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.