Friday, June 24, 2016

Enjoying Otters in Chicago


My name is Hannah Musser and I am a rising junior in the Zoo and Conservation Science program at Otterbein University. I am from Cincinnati Ohio, and am living in Chicago, IL for ten weeks this summer doing a research internship in animal behavior under the direction of Dr. Lance Miller at the Brookfield Zoo! I am finishing up my third week there, and have enjoyed the experiences that I have gotten there so far!

A panoramic view of the Asia exhibit at Tropic World. Otters can access water, island, & land on the left & right.
For my project, I am observing and recording the frequency of the superstitious behaviors of four Asian small-clawed otters. They live in one of three large exhibits that make up the building called Tropic World, and share an exhibit with White-cheeked gibbons on one side (with whom they have occasional interaction- usually a gibbon coming down and grabbing at or chasing the otter on land) and Orangutans on a mountain above them. I got to go behind the scenes of this exhibit with one of the keepers the other day which was a really neat experience; I saw the feeding machines and learned how they work, saw the otters (that are smaller up close than they look from outside the exhibit!) in their holding/behind the scenes living area, and even got to wear waders and go out into the exhibit to help set up the feeding machines for that day!

The automatic feeder
Feeder in cooler on exhibit
The otters have two automatic feeding machines in their exhibit each day that drop out fish periodically- it could be every couple minutes or every twenty; it is random, depending on the placement of the fish on the conveyor belt inside the machine. The otters exhibit these behaviors such as head bobbing, begging, and intently staring at the feeders because in the past, when they have performed these behaviors, they have gotten a reward; therefore we believe that they continue to do them thinking that they will get fish (but there is actually no correlation since the feeders drop fish randomly, resulting in these “superstitious” behaviors.)

One of the begging behaviors under a feeder

One of the begging behaviors under a feeder

In the otters' exhibit!

I work Mondays through Fridays and observe the otters for two 1.5 hour sessions each day. So far I have seen the otters exhibiting the superstitious behaviors quite frequently and so I am excited to see how the project continues. After another week of observations, the keepers will introduce ice blocks that contain fish frozen in them, (about 75% of the otters’ diet, with the other 25% staying in the feeders), into the exhibit, and I will continue to observe to see how this addition may help decrease the amount of superstitious behavior that occurs while the otters wait for or try to make the fish fall out. In addition to observations/data collection, I am also working on literature review and beginning the writing of my project report. As a part of this zoo’s internship program, I have also gotten the opportunity to go behind the scenes in a few other exhibits (some highlights being feeding a zebra and petting an okapi!) and I am looking forward to the other opportunities ahead to learn more about the care and keeping of the Brookfield Zoo’s animals.

I have had to adjust to the public transportation way of life as I have to get up at 6am to take a train and two buses to get to the zoo (arriving around 8 when I start work), but I have learned to be flexible and keep my phone charged to use Google maps to track the buses when they are running late and it has worked out pretty well! I am living with about 95 other college students in a college loft-style dorm on the East side of Chicago downtown, so the commute has been long to get to work and back but totally worth it. Along with these other students I am participating in a summer mission project for these ten weeks through an international Christian campus ministry organization called Cru. Along with our day jobs throughout the city, we have weekly meetings, small group Bible studies, and do outreaches and service on local college campuses and around the city. I am really enjoying this part of my time here as well, and making some great friends as well as growing in my faith.

I have already gotten to explore some of Chicago, and am looking forward to seeing more sights and eating more bites in my remaining seven weeks here! Overall it has been a really great experience (besides the fact that I sprained my ankle on my lunch break at work we’ll see how quickly that heals and how that is feeling when I go back to work Monday) and I look forward to sharing again soon!

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

My Cape Parrot Progress

Name: Jessica Stiles
Year: Junior
Hometown: Milford Ohio
Internship: Cape Parrot Project
Location: Hogsback South Africa

  We have been in Hogsback for about a month now and it is amazing. Each morning we wake up and watch the parrots as they fly down the mountain for the day. We were set back a week because of a dispute between the community and the local municipality but we were able to use the time to bird watch and explore some other areas of the country. Despite the setback we have been able to get some good data and vocalizations of the parrots. We got up extra early on June 9  to drive down to a town called Alice where there is a pecan orchard that the project knows the parrots go to. I was in charge of the vocal recordings for the day, so I went out and chose a spot in the orchard to wait for the arrival of the cape parrots. Within a few minutes they began to appear and chose a tree one over from where I sat to record. We ended up with some very nice recording before a jackal buzzard scared most of the parrots away. I noticed two had stayed and upon further investigation with the camera Cassie noticed that the female that had stayed has Psittacine Beak and Feather  Disease Virus (PBFDV), but the male that stayed with her did not. We suspect the male was either a mate or a friend that stayed when the others left. About 15 minutes after the jackal buzzard had scared most of the parrots away, a flock of about 23 came in together and we managed to get some more audio of all the parrots before we packed up to head back to Hogsback.

On the left is the female with the Psittacine Beak and Feather Virus. You can tell she is a female by the patch of red on her head just a over beak. The yellow discoloration on her wings are the indications of the virus. On the right is the healthy male that stayed with her. Makes do not have the red just above there beaks, which is really the only way to tell the difference. (Pictures  courtesy of Cassie Carsten. I am actually standing right below them when he took the pictures.)

  After we took lunch we basically hiked down to The Big Tree and did some phenology along the way. We have been going around finding all of the nest boxes on the gps and updating our data on them. What we do is collect data such as the circumference of the tree, calculate the diameter at breast height, the species of tree, whether the nest box is for birds or bees, it's material, it's hight above ground, the nests aspect, the trees height, the trees latitude, longitude, and altitude, and the state of the tree ( alive, snag, canopy cover, and the stage it is in). We were only able to do three trees with nest boxes along the way because we did not have enough tags left. On the way to The Big Tree we acquired a little companion who stayed with us for about three hours or so, a little Jack Russell mix.
When we left the tree we went to the View Point at the Away With The Fairies back packers lodge to watch the parrots return for the night. We ended up getting new data to add because the parrots landed down at The Big Tree and stayed down in the valley below which is not like the usual behavior of the parrots. I can not wait to see what else this internship has in store for me.