Here Comes the Train
by | May 11th, 2010

By now, many of you may have come to the Oakland Zoo to experience our newest Australia exhibit. It is almost complete, with more finishing touches on the way; the Grand Opening is July 3rd.   For those of you have not seen it yet, it is our brand new Emu and Wallaroo exhibit that is located on a lush 3.5 acres at the top of the zoo that is accessible by our train.  The train has undergone many facelifts over its history here at the zoo, but this is the first time that the train has immersed guests within an animal habitat, creating an experience unlike any other at the park.   It is not uncommon to see the Wallaroo lounging in the grass a few feet away and Emu roaming by as you  glide through on the Outback Express train.

Wallaroo by Tracks. Photo by Lorraine Peters

Roaming the Hills. Photo by Lorraine Peters

To help you experience Wild Australia a core group of dedicated and specially trained drivers have been recruited.

Shauna, Javier, Ken and RJ make up our train driver core and were hand selected to run the Outback Express due to their enthusiasm for the Wallaroo and Emu along with their work ethic and experience in the zoos Operations department.   Once selected, they teamed up with the animal keepers in charge of the Emu and Wallaroo to take place in a pilot train driving certification course. This pilot program was designed to prepare the drivers for the challenges of working in an active animal habitat and features three main components, evaluated by the animal management department.

The first stage of the program is centered on general preparation and includes research on  identifying individual animals, natural history of the emu and wallaroo, along with learning about how deal with animals in distress.

The second stage of the program is centered on driving the train through Wild Australia and centers around how to handle certain scenarios while driving the train.   Common occurrences the drivers must face are emu or wallaroo on the tracks or in close proximity to the train as well as moving at appropriate speeds within the exhibit to make the keepers and animals feel secure.

The third stage actually takes place off of the train and instructs the drivers in an interactive format on common daily and seasonal behaviors they can encounter with the emu and wallaroo.  This is also the time where drivers are shown how to interact with the animals appropriately if it becomes necessary to get off the train and move an animal off the tracks or away from an entrance gate.

So far the certification program has been going well and our drivers along with the emus and wallaroos have been doing great traversing their new stomping grounds.   Next time you are on the train make sure to let the train drivers know what a great job they are doing.

The OZ Train Drivers. From Right to Left (Ken, Shauna, Javier, and RJ)

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