Friday, July 15, 2011

Favorite Zoo Animals

During the first week of my internship writing a blog entry on my favorite animals to work with at the zoo would’ve been much simpler than it is now.  I would’ve listed the giraffes and Aldabra tortoises as clear favorites, clear and simple.  Now, trying to cut a list of 30+ animals down to only a few favorites seems close to impossible.  I can honestly say that I enjoy working with (or around, in the case of the alligators and venomous insects) every animal assigned to string 1 and 10. 

Observing the leafcutter ants and trying to appease their ever-changing wants in terms of what browse they would and would not eat was always wonderfully challenging, as was watching the interactions between their soldiers and workers.  I came to learn the different personalities of our four baby chuckwalla lizards, and enjoyed seeing the clear progress we were able to achieve in our goal to make them easier to handle than their parents.  Our Egyptian Goose has much more spunk and attitude than any bird I have ever met, and watching her boss around the visiting mallard ducks and inquisitive eland showed me she was smarter than I admittedly originally believed.

Leafcutter Ants: soldiers (large) and cutters (small)

Our two younger eland practicing their sparring skills.

In the end it would be much more accurate to say I loved working with every animal I had the opportunity to meet, and I was able to appreciate each of them for their own unique traits.  

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Intern Project

As part of the internship each intern is required to complete a project, either by observing an animal of their choice or building a form of enrichment for an animal. I've chosen to build a moving feeder for the giraffes which will be used to encourage the giraffes to move around more on exhibit. Encouraging movement is important as it helps keep the hooves healthy, the joints supple and the animals at a good weight. The benefits of constant movement can be seen in all animals including horses where horses kept 24/7 in stalls often develop joint, weight and hoof problems and are often less sound of mind then horses turned out to graze for at least a few hours each day.

The feeder itself will be a PVC puzzle feeder (large holes in a PVC pipe with end caps on both sends) and it will be on a cable system. The cable itself has to he hung high up, at least at the height of the tallest giraffe, and covered in tubing to prevent strangulation and accidental hanging. 

An example of a PVC feeder at the Brookfield Zoo.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Enrichment is an important part of everyday life for the animals at the zoo, and along with training it is a great way to keep them busy throughout the day and discourage stereotypical behaviors.  Training itself is considered a form of enrichment as it stimulates the animal both physically and mentally.  Many other forms of enrichment such as puzzle feeders, treats hidden in toys, browse, and buried produce use food motivation to encourage different behaviors in animals.  For example, puzzle feeders are large paint buckets filled with food with holes cut in the sides, and are given to giraffe.  Stereotypical behavior in giraffe often includes oral fixations such as licking non-food items (fences and metal poles) and tongue rolling.  These behaviors in captive animals often originate because the giraffe is not encouraged to exercise its tongue as much as it would in the wild.  Puzzle feeders help to remedy this behavior because the giraffe has to use its tongue to obtain the grain, produce or treats.

Treats hidden in toys, boxes, or buried in the ground encourage are used with a wide variety of animals at the zoo including eland, grifffon vultures and the big cats.  This form of enrichment encourages an animals seeking behavior, which is essential to animals in the wild.  The more a zoo, or any establishment with animals (stables, kennels, animal shelters, ect...), can encourage natural behaviors the better off an animal will be, and fewer stereotypical behaviors will be able to present themselves.

In the background of this picture the white bucket and hanging crate are examples of puzzle feeders that encourage giraffes to use their tongues as they would in the wild.

Giraffes have long agile tongues

Thursday, June 9, 2011


Throughout the week I am able to watch and help train a variety of animals at the zoo.  Training is meant to alleviate stress during medical procedures, hoof trimming and other new situations as  well as to provide mental stimulation to the animals during their daily routine.  On string 1, I have helped with giraffe training, where the tasks involved and level of training vary from animal to animal.  Our most well trained giraffe responds to voice commands to move her shoulder or body in, and will pick up her hooves which allows for non-restrained hoof trimming, a rarity in zoos.  With other giraffes we work on target training and body movement commands.  For example, hands on the hips means to move back to our pushy giraffe, and the command is used to allow us personal space.

On string 2 the tortoises are almost all target trained, and some are being taught the open mouth command, in order to preform non-sedated mouth and jaw x-rays.Many of the other reptiles, such as the monitor lizard, are also in the process of being target trained, and taught other cues as well.  Training is always done at the animals discretion and if they are interested in food or treats, they will often participate and are eager to do training, those less food motivated often opt out.  I find this to be very important because unhappy and unwilling animals often make very poor subjects to train, and are even more resistant to future training.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Week 1

Week 1 At the Zoo

My first week at the zoo was very busy, and lots of fun!  I’m assigned to two different strings of animals; String 1: Giraffes, Eland, Egyptian Goose, Griffon Vultures and String 2: Aldabra Tortoises, Alligators and other assorted reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates. 

Sunday and Monday I spent on string 10, and those first 2 days were very busy learning protocol, animals, and responsibilities.  Every day we start out by checking exhibit temperatures, misting, and feeding the animals that need to be fed that day.  Feeding can be as simple as counting out crickets and meal worms and soaking pinkies (frozen baby mice) or it can involve hiking around the zoo cutting branches and flowers from various plants for our leaf cutter ant population.  The Aldabra Tortoises were certainly a highlight of the day, because after we finish cleaning their barn and pasture and feeding them we spend time ‘loving them’ which involves petting and scratching their 400 lb selves.  They enjoy receiving the attention (especially the boys) as much as we enjoy giving it out.  If one tortoise feels left out, they’ll make it known.  Monday we fed the alligators biscuits (they get meat on various other days) by standing above their enclosure and tossing their cookies into the water.

Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday I spent with String 1, which certainly involves much more cleaning, but also involves giraffe training!  First thing in the morning we rake out the entire exhibit area, put out browse for the giraffe and eland, fill grain buckets and hide produce as a form of enrichment for the eland.  We also feed the bossy Egyptian goose that inhabits the mote in the exhibit.  The giraffes receive their vitamin E sandwiches, the eland get their morning grain, and then they are moved out onto exhibit while we move into their barns to muck out, hose down, and put out their food for that night.  After all of that is completed, we often spend some time training the giraffes, and I was lucky enough to help with a couple different exercises.  Some things that they train for are backing up, touching your hand, moving in, etc…

The platform is always crowded at afternoon feeding

Me and a 400 lb Tortoise

They enjoy their fruits!

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