Posts Tagged ‘Enrichment’

Holiday Gifts for the Animals

by | November 14th, 2013

zena-the-zookeeper

And our sun bears love Kongs. Sometimes, we even fill them with peanut butter, which is the sun bears’ favorite thing to eat.

And our sun bears love Kongs. Sometimes, we even fill them with peanut butter, which is the sun bears’ favorite thing to eat.

Hey Kids! Zena the Zookeeper here.  It’s holiday time at Oakland Zoo, and I have a question for you: Name something you love getting during the holidays. If you said, PRESENTS! then you and our animals here at the Zoo have something in common.  Our animals love presents too.  And I’m here to tell you, we just love giving presents to them.  The presents we give our animals are called enrichments.  Those are special toys and games that help our animals live like they are back in the wild.  (If you want to learn more about animal enrichments, check out my blog from September called Animal Enrichment is Important to Chimpanzees!)

So, what kinds of presents do our animals like to receive? All kinds! Our chimps love lots of different toys. For example, one of our female chimps just adores plush-toy snakes. She wears them around her neck like a scarf. The ferrets and chinchillas love hanging beds, and the zebras go nuts for Jolly-Ranger balls.  We zookeepers put treats in the balls and watch the zebras happily work to get them out! Check out the picture here of my fellow 20131002_143235zookeeper prepping the balls with molasses and alfalfa for the Zebras to enjoy.20131002_144428

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Luigi the ferret, can spend hours playing hide-and-seek in his alligator bed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And, just last week we asked people to send presents for some of our Zoo staff headed to Borneo to help out some rescued sun bears over there.   And boy, did everyone help out! We got so many new toys for them – we even have some pictures of the Bornean bears playing with their new presents from Oakland Zoo.

If you’d like to give a present to one of our Zoo animals this holiday season, be sure to check out the wishlist we zookeepers put up on amazon.com .  It lists all the great toys and enrichment we know our animals love to receive.

 

The goats in the Children’s Contact Yard love butting around big, inflatable balls.  I suspect they may be playing some kind of top-secret goat soccer!

The goats in the Children’s Contact Yard love butting around big, inflatable balls. I suspect they may be playing some kind of top-secret goat soccer!

There’s lots to choose from, so I’m sure you’ll find something that will make one of our animals feel wild and wonderful.(Don’t forget to check with an adult before you purchase anything.)

So, until next time, remember – we only have one planet, so let’s all be conservation heroes and take good care of everything on it!

Happy Birthday Mokey!

by | August 30th, 2013

This Sunday Oakland Zoo’s youngest zebra celebrated her 17th birthday! Mokey was born on August 18, 1996, the daughter of mother Bingo and sister of Domino who are both currently housed with her at the zoo. Zebras typically live to be about 25 years of age but in captivity they have been known to live as long as 40 years.

Carrots and cookies, yum!

Carrots and cookies, yum!

I am lucky enough to be the primary trainer for Mokey during our collective training sessions and of course I felt we had to celebrate our girl in style! Lead keeper Leslie Storer suggested making popsicles with different layers of goodies in them for each zebra. The result was a double decker popsicle with a layer of carrots on the bottom and cookie crumbs on top.

The day turned out to be quite warm and muggy and I thought for sure we had one grand slam of a birthday hit. The initial reaction was a little wary on all sides and only Domino and Mokey actually ventured close enough to the pops to touch them. Their reactions were underwhelming to say the least. In all fairness to the species they tend to eat in what might be described as a nibbling action with the front teeth and then move to grind with the molars.

Keeper Jason Loy encourages the birthday girl towards her treat.

Keeper Jason Loy encourages the birthday girl towards her treat.

Surely, I thought, once these bad boys begin to melt they’ll be nibbling away at these carrot shards!  Well, no dice. By the end of the day the popsicles were completely melted and all that was left were several empty chains and a pile of unappetizing sludge. Stormy eventually moved in to pick up some of the leftovers.

It’s the thought that counts, right? Besides, there’s always next year!

Hidden Treats: The Fun Diet of an Oakland Zoo Sun Bear

by | June 18th, 2013

zena-the-zookeeperHey kids! Zena the Zookeeper here. Welcome to my cool new blog! Now you can read about my awesome zookeeping adventures at Oakland Zoo online.

Sun-bear-with-tongue-out_web You know what I love best about being a zookeeper? No, it’s NOT all the poop I have to shovel. What I love best is taking care of the sun bears. They’re so fun to watch, especially when they’re moving around their exhibit, searching and sniffing, climbing and clawing to find their food.

In case you didn’t already know, our bears are omnivorous (om-NIV-er-us). That means they eat a variety of food—meat as well as veggies, just like you do (okay, maybe with the exception of the meal worms!) And here at Oakland Zoo, we like to give them as much variety as possible. Here’s some of the fun food treats that the bears get every day:

  • SWEET MIX: made up of popcorn, dates, peanuts, raisins, coconut and Fruit Loops (the only cereal they like.)
  • FRUIT & VEGETABLES: like grapes, pineapple, melon and yams to make sure the bears have a well-balanced diet, which is as important for animals as it is for kids.
  • HOMEMADE RICE CAKES: cooked and mixed with fun flavors such as almond, coconut or maple syrup
  • PEANUT BUTTER: mixed with other treats, or big dabs of it on tree trunks, or leftover jars from home for them to lick clean with their long tongues.
  • MEAL WORMS: yummy crawly treats like the ones wild bears find in rotten tree trunks

But I don’t just toss this stuff in a bowl on the kitchen floor like you do with your pets at home. I hide it inside all kinds of fun containers that I put around the exhibit for the bears to find and explore with their tongues and claws, such as:

  • PLASTIC DRINK BOTTLES with grapes or raisins inside
  • HARD PLASTIC PLUMBING PIPES with holes drilled in them for getting at the treats
  • HOLLOW BAMBOO STALKS stuffed with small treats
  • PINE CONES smeared with sticky treats like peanut butter or honey
  • HOLLOW PLASTIC PET TOYS filled with treats and frozen into popsicles
  • HARD PLASTIC BOOMER BALLS I smear peanut butter or jam on the outside for them to lick off  

I bet your meals at home aren’t this much fun. But your mom probably has enough work to do already, don’t you think? Luckily, I’ve got a lot of helpers here at the Zoo.

ZENA’S QUICK QUESTION: How many sun bears do we have at Oakland Zoo and what are their names?

The next time you come to the Zoo, be sure to check out the bear exhibit and you’ll find out the answer. Also, if you want to check in on the sun bears from home, did you know you can watch Oakland Zoo’s Sun Bear Cam? Here’s a link to it: http://www.oaklandzoo.org/Sun_Bear_Cam.php

You’ll also see how much fun it is to be an Oakland Zoo sun bear. Well, that’s all for now. This is Zena the Zookeeper saying “See you next time!

Internship Weeks 8-10: Belly rubs for pigs

by | September 18th, 2012

Intern Stephanie Lo

I scratch the belly of a Guinea Hog lying down on his side while zookeeper Liz trains him to accept a blood draw. The Oakland Zoo’s Veterinary Care Center wants a blood sample to determine if the animals’ new diet has the proper nutrients. To prepare the two Guinea Hogs for an actual blood draw, they first have to become tolerant about a person holding off their leg to find the vein. Due to their excellent sense of smell, Jason and Sara initially were nervous about the rubbing alcohol on their legs. Also, the zookeeper practiced touching their legs with a blunted needle to accustom them to the motions of a blood draw. Some of the zoo’s visitors who saw us practicing in the exhibit appeared surprised that the pigs were so tolerant and even asked if the Guinea Hogs were sedated. Nope, they weren’t. They simply enjoy their belly rubs and are willing to lie down on the grass.

Jason, one of the Guinea Hogs, laying down for belly rubs during a blood draw training session.

The less glamorous aspects of my internship are the routine cleaning and disinfecting of the animals’ exhibits and night houses. I completely gutted and disinfected the rabbits’ night house, and then I filled it would fresh shavings and grass hay. The other intern and I also scrubbed the pools in the pigs’ exhibit along with disinfecting their night house and service area.

Lemur popsicles consist of fruit frozen in cups of water. The popsicles are used as enrichment on warm days.

The past few days have been warm and sunny – the perfect opportunity for making popsicles for the lemurs! A lemur enrichment popsicle consists of fruit chucks (usually grapes, watermelon, strawberries and cantaloupe) frozen in ice.

Besides continuing to conduct lemur observations for an intern project, I attended an intern class about zoological population management. This class concludes the series of intern classes and explained how zoos determine which animals to breed and to whom to breed them. The class covered what is included in a stud book and general population management concepts, like avoidance of inbreeding. I learned the founding populations in a stud book are animals directly from the wild.

For lemur observations, we do a visual scan of the exhibit every two minutes and record the behavior of a certain lemur.

Another guideline was not to keep all animals of one species concentrated in one zoo. In case of an emergency, zoos would not want all the animals of a particular species to die.

Stuffed Animals in the Bat Exhibit, Why?

by | September 14th, 2012

An Island Flying Fox interacting with a stuffed bear.

An Island Flying Fox with a stuffed bear.

One question we are asked frequently is “why do the bats have stuffed animals?” I would love to just say they are toys for the animals to play with (and often do when I am talking to small children), but the truth is that it is just more complicated than that.
First, I need to give you some background. There has been a lot of buzz in the media lately about the way zoos pair up animals for breeding. Many people are now aware that it is not done by chance and that we breed specifically to enhance and maintain as much genetic diversity as possible. What that means is that some animals are going to get more opportunities to breed than others, simply because of how heavily their families are represented within the captive population. The result is many animals are not recommended to breed and therefore have to be prevented from breeding by some method. The bats at the Oakland Zoo are on loan to us from Lubee Bat Conservancy where the majority of the fruit bat breeding happens in the US. Most of our bats have well represented genes in the captive population. The result is that Lubee gave us ALL male bats. That’s right; all 28 bats in our exhibit are boys, no babies here!
The second thing you need to understand is the concept of enrichment. AZA accredited zoos like the Oakland Zoo strive to provide animals with the optimal care and welfare. This means not only excellent medical care and nutritious food, but also enriched environments that allow animals to perform behaviors that they would naturally perform if they were living in the wild. This can take the form of large naturalistic exhibits like our sun bear or elephant exhibits, or it can take the form of a 50 foot tall enclosure that allows space for the large bats to fly. Sometimes it includes objects that may not be found in the wild, but still provide an opportunity for the animals to perform natural behaviors. This type of enrichment is most frequently seen with our primates. For example, in the wild, chimps will use twigs to collect termites from inside rotting logs. At the zoo, we will give the chimps other types of toys such as PVC tubes or Kongs with treats inside and they must use the twigs to retrieve them. Natural behavior from an unnatural object still results in increased welfare.
So now that we understand these two concepts, we put them together. Mostly our all male colony of bats works well, but for a few months out of each year, they go into breeding season and that causes some discord and a few disagreements in the group. Boys will be boys, right? They feel a need to chase each other out of territories, scent mark and generally just be cranky with each other. We discovered pretty quickly that the number of injuries in our bat colony increased each fall, coinciding with breeding season. While none of the injuries were serious, we still felt that we could improve their welfare if we reduced the number of injuries.
Enter the teddy bear! We hoped (and thankfully were right) that hanging stuffed animals in the exhibit would allow the bats the opportunity to take out their frustrations on something besides each other. Success! In fact, the concept was so successful (a 90% reduction in injuries) that keepers presented their findings at the 2010 Animal Behavior Management Alliance conference – winning an award for their efforts as well as becoming a cover article for their newsletter! The article has also been published in The Shape of Enrichment, an internationally known zoo trade publication focusing on enrichment for animals of all species.
Hanging stuffed animals in the bat exhibit allows our bats to perform the natural territorial behavior spurred by their hormones while preventing injuries within the colony. Natural behavior AND increased welfare from a simple child’s toy. While they may not look like a natural part of the exhibit, stuffed animals are an important component of the care we provide to our bats. Look around the zoo next time you visit and you may notice other exhibits with unusual enrichment items and now you know they serve some purpose that enhances the animals’ well-being.

Internship Weeks 6 & 7: Are the Lemurs Reading?

by | August 29th, 2012

Intern Stephanie Lo

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.

 

Ring tailed lemurs interacting with phone book enrichment item.

“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.

Wooden feeders are an example of manipulative enrichment.

Plastic cat litter containers have holes cut in the sides. They can be hung up in the exhibit so lemurs must balance and reach inside for food items.

Cardboard boxes can be filled with straw and the lemurs’ food.