Monday, August 15, 2016

Mornings in Africa... In Ohio

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

Hi, all!  My name is Nathan and I’m a junior in the Zoo and Conservation Science program at Otterbein University.  This summer, I am interning at the Toledo Zoo in the Behavior and Large Mammal departments. 

I’m here in Toledo along with two other Otterbein students in the same program and we get to have a unique internship experience in that our days are split between working with two different departments in the zoo.  This was one aspect of the internship that really drew me to the Toledo Zoo because of the opportunity to experience and learn more through different areas.  I’ll be covering the work I do with each department in their own separate blogs.  So first is Large Mammals! 

I start every morning working with the area keeper for the Rhino-Hippo-Meerkat section of the Large Mammal department.  The meerkats may not be large but there are certainly enough of them to make up a large mammal.  First thing I help out with is cleaning Sam, the rhino’s, enclosure, preparing and putting out his diet, and making or constructing any enrichment he gets that morning.  A few days a week we give him a shower and put him in the chute along with some of his favorite food pellets so that we can work with him more closely while still keeping both Sam and ourselves in a comfortable and safe position.  Rhino skin sheds almost constantly, especially when it’s wet.    So when we have him in the chute, we exfoliate him and help get some of it off, check his horns and feet, and give him some fly repellent.  By 9:30, we’ve already had a busy and eventful morning working with Sam! 

Sam the rhino, 42 years young

After we’re done with Sam the rhino, we have a short hike over to the hippos!  There are two of them at the Toledo Zoo in their enclosure which was the first “Hippoquarium” in the world!  Emma and Herby are mother and son and are high profile animals at the zoo.  They are frequently visitors’ favorite animals at the zoo and draw quite the crowd when they’re active.  I help clean the exhibit, and put out enrichment for the hippos and right before they go out in the morning, I will help the area keeper with a training session.  I assist with target training the hippos and keeping them motivated to participate by giving them fruits and veggies as rewards for holding their mouths open while Robin (the area keeper) inspects their mouths and brushes their teeth.  Once they go on exhibit, we will drain their holding pools and hose scrub down every inch of their stalls and pools.  Every now and then we get to toss food to them when they’re in their pool which is one of my favorite things to do because of how active it gets them.

Emma the hippo smiling for the camera

Our last stop in the morning in our loop of African mammals is the meerkats.  The Toledo Zoo currently has 17 of these little mammals belonging to the mongoose family and they’re a blast to watch.  The amount of different behaviors, vocalizations, and the intricacies of their social groups can have me watching these guys for hours.   They require little hands-on work compared to the rhino and hippos but their diets and enrichment gets a bit more complex.  Their enclosure is great for encouraging natural behaviors and that really helps to keep them healthy and maintain a strong group bond, which is vitally important to these animals.  In the morning, my main job with the meerkats is to make their diets for the next day (which consists of some great looking food, if I do say so myself) and make enrichment for them for the day.  I get to be pretty creative with enrichment for them because they are naturally curious about most things and require enrichment that prolongs their time spent foraging.  This means enrichment can be anything from scattering king worms around the enclosure to freezing mealworms into ice cubes with flavored water and putting that in a large bowl with water for them to fish out.  This area requires a decent amount of cleaning too because they dig constantly so there is always sand and dirt to be tamped back down or swept up.  They’re a ton of fun to watch though, especially when they have enrichment or they’re feeling especially playful.  One of my favorite behaviors to see is their alarm call.  Meerkats almost always have one individual in their group acting as a sentry whose duty is to scan the horizon and sky for predators.  Every now and then they’ll start their alarm call and everyone will scatter and when I look up, to my surprise, they’re putting out the alarm call for an airplane, 30,000 feet in the air that I could never find if I wasn’t looking for it.  They’re quite impressive little creatures.  

The meerkats at attention on their lookout

That concludes my mornings!  Next comes lunch (one of my favorite parts of the day) and my daily walk around the zoo to see some other fun animals at Toledo like Baru, the saltwater crocodile that is the largest reptile in captivity in North America, or Emerson the Galapagos tortoise.   There are countless others that I wish I could work with, and thanks to the second part of my day when I work with the Behavior department, I get to work with many more animals!  I’ll be covering that in my next post.  

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