Posts Tagged ‘River Otters’

Stepping through ZAM: Day 6, Children’s Zoo Module

by | December 8th, 2011

Franette Armstrong diaries her progress through Zoo Ambassador Training.

Today Sarah showed us her true stripes as the Zoo’s Education Specialist: We focused on how children learn and how to interpret the world of animals for them.

The real job of kids is to learn and the way they learn is to play. There are all kinds of types of play, though, and Sarah took us through everything from the solitary play of babies to the sophisticated world of cooperative play among seven year olds.

The real job of docents in the Children’s Zoo is to encourage kids to learn about animals through play. We can do this by helping them to explore with all their senses.

Learning is child's play.

 

Back out to the Zoo

Most of our day was spent in the Zoo learning from the keepers and experienced docents.

First, the goats introduced themselves while Keeper Chelsea introduced us to the contact yard and took us into the kitten room to meet the three fluffballs there.

It’s nice to know that everywhere in the Zoo animals have a chance to take themselves “off exhibit” when they want a break, but it is especially important in the contact yard. This makes them happy campers when they are out among the children and the kids find a lot of joy in their friendliness. I watched one little girl circle the yard while leaning her full weight against a Nubian Goat. The patient goat managed to stand upright and went along cheerfully with this bonding experience.

Chelsea Williams shows ZAMs how contact yards work.

 

 

Next, it was down to the animal commissary where Keeper Zach took us on a tour of  Food Central—the place where everything that is fed to our residents gets brought in, prepared and disseminated to the keepers. We saw an elephant popsicle in the works, volunteers sorting crates of donated fruit so only fresh, ripe peaches will make it into the food bowls, and freezers packed with everything from whole chickens to fig newtons.

Fig newtons make great Trojan Horses, Zach said, for the vitamin pills nearly all our animals would rather not take.

It is amazing how many stores, organizations and farms donate fresh food to our animals daily. On top of that we buy over $100,000 of hay a year plus everything else—cereals, special zoo diets, meat, nuts, yogurt and other treats including insects and live fish. Every species has its own special diet and there are pages of recipes our commissary staff prepares daily.

Only people-grade food is good enough for our animals.

Role Modeling Interpretation

When we got back to the classroom we were going to learn about the art and science of interpreting exhibits to children and adults, so as a warm-up we were divided into groups so experienced docents could model how they would engage kids with various animals in the Zoo. There are four parts to the formula and, depending the age of the child, sometimes the parent is the audience as much as the kids.

The first docent in my group was Carol Kerbel at the River Otter exhibit. She used a puppet to engage a little girl with her dad and show us the four steps we will learn to cover for every animal.

Step One: Tell an interesting fact about the animal. “Hi, I’m a River Otter,” she said while making the otter puppet talk. “I live on the land and under the water. My special paws help me swim. Can you hold your hand like this? That’s right. That’s how you swim under water. And I have whiskers so I can feel my food when I’m down there.” She let the little girl pet the puppet’s whiskers.

Step Two: Tell what threatens their survival. This girl was very young so Carol said, “The water is my home so I need it to be very clean so I can live in it.” Looking at the dad, she continued. “My cousins, the sea otters are having lots trouble because their home is the ocean and it is getting dirty.”

Docent Carol Kerbel uses a puppet to get her points across.

Step Three: Tell what we can do to help. “You can help me by keeping our rivers and streams clean.” Clearly, this was a message to the dad. “Wash your car in a car wash and don’t use chemicals in your yard because all the soapy water and pesticides go into the rivers and ocean and make my house dirty.”

Step Four: Tell what the Zoo is doing to help. “We pick up our trash because everything on the ground can blow into our creek and go out to the ocean.” The little girl was entranced and asked to hug the otter puppet.

We saw versions of this four-part message at every station. A young man was taught about the size of our bats (the docent used a rope to demonstrate wingspan). We learned more about our pigs, and ended up enjoying the antics of the lemurs, who were being fed.

Interpretation is an Art

Sarah is credentialed by the National Association for Interpretation as a guide and as a trainer of other guides. She had put together a concise summary of an amazing amount of information about interpretation for the last half-hour of class.

It all boils down to making information relevant to any particular audience. That is the best way to help them learn about and remember what they’ve seen. Here’s a sample of a message that might help adults appreciate bats:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Homework

Oh no. We knew this was coming, but I didn’t expect it so soon. In addition to the normal homework that will send us into all the Zoo’s websites to gather conservation messages, we have to write the outline of our final presentations.

Each of us is assigned an animal in the Children’s Zoo to discuss for 2-3 minutes. Mine is the Black Tree Monitor which I now will have to pay a visit. I can’t say that I am really excited about this particular animal (why-oh-why couldn’t I have a mammal?) but maybe after I do my research and spend time with it, I will be. Maybe.

Have a great weekend,

Stepping through ZAM: Day 5, Children’s Zoo Module

by | November 23rd, 2011
All Zookeepers are comedians. Well, that might not be true, but the three we have met so far have been a lot of fun to listen to. I guess you have to have a sense of humor if you are going to follow goats or bats around all day at the Oakland Zoo.
Zoo Org Chart
Tonight we heard about how animal management at our Zoo is organized. The animals are divided into Strings and a primary zookeeper is responsible for each String. The Strings usually, but not always, correspond to where the animals live in the Zoo.
This can result in some strange collections for a zookeeper to care for. For example, tortoises are in the same String as zebras. Hornbills are cared for by the same keeper as the chimps. Lemurs go with the rabbits. Who knew?
Each String has, at the very least, a primary and a relief keeper plus a floating keeper who roams from one String to the next as needed. The elephants make up a string all by themselves and it takes four full-time keepers to manage their daily pedicures and all their other needs.
Margaret Rousser, who supervises the nine keepers related to the Children’s Zoo introduced us tonight to our River Otters and Bats.
Margaret Rousser, Zoological Manager
Our Zoo is part of the AZA Population Management Plan (PMP) for River Otters. The  two otter pups born here last spring, were the result of the AZA deciding that our otters had the right genetic strains to breed.
When Tallulah and Ahanu are at least a year old they likely will move to another AZA-accredited zoo to carry on the PMP program there. This is the way species are preserved in Zoos. There are dozens of these programs in operation throughout our Zoo.
Our River Otter pups
Did you know that animals raised by their own parents become better parents to their own offspring? Our otter pups were taken care of so well by their mom that our staff couldn’t even hold them at 12 weeks: they were just as wild as if they had been born on a riverbed somewhere. They are trainable, so that they can be cared for by our staff, but will never be tame and that’s what we all want. AZA zoos freely give each other animals so that species can be preserved.
Flying Foxes (AKA Fruit Bats)
Our Fruit Bats represent only two of over 1000 species of bats in the the world. The Malayan Flying Foxes,  our largest, have a wingspan of up to 6 feet. The Island Flying Foxes are smaller and sometimes visitors think they are babies. They aren’t, and we won’t be having any because all our bats are male.
An Island Flying Fox
Bats have fruit, heat and teddy bears to make them happy here. The toys were the creative idea of their keepers concerned that the  males were having trouble controlling themselves during mating season and this was causing injuries. When they were given stuffed toys, they all “bonded” with the bears instead of each other. We give our bats a temperature-controlled house for them to go in and out of, a huge aviary, and a balanced diet that they have to be tricked to eat. They love fruit, so we toss it in a sauce made of veggies and powdered vitamins. Fruit Bats are ideal for zoos because they are active in the daytime. Insect Bats would be pretty boring to watch because they go hunting at night and sleep all day.
Life in the Contact Yard
The animals in our contact yard (sometimes called the petting zoo) were introduced to us by Liz Abram, their keeper. It’s the only place in the Zoo where people can touch the animals, so we future docents needed some tips to pass along to the kids. It’s all about safety: don’t pet a goat’s head because he will butt you, wash your hands after petting the animals or being in the yard, don’t pick up stuff off the ground, wear shoes.
Here are just a few fun facts from Liz’s presentation:
Goats are social, Sheep are shy. Sheep can’t raise their tails, but goats can, and goats have beards which our sheep don’t. Sheep that shed are used for meat. Sheep that are used for wool don’t shed and have to be shorn. We have the shedding kind and brush them regularly. The wool that is brushed off gets used in other animal’s enclosures for sensory enrichment.
Our Pygmy Goats aren’t pregnant, they are just built that way. They have a two-chambered stomach like cows and they’re stocky because they were bred for meat.
Nubian Goats have long ears for the same reason rabbits do: to regulate their body temp. Elephant ears function the same way. So do horns on animals, surprisingly.
Long ears help keep the Nubian Goat cool.
The ears and horns are loaded with blood vessels that, being so close to the surface, allow the blood to be cooled as the ears are flapped or the horns run through a breeze.
Guinea Forest Hogs are a rare domestic breed and there are only about 200 left in the world. We have two of them.
Our puppy and kittens are new to the Zoo and in training to be Pet Ambassadors to kids who might be fearful of dogs or cats or might not have the chance to have their own pets. Our instructor, Sarah, predicts that Lily Rae, our Golden Retriever pup, will soon become kids’ most popular animal in the Zoo.
Lily Mae, Puppy Ambassador
Saving the few Lemurs that are left
All Lemurs come from Madagascar and, because of habitat destruction and hunting, are highly endangered. They have already lost 90% of their home turf.
Our Ring-Tailed Lemurs are part of the AZA’s Species Survival Plan (SSP). SSPs actively keep endangered species going in captivity with as much genetic diversity as possible.
The little Blue-Eyed Black Lemurs are the only primates besides humans that have blue eyes.
Like Elephants and Meerkats, Lemurs live in matriarchal societies. The young males are kicked out of their family group when they are old enough to mate to prevent inbreeding.
This Ring-Tailed Lemur backs down a tree like it’s a fire pole.

To merge with another tribe, male Lemurs have to move in on another male’s turf and they do this by conducting Stink Wars—an amusing but peaceful way of establishing dominance. They have musty scent glands on their wrists that they rub against their tails and then they flash their tails at each other to see who has the strongest smell. The winner gets the females and a chance to breed. I’m guessing the loser is grossed out and takes a hike.

The island country of Madagascar has one of the most diverse animal populations on earth, yet species are disappearing every day. If you’d like to learn more about Lemurs and the other animals being pushed off the planet by population explosion and tree-cutting, start here.
You can help rainforest animals by using only paper and wood with the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification which assures it came from a sustainable forest. The Oakland Zoo uses FSC wood or wood substitutes whenever possible.
Tonight’s homework is to explore what pets are and aren’t—300 words minimum. Better get started. While I’m doing that, you can be thinking: What is a pet?
Talk to you Saturday,
Franette

Baby Otters!

by | May 11th, 2011

Otter pups at 1 day old

What’s more amazing than baby otters? Nothing! This year, our 4 year old female North American river otter gave birth to her first litter. First time moms often make keepers nervous since we never know how they will do, but Ginger has turned out to be a pro!
Ginger joined us here at the Oakland Zoo in 2008, when she was just one year old. North American River otters are not very prolific breeders, so AZA makes annual breeding recommendations. When Ginger came to us, she was still a bit too young to breed, but we knew that the AZA eventually wanted her to breed with our 12 year old male, Heath.
River otters are one of the few species that exhibit a phenomenon called delayed implantation. Essentially, otters breed in the spring but the fertilized egg doesn’t actually implant until fall! So how does one plan for such a unique pregnancy? As it turns out, hormone levels can be measured in otters’ feces! Our keepers collected samples from Ginger four times each week and mailed them off to Cincinnati to be tested. In December, we got the word that Ginger’s progesterone had spiked and that she was likely pregnant with a due date sometime between February 15th and 23rd.
Now the preparations really ramped up! The keepers had meetings with the vet staff to prepare for any and all possibilities. Cameras were set up in denning area. Supplies such as extra towels, an infant scale and thermometer, and data recording sheets were prepared and brought down to the night house. We also requested additional help from our Behavioral Observation Team, a group of dedicated volunteers who spent hours each week watching Ginger and observing her for any changes in her behavior. We also kept close tabs on Ginger’s weight and appetite at this time. The keepers had been training her to jump on a scale using positive reinforcement since she arrived, so they were able to monitor her weight several times each week and increase her food as necessary.
On February 15th, keepers arrived to find Ginger not only ravenous, but cranky as well! She wanted nothing to do with the two male otters with whom she shares her exhibit. A quick peek confirmed that she had given birth to TWO pups overnight (two to three is average for otters)! We quickly weighed them and put them back to cause as little disturbance as possible. The pups then had their first vet visit the following day where they were pronounced healthy!
The work doesn’t end there, however. Our otter observers now had to watch Ginger and the pups on a closed circuit monitor to ensure that Ginger was keeping them warm and that they were nursing. Otter pups are born blind and helpless, about the size of a stick of butter, so they depend on their mother for everything! Thankfully, Ginger is the best otter mom we could have hoped for and the pups quickly thrived under her care!

Twice each week, someone from the vet staff would come down to examine the pups. We monitored their temperatures, weight gain, hydration, respiration, and heart rates. Since Ginger had to be separated from the pups during the vet visits, we kept the checks down to no more than 10 minutes to minimize the stress on both the mother and the pups.
We are so happy to have healthy baby otter pups and we are so proud of Ginger. For more photos and video of our otter pups check out our otter webpage!

First veterinary exam, Day 1

 

Weighing pups, Day 30

First swimming lessons took place in a shallow water tub, Day 55

First time swimming in the "Big Pool" on exhibit with mom, Day 75