Posts Tagged ‘Zoo Intern Program’

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.

Stepping Through ZAM: Day Two, Children’s Zoo Module

by | October 26th, 2011

Franette Armstrong is journaling her trip through Zoo Ambassador Training.

 

It’s 8:30am Saturday morning. I’m a half-hour early and sitting here on a bench taking in the incredible quiet of our Oakland Zoo on this beautiful morning. There’s a “don’t bother me I’m eating” feeling in the air—a sense of animal energy—but all I hear are birds chirping. Zookeepers and volunteers are no-doubt busy behind the scenes, but I can’t see them, either.

Suddenly I realize that as a volunteer I’ll have many chances to feel this uniquely companionable quiet. Breathing space.

Today we are going to be divided into groups to tour the zoo all morning so I’ll get back to you after we do that.

Later…

How not to get lost in the Zoo

Our instructor, Sarah Cramer, started us with a “Wayfinding in the Zoo” chalk talk that began to made sense of what has seemed a maze to me on prior visits.

The Zoo is a circle: walk up and you find the elephants, walk down and you get to the Wayne and Gladys Valley Children’s Zoo and Education Center. There’s a central cross-path and the same rules apply. The Children’s Zoo is in its own circle. Sounds easy enough.

As docents we’ll be expected to give directions from anywhere to anywhere: to all the restrooms and amenities, strollers and entries, rides and parking lots, so it’ll be map-study time for me.

Where else can you hear directions like ‘go up past the gibbons and hang a right at the macaws’?

Appreciating how far we’ve come…

After nearly three hours of touring the exhibits we returned to the Education Center for our bag lunches and an Oakland Zoo history slideshow.

Did you know that every single exhibit and enclosure has been renovated or rebuilt since 1985, when Dr. Joel Parrott became executive director here? Dr. Parrott had been the Zoo’s vet with a unique understanding of what animals need to thrive and a vision for what the Zoo could become.

Now, all the animals live in size-appropriate areas that give them vertical as well as horizontal mobility on all the surfaces they love. Elephants get to swim, gibbons get to zoom through tree tops, meerkats live in a rock village while reptiles bake in sunny terrariums. Except for those in controlled environments, our animals get to move between indoor and outdoor quarters—so they can decide when they need a little privacy or extra warmth.

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a wonderful BBC video of an elephant and her calf swimming in the wild.

Another big change has been away from “free contact” to “protected contact” in our management of large or potentially aggressive animals. Our zookeepers now always keep a wall or fence between themselves and animals like the lions and chimps—for their own safety as well as the animals’. With this method no animal will ever have to be punished for harmful behavior.

And speaking of zookeepers, unlike the old days when some zoos promoted janitors into zookeeping roles, our Zoo today hires only the best and brightest of the highly-trained animal management experts out there. There are very few spots open nationally each year and only the most qualified get hired.

Zookeepers must have a 4-year degree in a related field and hands on experience. Our Zoo actually teaches intern and apprentice programs for would-be zookeepers.

An exciting future we’ll be part of
In addition to adding new animals and enclosures, the Zoo is working on plans for a 20-acre California Trails Exhibit to feature animals that have been extirpated from our state through habitat destruction and hunting. Visitors will step back to a time when wolves, grizzlies, elk and others roamed the East Bay hills. This exhibit will be reached by gondolas large enough to hold families and strollers.

The new Veterinary Medical Hospital, slated to open in 2012  will have an immediate impact on animal health. We’ll have a quarantine area big enough even for bison, something we lack right now. With new state-of-the-art equipment right here, we won’t have to transport animals out of the zoo for diagnosis anymore, saving time and reducing stress on a sick or injured animal.

Volunteers and Docents make a difference
Docents contribute well over 5500 hours per year interacting with zoo visitors and many more hours behind the scenes, we learned from Loretta McRae who’s president of the board of the 78-member Docent Council.

The 50,000 hours a year volunteers contribute to all aspects of the Zoo equates to over $600,000 annually in salaries that would have to be paid without their help.

In getting to know some of my fellow ZAMs today, I learned that we have among us a champion bread baker, two actors, a nurse, a biology teacher…our backgrounds are as different as our reasons for being in the class.

No homework tonight. Next stop, reptiles and amphibians.