Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Enriching My Afternoons

Name: Nathan Tarr
Class Year: 2018, Junior
Hometown: Milton, West Virginia
Internship: Behavior and Large Mammal Intern
Location: Toledo, Ohio

Hello, again.  In my first blog, I gave a rundown of my normal morning as an intern for a Large Mammal keeper.  In this blog, I’ll be telling about the second half of my day working in the Animal Behavior department here at the Toledo Zoo. 

The Animal Behavior department does many things to help increase the welfare of animals here at the zoo.  We interns get to assist this work by supplementing keepers with enrichment, designing and creating new enrichment, and helping design and carry out welfare assessments. 

The majority of our work is done in the Museum of Science, one of the Works Progress Administration era buildings at the zoo.  It used to be a functioning museum with items in their collection such as suits of armor, old weaponry, and much more.  Now it contains the amphibian (one of my favorite areas) and insect collections at the zoo.  We have a kitchen and office in the museum where we make enrichment, design welfare studies, hold discussions about the zoo and animal world in order to better our understanding of the field we are currently working in. 

My job as the Large Mammal intern is to provide enrichment for the rhino, hippos, meerkats, brown bears, snow leopards, tigers, and sloth bear.  It makes for a good variety of enrichment that I get to construct and give to the keepers for the animals. 

We make enrichment for animals in order to stimulate behaviors that that animals’ wild conspecifics would demonstrate.  Encouraging these behaviors assists in keeping the animal healthy, both mentally and physically.  It also creates great opportunities for educating the public.  Watching a meerkats forage for insects coming from a PVC feeder allows guests to see behaviors that wild meerkats would be performing while foraging for insects coming from a rotting log.  This in turn provides opportunities to teach guests about the conservation of a species.  It all ties together to create a positive impact on the animal, the guest, and the species as a whole when animals are provided enrichment. 

It also falls on the Behavior department to assess the welfare of an animal through research and observation.  We design many studies aimed to achieve this goal by researching what behaviors an animal should exhibit and how often, and by observing and recording behaviors that our animals here at the zoo demonstrate.  Depending on what the study’s goal is, the results can tell us what the animal is doing, when it’s doing it throughout the day, where it’s doing it in the enclosure, and how often.  This makes for a great resource to track changes in the animal’s behavioral repertoire and figure out if there is anything we need to change to increase the animal’s welfare. 

All of these things are what my afternoon consists of; making and delivering enrichment, and studying animal behavior through data and observation.  It makes for a great experience educationally.  I particularly enjoy the research aspect and there are few things more rewarding when working here at the zoo than seeing a piece of enrichment you made successfully used by animal to stimulate a species-specific behavior. 

 An enrichment item I made called a brush box.  It contains brushes with insects scattered in them for the meerkats to forage for.

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