Gripping a stopwatch, pen and clipboard in the palms of my hands, I walk up towards the Oakland Zoo‘s lemur deck to conduct observations. Typically directly after serving one of their meals, the other intern and I will pick two lemurs and record their behavior for up to an hour. The behavior categories include interacting with enrichment, which we vary throughout the week. By recording how much time a lemur spends on a particular activity, we can construct a graph of their “typical day.” When I first began interning on String 7, it was difficult to identify and tell apart any of the lemurs. Now, I am able to distinguish the animals apart by their physical characteristics and personality.
“Are the lemurs reading?” one visitor asked me after I served their lunch. No, the phone books were one of the manipulative enrichments used this week. Stuffing pieces of produce between the phone book’s pages encourages the lemurs to manipulate the item to reach the food. By conducting observations of the lemurs, I can later analyze the data and compare the effectiveness of each enrichment item. Even though PVC pipe connectors, cat litter containers, and cardboard boxes sound like an odd combination, they are other examples of manipulative lemur enrichment. Both the plastic cat litter containers and cardboard boxes contain holes into which the lemurs must reach, and we sometimes use clips to hang up two of the plastic containers.
Eugene and Anthony, the two blue-eyed black lemurs, slowly approached me while eyeing the dried cranberries in my hand. I felt the smoothness of Eugene’s palms as he reached out to grasp the cranberry. His aquamarine eyes darted around as he chewed the sliver of cranberry. On Wednesday morning, I got the chance to assist the zoo keeper with cooperative feeding out on exhibit. Cooperative feeding rewards the dominant individual for letting the subordinate individual to eat in its presence. The male ring tail lemur, Jeager, is subordinate to the three female ring tail lemurs; the two blue-eyed black lemurs are also subordinate to the females. Every time the dominant female saw me feed the blue-eyed black lemurs that were about 10 feet away, the zoo keeper would reward her for not chasing them away. Helping with cooperative feeding is an opportunity to work closely with the lemurs and observe how it shapes their behavior.
One of the Oakland Zoo’s vet technicians led this week’s behind-the-scenes tour of the Veterinary Care Center (VCC). I got to see some of the portable equipment the VCC staff uses, such as the anesthesia and x-ray machines. The vet technician showed us the various sizes of tracheal tubes used for anesthetizing the zoo animals, which range in size from a small bird to an elephant. She said that the VCC sometimes will coordinate with other veterinarians for major procedures. For the larger animals, such as elephants and lions, the VCC staff can exam or treat them in their night house because they will not fit into the surgery room.