Posts Tagged ‘fun with animals’

Keeper of the Little Critters

by | April 28th, 2011

 

Chris in her Element

There’s a part of the zoo you’ve probably never seen, and most likely have never even heard of. Tucked away behind the Education Center, it’s known simply as the Animal Room. That’s a pretty ordinary name for part of a zoo, but it’s got a unique function. It’s where all the Education Department animals live—the ones used for programs such as Zoo Camp, Zoomobile, Wildlife Theater, scout programs and birthday parties. These animals don’t simply hang out at the Zoo, waiting for visitors to come by. They go out and do the visiting themselves, traveling throughout the Bay Area. And for the last six years, these special animals have been looked after by a special keeper named Chris.

Preparing animal diets

It’s Chris’ job to see that these animals are taken care of and ready for their important job as ambassadors for the Zoo. There’s a lot of coming and going in the Animal Room, so it takes a good system to keep everything running smoothly. Her day begins before 8 o’clock, when she does a preliminary visual check of all her animals (which total nearly three dozen.) Here, she looks for things that indicate their well-being, such as how much food was consumed overnight and if enrichment items were used– also noting their appearance and behavior. Later, during the daily business of feeding and cleaning, Chris has ample opportunity to get a more in-depth look at her animals. She makes sure to handle each one at least once a day to keep them well acclimated to being touched.

Animal Room Tags

Communication with Zoo staff is crucial. Since she’s routinely in and out of the room during the course of her day, Chris needs to make sure that all the pertinent information about the animals is passed on to those who’ll be handling them. With the Animal Availability Board, she posts such things as who’s just been fed, who’s currently under medical observation and which snakes are “in shed” (shedding their skin.)  As a back-up, Chris uses a series of color-coded tags attached to the cages which further indicate issues with particular animals. This way, animals that need to be left alone for a while are not accidentally taken out on a program and handled. In return, the Education staff uses another series of tags to indicate to Chris the specific location of each animal that’s currently out in the field. This way, she won’t think that a hedgehog hopped out and took a walk around the Zoo if she noticed that its cage was empty.

Tagged Cage

 

What types of animals does Chris take care of? She’s got snakes, parrots, turtles, frogs, hedgehogs, and even giant African millipedes. And where do they go? In the ZooMobile program, they go to schools, senior centers and private birthday parties at homes throughout the greater East Bay– as far away as Livermore, Newark and Sunol. But before they can take these animals off Zoo grounds or even handle them here on the premises, the Education staff needs to go through a 3-part training and certification process for each individual species, which Chris oversees.

 

Training Staff about Owls

Chris also trains other staff in animal handling, including docents, interns, apprentices, and Twigs (teen volunteers.) She also sends out weekly emails to the Education staff in the form of Animal Room Updates. And in her spare time, she does research on possible new animals for her collection. But despite her heavy workload and numerous responsibilities, Chris finds her job very rewarding. So the next time you enjoy one of the Oakland Zoo’s many animal programs, think of Chris, the person who

Saying Good Morning!

helped make it possible!

A Snack for a Parrot