Friday, June 9, 2017

Working with the Prettiest Butts!

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

            This summer I am interning in the Upper Wilds of Africa section at the Dallas Zoo. The animals in this section include caracal, dik-dik, yellow-back duiker, spur-winged geese, bongo, red river hogs, hippos, and my personal favorite, okapi! I have been here for a couple weeks and I absolutely love it! 
Adhama (front) and Boipelo (back)
            Despite all the animals my section cares for I help mostly with the red river hogs and okapi because they are housed in the same barn. Almost every zoo keeper will say that their days are never the same, however, certain things must be done every day so there is a routine in place. I start my day at 7 with a morning meeting. This is where the keepers talk about what has been going on lately, if anything special is happening that day and anything else we need to know. Then all the keepers go to the different areas for the day. When we get to the okapi barn we do a well-check before we begin feeding. We measure and sift their grain because okapi aren’t big fans of ‘dusty’ grain. While everyone is eating their morning grain, we clean all the outside holding yards and replace any alfalfa that wasn’t eaten. Then we start to clean the rest of the barn. This means picking up all the old bedding, hay and water; hosing, scrubbing, and rinsing the floor; and squeegeeing any remaining water. We refill the hay holders and balls and give each okapi a bed made of coastal hay. Okapi are very particular animals and like their beds to be in the right place every day. Most of ours want theirs directly in the middle of the stall. One female, Kilua, wants hers against a wall and another female, Kwanini, doesn’t like to walk on concrete floors, so we cover her stall completely with coastal hay. This barn houses 4 red river hogs and 5 okapis. Each one has their own personality and it’s hard to choose a favorite!
Niko in his habitat after the okapi keeper encounter chat. 
            After cleaning the entire barn and hosing the floors we go to lunch and enjoy our hour in the air conditioning. The keepers I work with are great and made me feel like a part of the team from day one! They even have invited me out to lunch. One of the keepers constantly encourages me and tells me what a great job I am doing! Nothing feels better than being acknowledged for hard work and it just makes me want to work even harder.
            After lunch we go back to the barn to finish any cleaning that we didn’t get to and to gather browse for the okapi keeper encounter. This is where a keeper brings browse to the front of one of our yards to bring Niko closer to the public while giving a keeper chat. Part of my internship is to give some of these talks. Luckily, I am not having a hard time learning the material since I knew most of it already, but I’m not quite ready for the public speaking part yet. I'm sure I’ll start giving them in the next week or so.

Training demonstrations with Adhama throwing the
open behavior at the keepers to ask for more food in his mouth!
After the okapi keeper encounter at 2:15 p.m. every day, the keepers give a hippo chat and training demonstration at 2:30 p.m. with our two Nile hippos, Adhama (male) and Boipelo (female). During this chat, they work on target training and a few other behaviors such as opening their mouth to show off those massive teeth.

After this chat it is time to start closing down the section. We go back to the okapi barn and get their evening diets ready. Here is another great example of how particular okapi are. For produce we offer carrots, apples, bananas, greens and red onions. Not every okapi likes every food item so we have to tailor each food dish to the specific animal. Everyone gets greens, carrots and bananas. Niko doesn’t like any apples, but he likes onions. Kwanini and Kilua get a little of everything. We also feed the hogs, but they aren’t picky about anything.
Right after the training demonstration the hippos usually get out of the water.
They sometimes even nap in the sand. Right behind them is Kilua's habitat.
            That’s the typical routine for the day, however, as things come up you must be flexible with your plans. Earlier this week it rained and our okapi don’t like to go out in the rain so we had to work cleaning around this. Then I was also asked to assist and watch aoudad grabs. This is where keepers control the animals by using a squeeze chute and body power to contain the animal for vaccines, hoof work and other simple medical procedures. As an intern, I wasn’t allowed to have hands on the animal, but I did get to help push one of the walls of the squeeze chute.

Adhama with a mouth full of food during a training demonstration.


  1. Really interesting! Do the Okapi like to change their bed spots periodically or do they mostly like a place for a long time?

    1. Thank you! They will sometimes change their bed spots, but they don't do it very often. When they do the keepers adjust accordingly to make sure that they bed is where the okapi prefers.