Friday, September 1, 2017

What Matters the Most

Name: Rebekah Perry
Class Year: Junior
Hometown: Huntington, WV
Internship: Wildlife Rehabilitator at New Mexico Wildlife Center
Location: Espanola, New Mexico

Now that the rest of my summer has flown by extremely quick, and school is back in session, I wanted to take the time to unpack my internship experience from a completed point of view. What did I get out of being on the other side of the country for 10 weeks?

Wow. I become overwhelmed by the fullness of my time spent out west every time I start to decide what to write. Therefore, I think I might begin this post with sort of a "brain dump" of things that stick out about this summer, and then wrap them up into what I learned matters the most.

Something really interesting and very insightful that I got to do during my second half of the internship was work on a cost analysis project for some of the most common cases that came into the center. The goal of my research was to gather every cost that a patient admitted to the New Mexico Wildlife Center accumulates throughout its time there, beginning to release, and have that information to better inform the public of the astonishingly high prices of rehabilitation, so that they could then donate accordingly. Donations are the main source of funding for most wildlife centers, and many people do not realize the scope of how much each animal costs.  Did you know that the diet of just one orphaned baby bobcat, that must be kept for 7 months, is $1,172.12 ? Or that a group of six orphaned squirrels will eat $375.76 of food in 8 weeks? And who would have thought that just 5 tiny insectivorous songbirds will eat $140 worth of meal worms during their stay?

Another exciting part of the last half of my summer was getting to see many of the animals that we had worked with all summer long return home to the wild. Perhaps the most rewarding release to do was of the four stubborn and sassy barn owl siblings that had been raised successfully from abandoned hatchlings to independent adults in the time that we were there. After weeks of going from force feeding, to hand feeding, self feeding, and finally killing live prey in mouse school, the birds got to be released by all of us interns on the second to last week of our summer. We knew that when it took literally two hours to catch them all up out of their huge flight mew outside (because they were such good fliers escaping our nets and no longer dependent on our care) that they were going to do wonderfully in the wild.

But as always mentioned before, it was not all fun and games for the last five weeks. A very sobering feeling in the field of wildlife rehabilitation is when you realize that you cannot always afford to play hero all of the time. When money is tight and the patient load is full, sometimes animals come in too far gone to try and rescue. That lesson is a devastating one to learn, and every single heart in the clinic ached for the lives of those patients to live on, but great value did come from their souls passing: sometimes it takes rock hard reality to remind you why we as the human race really need to come together to defend and protect our wildlife through our actions, philanthropy, and educating others. One of our staff members had the idea to light a candle every time the life of an animal was put to rest, as a way of honoring them and acknowledging that they were missed.

So I promised that I would wrap all of this up with what I discovered matters the most. People. People are what matter the most. Now some of you might be like, "What? I thought you spent your whole entire summer saving wildlife? Shouldn't the animals matter the most?", and that is not necessarily what I am saying. Obviously the animals matter, and their conservation is the key reason that an organization like the New Mexico Wildlife Center exists. But their lives will never be conserved if people are not connected, and that connection can take many different forms. It can look like the incredible ICU staff dedicating the better half of their every single day to the critical care of animals that have been injured or orphaned in the area. It can also look like the hard working office manager answering phones for wildlife emergency calls and hosting guests. It looks like volunteers who come to take care of the animals used for public education and it looks like the education staff running kids camps and events. But it also looks like the little girl who called the center at about 7pm at night when I was working, who wasn't even old enough to know exactly what town she lived in, but knew when to realize that a baby bird had been orphaned, and informed me that she had been checking on it all day from her window to see if its parents would come back for it, and hadn't seen them. It also looks like a famous author who notices when his neighbors have shot a mother bobcat that had been caring for her two cubs in his back yard and then traps the cubs and brings them in to the center, and writes a very generous check for their funding and proceeds to use his position to tell his fan club to donate a certain sum to the NMWC in order to receive a signed copy of one of his books.

Wildlife Rehabilitation brings hope. Hope, not just for the animals that pass through, but for everyone involved. People, when banded together, can be a strong force for evil, or an invincible force for good. And in a world that sometimes looks hopeless and dark, we can band together to make a difference by conserving the lives and biodiversity of our wild neighbors, something that we all share a positive connection with. Wildlife rehabilitation can reshape the way people view the life of an animal, and their own lives as well. A second chance for all: we can make a real difference. We can choose to do good. That is what matters the most.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Introductions, Behavioral Observations and Wild Art

Name: Haley Wasserman
Class Year: Junior
Hometown: Medina, OH
Internship: Enrichment and Research
Location: Toledo Zoo, OH

A lot has happened since my first post about my internship at the Toledo Zoo! I have been working as an enrichment and research intern in the zoo's animal behavior department this summer. There have been some major changes to my daily routine since the first half of summer.

For starters, we have been introducing a new female gorilla to our troop of Western lowland gorillas. The zoo's troop now consists of four females and one silverback. The amount of information I have learned about gorilla behavior within the past few weeks from being involved in these introductions is amazing. Sufi is the newest gorilla and she is 16 years old. She arrived at the zoo in May, but went through a quarantine period to make sure she would not be bringing in any health issues that could be transmitted to the other gorillas. Once Sufi's month long quarantine had passed, she was shifted into the indoor holding for the gorillas and set up in an area across from the troop so that all of them could see each other and get used to each other. After a week, all three of the females were individually placed with Sufi one at a time so that they could become acquainted. The keepers explained to me that this way when Sufi meets Kwisha the silverback, if things get too rough with the introduction, then the females will make Kwisha back off and protect Sufi.
Silverback Kwisha investigating some sand pile enrichment.

I have been able to witness some gorilla behavior in person through observations for these introductions that have taught me so much. I have seen interesting displays such as chest beating by our females, charging, and when the gorillas are feeling tense I can see how their gait changes to become stiff and flexed.

Female gorilla Nia Lewa likes to cover herself in browse!

I have also been doing research on exhibit usage and behavior in our juvenile Galapagos tortoises. There are three juveniles who are growing rapidly and will soon be in need of larger exhibits. I began doing focal sampling to create an activity budget for each individual to see what they spent their days doing and in which areas of the exhibit they spent their time. This will help Zoo staff determine the tortoises’ needs in their new exhibit.
Two of the juvenile Galapagos tortoises.

Why go all the way around a conspecific to get where you're going if you can just crawl over top of them?

As an intern in the behavior department, I have also been asked to aid in some behavioral observations in some departments around the zoo. I have been doing observations on our female African elephants during introductions. The first step, which I have been observing, is to allow 6-year-old Lucas to go back and forth between two exhibits with different female elephants. We observe to make sure his mother, Renee, is comfortable with him spending time with the other female. I take shifts with the other interns to keep an eye on her for the elephant keepers. I have also been collecting data on the behavior of the zoo's two brown bears and Kodiak bear. They are all juveniles and live together and have begun to show signs of what could eventually lead to stereotypic behavior. Stereotypic behaviors are those that occur in an invariant pattern and do not appear to have a true function. We have begun to monitor the bears’ behavior in an effort to determine behavioral triggers and see what we can do to modify this.

I have also been spending time preparing some special enrichment for an event we had the first weekend of August called Wild About Art. This event brought in artists from all over the country to set up tents and sell their work. The animal behavior department ran a booth, so I worked with the other interns to create some “artsy” enrichment to have on display. This list included a box zebra, a paper mache "artist's palette", polar bear "sushi", gelatin bird treats, grapevine wreaths filled with nesting material, and even a giant, plastic pool pickle! I had a great time helping out with the event and meeting some of the very talented artists who had come up for the event.

A box zebra I made out of cardboard tubes, boxes, and a mache paste made of flour and water.. The paint on top is non toxic and a keeper can fill the box animal with meat to give to one of the carnivores to "hunt"!

A grapevine wreath which I weaved nesting materials in to for bird enrichment. Pictured is twine, shredded paper and some reindeer fur!

We typically give these PVC feeders to monkeys, but this one is filled with candy for children to use and see if they can get food out as well as a monkey can!

A "pool pickle", which has been chewed up quite a bit by the tigers.

As my final week of my internship comes to a close, I can't help but think of all of the amazing one-of-a-kind experiences I have had at the Toledo Zoo this summer. I have met so many fabulous people and learned so much information, and can even make enrichment items from start to finish now. My favorite thing about my position was how much I was able to work with a variety of areas of the zoo instead of one specific region. This helped me learn more about zoo keeping for animals that I had no idea I would grow to love working with so much, and being able to speak to so many zoo keepers. Each has taught me more about the world of zoology and has given me amazing advice for the future. Beth has been an amazing supervisor and has given me an opportunity to branch out and utilize everything I could this summer at the zoo. Her encouragement and optimism has helped me immensely this summer and has made it one of the best summers of my life. I will never forget my summer as a behavior intern at the Toledo Zoo.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Enrichment at the Tembo Trails

Name: Amber Pitsenberger
Class Year: 2019
Hometown: Danville, OH
Internship: Animal Behavior and Large Mammal
Location: Toledo, OH

In my last post, I talked about how I spend my mornings at the Toledo Zoo. For this post, I am going to explain how I spend my afternoons. In the afternoons, I return to the Museum of Science and work with the Animal Behavior Department. One of the things I do is make enrichment for all of the animals that I work with in the mornings. I explained in my last post that enrichment is any item or activity used to enhance the quality of life of the animals living at the Toledo Zoo. Enrichment is used to help keep the animals fit and encourages natural behaviors.  When designing enrichment, we look at the animal's natural history. An animal's natural history provides information the animal's diet, social structure, behavior, and habitat in the wild. This makes it easier to create enrichment items that will encourage natural behaviors and allows the public to see how an animal in the wild might spend it's time. 
Holding the hammock that I made for the meerkats.

I mentioned in my last post that sloth bears eat insects like ants and termites. This means that they use their long claws to dig up the insects. To encourage this behavior, some of the enrichment items given to Kara, the sloth bear, are pieces of wood with food stuck inside holes that she has to work to get out with her claws and tongue. There are also large hollow logs placed inside her enclosure that allow her keepers to place parts of her diet inside. This not only encourages Kara to dig at the logs but it also encourages her to investigate her enclosure more to make sure that she has found all of her hidden treats. Making enrichment for all of the animals I work with can keep me pretty busy but it is really rewarding to watch an animal use the enrichment you made for them. Sometimes we reuse materials to make enrichment items. Recently, I made a hammock for the meerkats using PVC, grommets, and an old vinyl banner we found. We put it into their enclosure and they seemed to enjoy using it.

Meerkats using the hammock.

The behavior department also helps to educate the public about enrichment and why it is important for the animals at the zoo. In June, the zoo was celebrating one of the elephant's sixth birthday. Haley and I attended the event and stood beside a poster that had pictures of some of the enrichment that is made for the elephants at the zoo. This gave guests at the zoo a chance to see some of the enrichment items that we make. We were able to talk to the guests and explain what the behavior department does with enrichment and we had a game that the kids could play. It was a lot of fun. On Father's Day, we made signs and placed them on the enclosures of the animals that were fathers. The sign helped explain if the male of a species spends a lot of time, some time, or no time helping rear young. We then provided enrichment items to these animal dads.
Haley and me talking to zoo guests about the Animal Behavior Department.

My latest project with the behavior department is to help conduct a welfare assessment on the dingoes at the Toledo Zoo. Welfare assessments take into account physical health, mental stimulation and behavioral diversity and help the zoo understand how an animal spends its day at the zoo and what helps it to thrive. It also helps the zoo see if any changes need to be made to help increase the welfare of the animals.

That is what I do for most of my afternoons at the Toledo Zoo. I enjoy making enrichment for the animals that are on the Tembo Trail. It's hard to believe that the summer is almost over.

The tigers' keeper placed shampoo in the tiger pool to create bubbles.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

A Summer in Scottsbluff

Name: Troy Kravig
Class Year: Senior
Hometown: Fort Wayne, IN
Internship: Zookeeper Intern
Location: Riverside Discovery Center, Scottsbluff, NE

          Instead of posting several, shorter, blogs over the course of the summer, I decided to give you the entire Scottsbluff experience all at once. It was truly a memorable summer in every way possible. From the animals to the people (and of course all the poop!), I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend my last summer as a student at Otterbein.

          Before I dive into all the dirty details, here’s some quick background information about where I spent the last two and a half months. Scottsbluff is a small rural town of about 15,000 people situated in the western panhandle of Nebraska. The weather is extremely unpredictable and can change in an instant (it snowed several inches the day before I arrived). There was also a stretch of about three weeks where it was hotter than 90 degrees every day (lots of ice treats for the animals!). Throw in a few severe storms with hail and tornadoes and that about sums up the weather in Scottsbluff. The facility I was at is called the Riverside Discovery Center (RDC). It is a small zoo that houses around 200 animals on 22 acres. The zoo is located in Riverside Park nestled along the North Platte River. As well as the animals, the zoo is home to a countless number of cottonwood trees. Thanks to those trees, we literally had cotton flying up our nose for most of the summer. In fact, it looked like there were snow drifts laying all around the zoo (it gave new meaning the phrase “Christmas in July”). All in all, I wouldn’t have changed any of it for the world.

    I specifically chose a smaller zoo when I was searching for my internship. As an intern, we got to work in all areas of the zoo compared to just a single area in a larger zoo. And with only 12 staff members and 5 other interns, all of us formed a close bond with each other rather quickly. All of us went out for a weekly dinner that just solidified our relationship even more (I can give you some good restaurant suggestions if you ever find yourself in the area!). I have always heard about the close connections in zoos, but it didn’t really hit me until this summer when I experienced it first hand. Out of us 6 interns, three of us go to school in Ohio (the other two both go to Ohio Wesleyan). Also, the head keeper just transferred to Scottsbluff after six years of working at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo (my hometown). Talk about a small world.

          The zoo itself was broken up into three areas (Area 1-3). Each intern started in Area 1 and moved their way up once the staff felt comfortable that we’ve learned enough to move on. Area 1 consisted of the petting zoo, Discovery Center, Bobcat, Raccoon, Crow, and Zebra Circle (Zebra, Muntjac, Slither-Inn and Swift Fox). Area 2 included Cats (Lion, Tiger, Leopard, and Lynx) and Raptor Row. And Area 3 had Primates (Colobus and Spider monkeys) and Chimps. Each day started at the petting zoo while the staff went around and checked all areas of the zoo. Following the barn, each intern went with their respective staff member for the remainder of the day. During the morning routine we went around and cleaned all exhibits and fed the animals in our respective area. The time after lunch was spent doing weekly projects such as extra cleaning, mowing, painting, etc. Needless to say, there was always something to do. At 2:45 every day, we all met in the kitchen to make enrichment for the following day. By 3:30, we were beginning to feed evening diets and locking everyone up for the night.

          Things got really busy around the first week of June as the zoo was preparing for its AZA inspection. It was a really cool process to be a part of and a good learning experience to see what all is required to pass the inspection. I think we painted every square inch of the zoo that month! It was quite a bonding experience as the paint we used was so strong, our eyes began watering immediately after we opened the lid. Those fumes went straight to your head and let’s just say we had a good time painting several of the holding dens! Each of the interns also had to complete an intern project. Our projects could be a wide variety of things ranging from giving a talk, doing an ethogram, or anything else that would improve the zoo. For my project, I planted a pollinator garden. I also designed a sign that could accompany the garden to educate people about pollinator gardens and animal habitats.

  As the summer winded down, I reflected on all the things I had accomplished over the summer. This was the first summer that the RDC had interns, and I think they really appreciated all of our help. It was a great experience that taught me a lot about animal husbandry and working in a zoo environment. I even got a souvenir beer mug that I helped the Chimps paint. It was also a fun time for me to do some exploring out west and make friends for a lifetime. At the end of our internship, each of the interns got dunked in the dunk tank. A fitting way to end an amazing summer in Scottsbluff.


Monday, August 14, 2017

Missing Those Striped Butts

Name: Taryn Chudo
Class Year: Class of 2018
Hometown: Los Angeles, California
Internship: Upper Wilds of Africa Intern
Location: Dallas, Texas

It seems hard to believe that this summer is already over and I am no longer in Dallas. It was quite possibly the best summer I have had and I wish I could have made it last a little longer. 
The ever so handsome Niko. Probably my favorite okapi, don't tell the others though!
Quite a lot happened since I last posted. I started giving the hippo keeper chats and I feel that I got pretty good at them. It definitely was a hard thing to start, but it got easier the more I did them. I was most nervous about the questions visitors would ask after, but they were not bad at all. Many people asked very similar questions, so I started to include those in my chat. My favorite question though was asked by a little girl and she wanted to know how to tell if the hippos were married.
Keeper chats may have even become fun!
I also started to venture outside of the okapi barn and follow keepers on the other routes in our section. I really enjoyed helping with the hippo route. Cleaning was fun especially because male hippos, and Adhama was no exception, fling their feces with their tails to mark their territory. I have never had to scrape the walls of a stall before and it was quite an interesting task. Aside from cleaning, I got to watch the keepers train both hippos. Since they are new animals they focus mostly on target training and building confidence.  Adhama is very comfortable with the keepers and likes to show off. Boipelo, on the other hand, is more reserved and takes a little longer to learn things. I even got to help target train the hippos during the afternoon keeper chat/training demo during the last week of my internship.

When a California girl nose boops a California hippo.
Since the Dallas Zoo has not had hippos in the last 16 years it is important that the keepers know how the hippos are spending their time and using the habitat. Toward the end of my internship I helped the behavioral science department collect observations on the hippos. I focused on watching overnight footage before Adhama and Boipelo were introduced. Since hippos are considered nocturnal, they were extremely active during the sessions that I watched.
The last route in our section that I helped with is the most diverse route. This includes bongo, yellow-backed duiker, caracal, spur-winged geese, and dik-dik. I have thought for a while that I only wanted to work with hoofstock, but working with our two caracals made me realize that I really enjoy working with carnivores.
Another exciting thing that happened during the last part of my time in Dallas, was that I was able to get a new car since mine was totaled after week one. This meant that I could explore on my weekends! I made sure to go to other zoos in the area; Cameron Park Zoo and Fort Worth Zoo. I also visited a friend and Otterbein alumna, Eliza Hanes, at her internship at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center. It was so great to see her and to see the animals she works with! She even took Abbey and I for a tour around the pastures! Fossil Rim is located in Glen Rose, Texas which is also known for its fossils and dinosaurs! Most people that know me know that I love dinosaurs. Eliza took me to Dinosaur Valley State Park where I got to see fossilized dinosaur tracks!

Bet you never would have guessed that I was excited, right? 
Coming home from Dallas was bitter sweet. I was ready to be home with my friends, but I also loved my time in Dallas, the keepers and the animals I worked with. I do wish that I could stay forever, but my internship was over. I usually miss the animals more when I leave, but I will miss the keepers at Dallas so much more. They taught me so much and I hope that I get the chance to work with a group just as awesome and amazing sometime in my career. They are a group that truly care about not only the animals under their care, but also about the interns that they take. As the curator of our section told me, it is their job to train the next generation of keepers. In my opinion the Upper Wilds keepers went above and beyond to make sure that we learned and saw as much as possible. I can not thank them enough for all that they did for my during my time there.
I would also like to thank everyone at Otterbein who helped make this summer happen for me. It truly showed me that I want to become a zoo keeper.