting tougher to do so because we have ran out of the giraffe crackers we normally reward with and the company is no longer in production. As a substitute we have been using produce, but it is not nearly as effective and the giraffes loose interest very quickly. We have ordered a different brand of crackers and will hopefully be trying them out soon.

Four out of the five ostriches
Besides stationing giraffe, when we have enough people, I have been observing the stationing of the other animals such as greater kudu, zebra, and ostrich. So far I am allowed to station ostrich on my own. This includes calling the ostriches to me when they enter the exhibit and rewarding them with pieces of lettuce through the fence. This is keeps you on your toes because getting lettuce to five ostriches at once requires speed, while at the same time making sure they don’t get your fingers!
Distracting the Ostrich

Normally I spend most of my time working with the giraffe, but this past week I have been trained in the hoof stock barn and in “Donga”. The hoof stock barn is where the greater kudu, lechwe, ostrich, and guinea fowl are housed. We have two types of guinea fowl: vulturine and helmeted. The vulturine are a beautiful blue and black color and the helmeted are mostly black and white. Working in the hoof stock barn is nearly the same as the giraffe barn. It has been interesting learning about how to take all the different animals there. The lechwe are new to the barn and are still being trained to enter and exit, similar to the warthogs. This past week we set up what is called a “boma” which is essentially a temporary fence in the main exhibit. This serves the purpose of allowing the lechwe to be in the main exhibit, but not yet integrated with the rest of the species.  During the process of setting up the boma I got to help by distracting the ostriches with lettuce.
Setting Up the Boma

Back in the barn, I found an ostrich egg and two guinea fowl eggs when cleaning. This was my favorite part of the day! The ostrich egg is from Paprika, who I am told lays eggs “on the regular.” After many eggs are collected a small hole is drilled in the bottom to drain them and they are sold in the gift shop. Sometimes they are also used for art projects.
Guinea fowl egg (left) ostrich egg (right)

The other place I was trained in is the Donga which is where the warthogs are kept. I learned how to prepare produce, clean the exhibit, and take care of the barn upkeep. A part of working in the Donga is providing enrichment for the warthogs. On Friday we gave ice treats to the warthogs made out of orange Gatorade and various fruits and veggies. This serves to keep the warthogs entertained and hydrated because they do not sweat. It was fun watching the boys go at their treats. Teddy got into his the fastest by pushing it into the water so it melted faster.
Toby with ice treat


In the afternoons I normally go to observe the baby elephant on the cameras, work on my registrar project, or go browse collecting with an elephant keeper. One afternoon however, I got to go on a tour of the gorilla building. I really enjoyed getting a sneak peak into a different section. Gorillas are code red animals, which means that they are considered a serious threat if they were to ever escape. Because of this the keepers always have to have two doors between them and the gorillas.

After three afternoon browse collecting sessions I am starting to be able to consistently identify many of the plants we can feed to the elephants. I am also developing an eye for catching things we can feed. We can’t feed anything with vine growing on it or anything with the common parasite: mistletoe. Before I came to Texas I though mistletoe was an innocent plant that was used during Christmas celebrations. I now know that it is a parasite that grows on diseased trees and is toxic to elephants in large quantities.

Mistletoe growing on American elm

 Besides all of the fun I am having at the zoo I have been on a few outings with Myra and Eliza. We went out to see Zootopia, which was really good! We also got free tickets from the Dallas Zoo to see The Beauty and the Beast, a musical. I had never seen the movie before, but now I want to! We also got to go to a screening of the BFG provided by the Dallas Zoo as well. One of the most exciting things we did was going to Chipotle and the Fort Worth Zoo for my 20th birthday and Myra got me a cake with my name on it! Overall I would say it was a successful birthday.

Fort Worth giraffe
Dallas night
Screening the BFG
I’m having a great time here in Dallas and I apologize for the very lengthy blog post. Look for another in a few weeks!

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