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.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

First Three Weeks at the Minnesota Zoo's World of Birds Show

Greetings from the Minnesota Zoo's 
World of Birds Show!!
Summer 2017

Name: Jillian Jorgenson
Class Year: Junior
Hometown: Stillwater, MN
Internship: World of Birds Show Intern
Location: The Minnesota Zoo (Apple Valley, Minnesota)

This is the first of a couple posts I will be making over the course of this internship at the Minnesota Zoo. I plan to post every few weeks.

My first few weeks at the Birds Show have gone by in a blur of activity and I have experienced a week of training, a week of dress rehearsals, and almost a week and a half of daily performances. I have been maintaining a written journal each day so I'll try to pick out some of the key parts of my experience so far!

At the Birds Show, we maintain a collection of somewhere between 30-40 different birds including the following:
Ivory - Photo from National Geographic

* King Vulture (Arthur)
* Lanner Falcon (Lola)
* Red Legged Seriema (Flash)
* Harris Hawk (Bowie, Senora, Prudence)
* Red Tailed Hawk (Baron, Ivory - Ivory is a Leucistic Red Tailed Hawk and his picture can be found in  National Geographic's book called Photo Ark)
* Eurasian Eagle Owl (Orville, Gladys)
* African Grey Parrot (Koko, Alex)
* Rose Breasted Cockatoo (Pink Floyd)
* Hyacinth Macaw (Gandalf, Violet, Saphira)
* Bald Eagle (Rousey)
* Snowy Owl (Blizzard of Oz)
* Spectacled Owl (Geezer)
* East African Crowned Crane (Rusty)
* Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo (Coconut - the fan favorite and star of the shows)
* Green Cheeked Amazon Parrot (Sprout)
* Military Macaw (Charlie)
* Blue Throated Macaw (Piper)
* Golden Conure (a flock of five or six individuals named for their colored ID band)
* Two flocks of pigeons

On a typical day, I either start the day cleaning our facility's "Backpad" (outdoor bird housing, Arthur's house, and the Pigeons' houses), doing "Big Birds" (cleaning Rusty's stall, setting up the show's technology backstage, and using a leaf blower to clear the stage), or in "Matland" (power washing bird mats). Within the next week, I am scheduled to start preparing raptor diets in the mornings as well. (Mornings are mostly cleaning and then afternoons are more training)

An interesting note: During my first week with the Birds Show, the Minnesota Zoo was renewing their accreditation with the AZA. Unfortunately, the team stopped by the Birds Show facility on one of my days off.

Gladys - Female Eurasian Eagle Owl
Rusty - Male East African Crowned Crane


When I started my internship, I experienced a full week of pre-season training as well as a full week of dress rehearsals. Even though we are currently doing three shows a day, we still spend time between shows and after the last show to work with some of the birds that aren't being used in shows at the moment. At the Birds Show, we only use Positive Reinforcement and the birds never do anything they don't want to do. They let us know how the day is going to go, not the other way around.

During our daily training sessions, I have been helping to "bait" the birds that fly over the audience ("baiting" is putting food on the birds' perches as a reward for flying to their perch). So far I've been baiting Bowie and Orville during shows and I've started to help with Ivory. 

Side Note: For a good part of our rehearsals, we weren't able to train Ivory because there was a robin nest right next to the spot he flies from during shows and they wouldn't leave him alone. One morning, about a week ago, we came in and found that something had overturned the nest and eaten the robin chicks. It was sad because they were almost ready to fledge out but now we can work with Ivory on his routine.

Flash - Red Legged Seriema
At the World of Birds Show, our birds only exhibit natural behaviors - anything from fast flying/diving demonstrations by Lola, sound copying by Alex, or (my personal favorite) hunting demonstrations by Flash. Red Legged Seriemas hunt and kill their prey by picking them up and slamming them on the ground. During shows, Flash is given a toy snake and lizzard to slam on the stage; Flash's routine is quite popular and he's getting quite the fan base!

Another interesting part of our training involved Lola the lanner falcon. Her species can reach speeds up to 90 mph (not quite as fast as the peregrine falcon) and Lola has been clocked this summer at an impressive 92 mph! How do we know this? Lola actually has a little GPS tracker attached to a tail feather that is connected to an iPad we keep backstage. The tracker lets us see how far, fast, and high Lola flies and it has come in handy on days where she gets a little carried away and flies away from the show or even off zoo grounds.


Starting last week, myself and the other two Birds Show interns have weekly workshops about various Zoo related topics with our intern supervisor. So far, we've discussed basic bird knowledge/anatomy and feather anatomy and Career Development. What I've come to realize so far is that I'm interested in basically everything and I have no idea where I want to end up someday. I guess this is why it is so important to try everything to see what I like best. I'm at the Birds Show this summer but I'll have the opportunity to shadow another department for a day at some point this summer.


Unless stated otherwise, all photographs I post are taken by me either on my phone or camera. All photographs I take and wish to post have been approved by my intern supervisor and department curator. Coming Soon: better quality bird pictures from an actual show (the pictures above were taken on my phone and thus aren't the best quality).

First weeks at the Chengdu Panda Base

Names: Madison MacElrevey and Miranda Smith
Class Year: Juniors
Hometowns: Lewes, DE (Madison) and Westerville, OH (Miranda)
Internship: Behavioral Research at Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding
Location: Chengdu, China

     After arriving in China, we spent our first couple of days getting accustomed to the area. Then, on Tuesday, we began our internship at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding.
We met James at the bus stop at 8:30am and waited for the employee bus. Once we arrived at the Panda Base, we went to complete some paperwork. We felt very official because we can use our fingerprints to get into the building where James’ office is located.
After paperwork, James showed us around some of the base before we headed to lunch. Lunch is at 12pm and then the workers take a break until 2pm, during which many take a nap. We have been spending many of our breaks in the Panda Café reading, catching up with friends and family, or just relaxing.
     In the afternoon, James had some work to do, so we were tasked with locating the panda cubs that we would be studying. We later found out that there was a short cut, but the first time we had to walk up a long hill, across some rope bridges, and then back down to the Moonlight house. 
Part of Our Journey to Moonlight house
One of the cubs we are studying
     For the past threeish weeks we have been working on organizing to begin conducting our research. First, we had to create an ethogram, test it out, and then finalize one that we wished to use. We are collecting data using point-time sampling with different behaviors, some of which include feeding, playing, and resting. Probably the hardest task that we have faced so far is figuring out how to differentiate between the pandas. There are ten cubs that we will be studying, all approximately one year of age. It is difficult because they are not all always outside at the same time, so some of the ways that are typically used to tell the difference, such as size and color, cannot be used. So, for the past two weeks, we have mostly been practicing collecting data along with trying to identify the cubs. Some days they are crazy like they had too much sugar to eat, and then other days they have a sugar crash and spend much of their time resting. The Panda Base is working hard to update many of their enclosures. Where the cubs are located, there are many trees and platforms for them to climb, along with a pool.

Can you spot the three pandas?

The inside enclosure for when it's too hot outside


     There are also enrichment items including balls, and a rocking horse. One of the cubs really enjoys the rocking horse. It is a lot of fun to watch how the cubs interact with each other along with their environment, as they are learning how to be pandas.     
One of the cubs playing with enrichment

     It's baby season at the Panda Base, and so far there has been one set of twins born!

One of the twins in the incubator. Who wants to study this guy next year?

     Finally, after much practice, and working out some kinks, we will begin collecting data on Monday!

There are about 60 species of bamboo that are edible of the giant panda. However, they prefer to eat only about 20 of these species. There is bamboo at the panda base, but unfortunately it is not one of the types that the pandas will eat, so everyday bamboo has to be shipped from the mountains. Giant pandas eat approximately 40kg of bamboo each day. There are over 80 pandas located at the base. 80*40=3,200kg of bamboo each day.
Although 99% of their diet is bamboo, in the distant past they ate meat. Their digestive tract still resembles that of a carnivore, which is why they are classified as such.
Throughout history, there have been many names for the giant panda. Some nclude Pi, Pi Xiu, Mo, White Bear, and Iron-eating Animal.
Giant Panda in Chinese is 大熊猫 (Dà Xióngmāo). 
One of the first survival skills a young panda must learn is how to climb trees in order to escape predators. Their predators include golden cats, leopards, jackals, and yellow-throated marten. 
Giant pandas are classified as Animalia, Chordata, Mammalia, Carnivora, Ursidae, Ailuropodinae and finally their genus and species are Ailuropoda melanoleuca.