Posts Tagged ‘Enrichment’

Internship Week 5: Pig Walking and Lemur Watching

by | August 15th, 2012

Intern Stephanie Lo

Throughout this week of my internship, I got to both learn more about operant conditioning and participate in training a few zoo animals.

 

We turn on a misting hose in the guinea hogs' exhibit on warm days.

The week began with walking Jason and Sara, the two Guinea Hogs, up to the Oakland Zoo‘s Veterinary Care Center to weigh them. Three other interns and I worked to harness them and continue the training we started last week. Two of us were in charge of delivering the reinforcement; in this case it was a variety of chopped produce. The other two held the leash, harness and clicker. It was important the rate of reinforcement was not too low or the Guinea Hogs might lose interest and turn to foraging. When training any animal, especially one that is as large and strong as a Guinea Hog, it is imperative to be alert to your animal. For instance, Sara is afraid of large and loud trucks so we remained aware of our surroundings while leaving the Children’s Zoo. In this week’s intern class on operant conditioning, I learned that escape is a primary reinforcer and permanent associations about something can last for years.

 

Patrick, one of the Nubian goats, in the main stall of the contact yard.

As part of the routine animal husbandry, zoo keeper Alan works with the goats and sheep to trim their hooves. During this week, I got to give out the reinforcement, which was food, to the sheep during the training session. Although the zoo keepers oftentimes use clickers to mark the behavior, Alan whistles instead because he uses both his hands to hold the animal’s leg and to hold the pair of hoof trimmers. The sheep appeared more skittish than the goats about hoof trimming. Alan had them stand on a mat during the training session, and he also worked to desensitize one of the sheep to touching its hind legs in preparation for the actual trimming part.

 

A ring tail lemur interacting with enrichment. The PVC connector stuffed with food and straw is a form of manipulative enrichment.

As I mentioned in my Week 2 blog post, the lemurs get daily enrichment, which I mark on the calendar. String 7 zoo keeper Liz organized the list of possible enrichment into categories, such as manipulative, environmental or sensory. Manipulative enrichment includes putting food into containers with holes so the lemurs have to manipulate the object to retrieve their meal. One day this week, I helped fill plastic PVC connectors with their lunch and straw. After doing a thorough scrub of the lemurs’ night house in the morning, the other interns and I did a little interior designing. We rearranged the “furniture” inside the night house, which is a form of environmental enrichment.

 

A ring tail lemur eating a piece of Romaine lettuce, one of the leafy greens in their diet.

A major part of this week included conducting observations of the lemurs. Depending on the type of observations, the time intervals range from every 30 seconds to every 2 minutes. Usually I pick an easily identifiable lemur to observe while another intern keeps track of the time. The categories on the observation sheet comprise of social behaviors, like huddling with another lemur or being groomed, and also of agnostic behaviors like marking with scent glands or chasing. The observations can be done any time of the day and inform the zoo keepers on how the lemurs interact with enrichment and with each other. The data collected can be used to make ethograms or to determine what percentage of the day a particular lemur does a certain activity.

 

One form of enrichment is scattering their diet throughout the grassy areas of the exhibit. Three of the ring tail lemurs foraging for their food and sunning themselves.

Internship Week 3: Top Chef – Zoo edition

by | July 28th, 2012

Intern Stephanie Lo

For rabbit enrichment, sometimes I put hay, leafy greens and produce into plastic toy balls.

Much like Top Chef contestants must complete culinary challenges with certain ingredients, both zoo keepers and Oakland Zoo commissary staff must prepare diets for the animals according to specific requirements. Although Top Chef contestants work under the camera spotlight to please the reality show judges, zoo keepers may appear to work more in the background. However, both work under a time constraint.

On Tuesday afternoons, I work in the zoo commissary to assist in the preparation of diets. This week I began by helping a volunteer prepare the birds’ diets and then started cutting up produce into two inch pieces for the “elephant buckets.” These buckets consisted of two buckets of potatoes, one of apples and one of bananas, totaling about 40 pounds. It’s safe to say that I have never sliced so much produce at one time!

Beginning to prepare the lemurs' breakfast. Part of their breakfast is sweet potatoes and canned primate.

 

This week, the commissary received a new shipment of live crickets and mealworms. After helping prepare diets in the early afternoon, I faced the task of opening the shipment of boxes. Being slightly squeamish around bugs, I took a deep breath before taking out a pocketknife to separate the tapped boxes. Even though I’m not extremely grossed out by mealworms, I have never dealt with so many. But then again, I’ve never worked in a zoo commissary before. Each cardboard box housed about 1000 mealworms, which needed to be transferred to the large plastic mealworm tub in the commissary. The crickets proved to be a bit trickier. I had to make sure they did not escape while I relocated them into the two large cricket garbage cans.

Lemur lunch contains a variety of chopped up fruit. This particular day's lunch includes berries, cantaloupe and peaches.

String 7 prepares most of its diets in the Children’s Zoo kitchen, so most days the other intern and I get to chop up and measure produce for the lemurs, pigs and rabbits. Typically, I bring a reusable bag down to the walk-in commissary refrigerator to go “grocery shopping.” A plethora of fruits, vegetables and leafy greens fill the shelves and plastic cartons. The lemurs’ lunch is one of the most enjoyable to prepare because it usually consists of fresh fruits like cantaloupe, bananas, blueberries or peaches. The zoo keepers try to have a lot of variety in their diet, which also depends on the produce donated to the zoo.

I chop and measure out leafy greens and fresh produce for String 7's rabbits.

 

 

While going “grocery shopping” in the commissary, I began to learn the names of leafy greens included in the diets and learn the animals’ preferences. Sure, I was already familiar with Romaine lettuce, spinach and bok choy. But after the first few days, I began to identify the rainbow Swiss chard, collard greens and jicama. Just as not all people are avid vegetable eaters, the lemurs are not as fond of their daily greens. Consequently, we feed them most of their vegetables for dinner so they have more time to eat them before breakfast the next morning.

Internship Week 2: Candy wrappers, clicker training and ring-tailed lemurs

by | July 26th, 2012

Intern Stephanie Lo

After becoming familiar with the daily routine during my first week, String 7 Zookeeper Liz allowed me and the other interns to do many of the animal feedings and exhibit cleanings on our own.  In addition to the daily pellets, the meals of the domestic pigs and rabbits consist of specific amounts of fresh produce and greens.

The Oakland Zoo‘s Veterinary Care Center, the commissary and the string’s zookeeper work together to ensure each zoo animal has an appropriate diet. Sometimes, I help prepare the diets of the lemurs, pigs and rabbits by selecting produce from the commissary’s walk-in refrigerator and cutting up the correct amounts for each animal. Although slicing pieces of sweet potato or cantaloupe isn’t a physically demanding portion of my job, it is extremely important to pay attention to detail because each animal has unique nutritional needs. There is even a scale located in the Children’s Zoo kitchen to help us measure out grams, if necessary.

Blue-eyed lemurs Eugene and Anthony interacting with enrichment. The "candy wrappers" are made from newspapers filled with their food.

Each primate night house contains a calendar to mark each day’s enrichment. One of the lemur enrichments I did this week was configure pieces of newspaper into “candy wrappers” that contained their meal. The other interns and I wrapped chunks of cut produce into sheets of newspaper. At first, the lemurs did not approach the newspapers, but then a Ring Tailed Lemur picked one up and began opening it. Other forms of enrichment include piles of straw with scents mixed in and wooden bird toys hung with fruit in them. Besides stimulating their senses, the daily enrichment encourages the lemurs to forage for their food, much like they would in their natural environment.

Ring Tailed Lemur foraging for food in the enrichment item.

One of the most interesting opportunities this week was watching Liz do clicker training with the Ring Tailed Lemurs. During the individual training sessions, some of the lemurs acted more relaxed than others, allowing the zookeeper to trailer the training to the lemur. The goal of much of the training revolves around veterinary and husbandry purposes, such as having the lemur sit quietly on a mat while the keeper holds a stethoscope to its chest.  The zookeeper also worked on having the lemur sit still while waving a pretend chip scanner over its back, which could be done to identify an unknown or escaped lemur. One of the new commands Liz began was “stand.” She used a small target ball on the end of the stick, and she first rewarded the lemurs for showing interest in the target and then worked her way up to having them touch it with their hands. It was amazing to be able to observe how quickly some of the lemurs caught onto new commands and how sensitive they were to the trainer’s body posture.

Read more about what I have learned regarding operant conditioning and the use of clicker training during my upcoming Week 4 blog post.

One of the Ring Tailed Lemurs eating food from an enrichment item. The plastic container has holes for the produce to fall out.

Internship Week 1: My first week at Oakland Zoo

by | July 12th, 2012

Intern Stephanie Lo

Throughout the next few months, I am an Oakland Zoo intern who is working on String 7. This particular string consists of a variety of domestic and exotic animals, all located in the Wayne and Gladys Valley Children’s Zoo section. I chose to participate in the Oakland Zoo’s intern program to explore my interest in veterinary medicine and to learn about animal care techniques of zoo animals. As an intern, I work three full days per week at the zoo for a total of 288 hours of service.

Cali, one of the domestic cats.

On my first day, I met the String 7 Zookeeper named Liz along with another intern who works on the same string as I do. We began the morning by striding up the stairs towards the cat room, where the three cats reside at night. Located adjacent to the goat and sheep barn, the cat room contains the litter boxes, cat furniture, and food and water bowls. During the day, the three cats named Billy, Cali and Scarlet are free to roam around the contact yard. The other intern and I swept out the cat room, scooped the litter boxes and replenished the food and water dishes before heading towards the pig barn.

Jason and Sara eating lunch. The Arrowhead containers are filled with produce for enrichment.

The pig barn houses three domestic pigs and two domestic rabbits. In the mornings, I typically feed the pigs their breakfast, which consists of a measured amount of pellets. One of the pigs also receives a specific quantity of medicine mixed into her morning meal. While the pigs consume their breakfast, the other intern and I scoop up the manure around the exhibit and rinse out and refill their water bowls. To extend the animals’ feeding time, we may fill enrichment toys with produce so the pigs have to roll around the toy to make the food come out of the holes. The particular enrichment toys we used on Thursday were plastic Arrowhead water containers with circular holes cut in the sides, allowing the chopped produce to fall out in intervals. Liz showed us other forms of enrichment, which included scattering produce around the exhibit and brushing the pigs.

A hotspot of the Children’s Zoo is the Contact Yard of the goat and sheep barn.  As an intern, I may supervise the Contact Yard to ensure that all the visitors follow the rules posted. There are eleven goats and four sheep housed in the barn, and visitors oftentimes enjoy brushing them. The sheep can be a bit skittish, but the Pygmy goats are quite tolerant of brushing and petting. Although visitors may assume the Pygmy goats are overweight or pregnant, the goats are actually bred to be shorter but they still have the same sized digestive system, making their bellies appear proportionally wider.

One of the Ring Tailed Lemurs waiting for breakfast.

 

Some of my favorite animals on String 7 are the five ring tailed lemurs and two blue-eyed lemurs. During my first day, the other intern and I got the opportunity to accompany Liz into the lemur exhibit and help her with the morning feeding. The male lemurs are subordinate to the females, so we scattered food throughout the exhibit to ensure they all had access to it. To improve the lemurs’ mental health, the zoo keepers provide specific types of enrichment every day and mark them on the calendar.

In addition to the hands-on experience under the string’s zoo keeper, interns also attend weekly classes and behind the scenes tours. This week’s class titled “Emergency Response in a Zoo Setting” focused on how the Oakland Zoo responds in emergency situations. The various situations included both natural disasters and animal escapes, which could result in calling a Code Yellow, Code Red or Code Pink. The other intern class highlighted public interaction strategies with the zoo guests.

Behind-the-Scenes: Animal Commissary

by | May 2nd, 2012

Zoo Ambassador Franette Armstrong is taking us backstage in this new blog series.

 

 

 

 

Iron Chefs step aside…your challenges are nothing compared to the daily mission of feeding over 400 animals of 160 different species two to three meals a day.

And you think combining tripe with chocolate is a problem? Try satisfying omnivores who need a dozen different foods in different amounts plus nutritional supplements and snacks!

Chris Angel, primary commissary keeper, demonstrates the three different ways fish is cut up for different birds who need it to resemble what they’d find in nature.

 

 

That’s Logistics

Chris Angel is one of a team of commissary keepers who are in charge of making all this happen.  The commissary team translates the requirements of the Zookeepers into orders from suppliers and then makes sure every area of the Zoo has exactly what they need when they need it. Oh…and they have a food budget to worry about, just like any of us.

Chris’ background? After college he learned management in a factory and butchering in a meat department and volunteered for us. Then he entered the Zoo’s Internship program and before he knew it…he was on staff.

Career advice: “Degrees are valuable, but so is experience. My advice to anyone wanting a job here is to get involved with volunteering,” he said. “Don’t give up. Just keep on coming.”

 

Two full- and two part-time staff, plus volunteers and interns, work multiple shifts preparing the food every single day of the year. Yes, even Thanksgiving and Christmas

 

AIRline Food

To give you a sense of how complex the diets of our animals are, check out this food prep schematic for our birds:

The colors in the chart represent trays and for each tray there’s a list of ingredients ranging from “Flamingo Fare” or “Pretty Bird” to fresh fruit and cooked vegetables. Some require a little romaine lettuce or meat. What turns Flamingos pink? Beta Carotene from shrimp in their food.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Megan Frye, Night Keeper, prepares the trays for birds according to the detailed schematics.

 

 

 

 

 

This is where the bird trays end up...in one of our many aviaries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Picky Eaters…and Keepers

The Zookeepers help design the animal diets in collaboration with our veterinarians and Animal Care management staff. Once a diet is set, all three have to be involved in any changes to it. When the ingredients are finalized, the Commissary takes over and is responsible for obtaining all the food and nutritional supplements.

“A third of all the animal food is prepared here in the Commissary. The rest is prepared at the animal enclosures from the ingredients we supply,” Chris explained. “The hardest part of our job is not making the food, it’s satisfying the high standards of the animals and their Keepers.”

This is one meal for five Tigers. Animal Management staff and volunteers will divvy it up into individual servings.

 

Take an Elephant’s diet as an example: they mostly get hay and “browse” (leafy branches) but also get four buckets of chopped produce each day. The Keepers spread most of the food around the exhibit to give them the challenge of finding it.

Everything—even lettuce-- has to be cut to a predetermined size so it takes the animals longer to find and eat their food.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Constant Supply

The Zoo keeps two weeks worth of essential supplies on hand at all times, just to be sure the animals won’t go hungry in an emergency. Beyond that, just-in-time orders are placed with local feed stores, and produce and veterinary distributors who, in turn, stock a supply of what we are going to need so that they have it when our orders arrive.

 

In the Animal Commissary there is an entire wall of kibble bins plus huge jars and barrels of food like birdseed and popcorn (no butter or salt and used only for snacks).

A big part of our animals’ diet is fresh fruits and vegetables and nothing less than human-grade will do. “If we wouldn’t eat it, they don’t get it,” Chris said.

To help meet the ongoing need for fresh produce we rely heavily on donated food. Grocers like Safeway, US Food Service, and AL Lunardi and Sons contribute hugely along with Niman Ranch and Prather Ranch. In addition,  growers, hunters, fishers and home gardeners donate boxes of meat, bones and fresh fruits and vegetables daily.

Volunteers sort the food and store it in coolers or freezers until its needed. Our Chimps get apples, and oranges plus three other fruits like berries and melon. Elephants get potatoes with their fruit.

 

 

 

 

 

Even California Fish and Game and Caltrans get into the act when they find a newly killed deer or turkey. “As sad as that sounds, animals like our Tigers and Hyenas need a variety of hoofstock and large bones.” At least this valuable food doesn’t go to waste.

We never take predator animals from these sources, however, because they can carry bacteria and viruses our Lions and Tigers are susceptible to and they are more likely to have been poisoned. Safety first.

Our utensil board rivals the famous Julia Child’s, though she probably didn’t have hacksaws on hers.

 

Fun Food

Yes, even Zoo animals appreciate a treat or a snack, and just like kids, they enjoying playing with their food. An important but fun job of the Commissary staff and Zookeepers is coming up with new ways to stimulate the senses and appetites of our animal residents.

“You wouldn’t want to eat the same thing everyday, and neither do our animals,” says Chris.

Popsicles are a huge hit with the apes, lemurs and elephants. Sun bears love to scoop peanut butter out of the bottom of jars with their long tongues, so we volunteers bring our leftovers in for them.

 

Our elephants will spend hours licking a popsicle like this one that’s made of fruit juice and then stuffed with fruits and kale. Once out of its container, the popsicle on its embedded rope will hang from a tree branch.

 

Out in nature food has to discovered or caught, so we try to bring some of that challenge into the animals’ daily lives. Keepers hide snacks or intriguing herbs in cardboard tubes. Interns and volunteers dye berries and grapes different colors and freeze them to spice up dinner trays.

The snack bar section of one of the freezers is home to some strange- looking treats. The ones with the ropes are for animals without hands.

 

 

These carrot popsicles will soon make an Otter or Meerkat a happy camper.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Specialty Foods

Chris purchases exotic bird kibble, Marmoset Jelly and other prepared foods that are not easily replicated in our kitchen so that every animal’s dietary needs are met. Even ground beef comes from a veterinary food distributor because our tigers and lions not only require the meat, but also parts that  human hamburger doesn’t contain. The whole point is to closely replicate their diet in the wild.

Animals such as our Boas, which in nature consume live prey, are fed frozen mice here because catching food on the move is dangerous to the predator—it fights back—and we don’t want our animals injured. We defrost it for them before serving time—cold-blooded animals want warm food.

Live mealworms, crickets and goldfish are the only exception to the fresh and frozen meat we serve. They provide exercise and stimulation as well as nutrition to our otters, frogs and insects.

 

 

 

But this is not to say that people-food isn’t on the menu. In addition to their fresh food, our animals are given fig newtons (they are great for hiding vitamins and pills), gelatins, baby food, powdered sports drinks, spices and many other packaged foods you would recognize on your own pantry shelves.

Does this look somewhat like your own pantry? These foods are expensive so some of our wonderful volunteers go shopping weekly with their own money just so the animals can have them as treats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Want to Help Feed the Animals?

As you can see, feeding time at the Zoo is a community effort: It requires a huge quantity and variety of ingredients all the time and we rely on donations.

The Commissary will gratefully accept donations that are pesticide free.

If you are a fisher, hunter, or butcher, we may be able to use your  fresh or frozen overstock and raw bones.

If you’re an organic farmer, gardener, arborist or grape grower—or have friends who are—the animals would love your excess vegetables, fruits and nuts. The one thing none of our animals will eat is lemons and limes, which is a shame since so many of us have trees loaded with them.

If you are interested in donating give us a call Chris Angel at 510-632-9525 x 215.

Someone carved and donated a pumpkin “condo” to make our Meerkats’ day.

Flowers in your yard? Pick a bouquet for our animals. Most of our animals  would love your pesticide-free nasturtiums, roses, and dandelions.

Pruning your shrubs? We can take certain types of branches and leaves for our Giraffes, Goats and Zebra. Go to this page or call to find out if yours are edible.

Where to take donations? Small amounts can be dropped at our front gate. Even a few peaches or carrots are appreciated. For larger donations (bin size or more or frozen food), call Chris Angel at 510-632-9525 x 215 to arrange a drop-off.

 

 

We thank Steve Goodall, a local nature photographer,  for volunteering to take, and allow us to use, the photos for this article.

 

Elephants Love Trees, Pumpkins, & Produce

by | February 25th, 2011

Finally, the holidays are over and the Christmas trees (and pumpkins !) are coming to an end. This year we had two companies that generously donated and dropped off over four-hundred trees combined. This operation is a win-win

Donna chews on a Fraser Fir, her favorite! Photo by author.

situation for all as it saves the tree companies from having to deal with the leftovers and provides the zoo with lots of fun enrichment for the animals. After the animals are done with the trees they are hauled off in our green waste dumpster and re-used for wood chips.  We were able to be a little pickier this year as to what type of trees we accepted as the main animals that use the trees

M'Dunda savors the moment. Photo by author.

are the elephants and they have grown to be quite picky with their menu. We took about two-hundred small pine trees from Brent’s Christmas Trees, and over two-hundred Noble Firs from Simonous Quality Christmas Trees. The elephants prefer the Noble and Fraser Firs to the Douglas Fir. Maybe they like the strong fragrance of the previous two better? I don’t know for sure, I didn’t try them myself. They enjoy eating the bark off of the trunk and then stripping the needles off the branches. The keepers started off giving each elephant at least five trees a day, but if your mom gave you a peanut butter and jelly sandwich everyday wouldn’t you get tired of it too? So they don’t go after the trees with the same vigor they did in the beginning but there are only fifty or so left to feed out, thank goodness. Sometimes a little honey or jelly smeared on the branches helps! You’ll see the trees hanging as food or a scratching post in the elephant and giraffe exhibits, as a home for a bird in one of our aviaries, or as a treat hiding place for many of the other animals in the zoo, but only for a couple more weeks. So hurry and come visit us, especially while the sun is still shining!

Donna wraps her trunk around Osh. Photo by author.

Come and join us for our Feast for the Beasts daytime event on Saturday, March 26. The public is invited to donate produce to the animals. The first 250 people through the door get to place their produce inside the elephant exhibit before the hungry herd arrives. Come see how an elephant munches an entire watermelon. It’s definitely something kids love to see. Feast for the Beasts begins at 9:00am.