Posts Tagged ‘guinea hog’

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.

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.