Posts Tagged ‘ZooKeeper’

Learning how to train animals…

by | March 10th, 2014
Me training a Scarlet Macaw to present its foot on the cage for a nail trim

Me training a Scarlet Macaw to present its foot on the cage for a nail trim

I recently had the privilege of attending a workshop on Contemporary Animal Training and Management hosted by

Me and my team leader training a Pied Crow to step on my hand

Me and my team leader training a Pied Crow to step on my hand

Me training a Blue-throated Macaw to land on my hand

Me training a Blue-throated Macaw to land on my hand

Natural Encounters, Inc. in Florida.  It was an amazing educational experience, and I honestly can’t stop thinking about it.

Me target training a Red-fronted Macaw

Me target training a Red-fronted Macaw

Just a beautiful photo of a Blue and Gold Macaw in-flight

Just a beautiful photo of a Blue and Gold Macaw in-flight

The 5 day workshop followed a format that balanced both theoretical presentations and practical hands-on training sessions. Experienced animal trainers and animal behavior scientists were on hand to share their expertise and answer our endless list of questions.  I got the opportunity to network with dozens of other zoo professionals, dog trainers, and companion parrot owners.  The challenge after any workshop, conference, or seminar that I participate in is applying my new or improved skills with the animals that I work with at the Oakland Zoo.  Fortunately, this challenge is the reason I love my job!

You may be wondering why we bother with animal training, who we train, or how we train.  Training has been described as the ultimate form of enrichment.  The application of enrichment seeks to stimulate our animals both physically and mentally while also empowering them to make their own choices and control their environments.  Perhaps that’s a bit of a “wordy” description of the concept.  Bottom line is the animal gets to exercise their brain and often their body by doing something…anything really.  At the Oakland Zoo, we do all kinds of training with all kinds of animals.  Leonard, our male African lion, is trained to place his paw on an x-ray plate and hold still for x-rays.  Tiki, one of our Reticulated giraffe, is trained to present her feet for hoof trimmings and acupuncture treatments. Torako, one of our tigers, is trained to position her tail through a hatch so that Zookeepers can safely draw blood from a vein in her tail.  The flock of Red-bellied Parrots in our Savannah Aviary exhibit are trained to perch on particular stations so that Zookeepers can examine them daily.

You may be noticing a theme.  Many of our training goals seek to empower the animal to willingly and eagerly participate in their own husbandry and medical care.  All of these animals have the choice to walk away in the middle of a training session if they want.  Ultimately, this allows the animal AND the Zookeeper to function in a low-stress, highly reinforcing tandem.  The animal is having fun, and the Zookeeper is having fun!

Thanks for reading!  I’ll leave you with some of my favorite pictures from the Contemporary Animal Training and Management workshop.

The Lions of Oakland Zoo…Sandy & Leonard

by | February 7th, 2014
Sandy and Leonard as cubs in 2000

Sandy and Leonard as cubs in 2000

 

If you’ve been to the Zoo, you’ve likely seen Sandy & Leonard, lounging around in their expansive exhibit, soaking up the sun or enjoying some animal enrichment their loving ZooKeepers so carefully laid out for them earlier that morning. Their presence is awe inspiring, to say the least. It’s hard to believe it has been almost one and a half decades since they arrived here as cubs at Oakland Zoo.  Many people don’t know the history of these two- siblings, actually- so we’d like to share their story with you.

They were the first rescued lions to be placed in a zoo by the Houston SPCA. It was July, 2000 in Crockett, Texas.  Police entered a suspect’s property on an unrelated warrant and found 14 exotic cats and a wolf. Houston SPCA seized all the animals and was given custody of them after the owner had been found to have cruelly treated the animals: depriving them of necessary food, care, and shelter. Two of the cats were 4-month old lion cubs; they were starving, dehydrated, flea ridden, and their coats were patchy and dry.  The Houston SPCA provided them with housing and veterinary care and a month later, they arrived to us, via Continental Airlines, here at Oakland Zoo.

Leonard in 2013 (Photo Courtesy of Colleen Renshaw)

Leonard in 2013 (Photo Courtesy of Colleen Renshaw)

Thus named “Sandy” and “Leonard” the two resided in our Veterinary Care Center while they gained weight and strength. At the time, the Zoo already had an established lion pride, so a separate outdoor holding area was constructed adjacent to the existing lion exhibit, called ‘Simba Pori’.

As the cubs grew, ZooKeepers began plans to introduce Sandy and Leonard to our four resident mature lions, Victor, Marika, Sophie and Maddie. In January 2001, Sandy and Leonard moved up to the lion night house. The introduction and integration of the lions had moderate success. The youngsters did well with our adult male, Victor, and one adult female, Marika, but the other two females did not appreciate their presence.  As with domestic cats, you never know how felines will get along! We took our cues from the lions’

Sandy and Leonard, 2013. Photo Courtesy of Colleen Renshaw

Sandy and Leonard, 2013. Photo Courtesy of Colleen Renshaw

behaviors and decided to manage the lions as separate groups. Over the years, in 2010, the older lions succumbed to age-related illnesses (2 from kidney disease and 2 from cancer). So, today, Sandy and Leonard have taken ownership of the lion exhibit, the night house, and the hearts of staff, ZooKeepers and guests alike.

While their beginnings in the exotic animal trade surely could have destined them to a life of cruelty, we were fortunate to have been able to provide them with a safe and forever home here at the zoo.

Holiday Gifts for the Animals

by | November 14th, 2013

zena-the-zookeeper

And our sun bears love Kongs. Sometimes, we even fill them with peanut butter, which is the sun bears’ favorite thing to eat.

And our sun bears love Kongs. Sometimes, we even fill them with peanut butter, which is the sun bears’ favorite thing to eat.

Hey Kids! Zena the Zookeeper here.  It’s holiday time at Oakland Zoo, and I have a question for you: Name something you love getting during the holidays. If you said, PRESENTS! then you and our animals here at the Zoo have something in common.  Our animals love presents too.  And I’m here to tell you, we just love giving presents to them.  The presents we give our animals are called enrichments.  Those are special toys and games that help our animals live like they are back in the wild.  (If you want to learn more about animal enrichments, check out my blog from September called Animal Enrichment is Important to Chimpanzees!)

So, what kinds of presents do our animals like to receive? All kinds! Our chimps love lots of different toys. For example, one of our female chimps just adores plush-toy snakes. She wears them around her neck like a scarf. The ferrets and chinchillas love hanging beds, and the zebras go nuts for Jolly-Ranger balls.  We zookeepers put treats in the balls and watch the zebras happily work to get them out! Check out the picture here of my fellow 20131002_143235zookeeper prepping the balls with molasses and alfalfa for the Zebras to enjoy.20131002_144428

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Luigi the ferret, can spend hours playing hide-and-seek in his alligator bed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And, just last week we asked people to send presents for some of our Zoo staff headed to Borneo to help out some rescued sun bears over there.   And boy, did everyone help out! We got so many new toys for them – we even have some pictures of the Bornean bears playing with their new presents from Oakland Zoo.

If you’d like to give a present to one of our Zoo animals this holiday season, be sure to check out the wishlist we zookeepers put up on amazon.com .  It lists all the great toys and enrichment we know our animals love to receive.

 

The goats in the Children’s Contact Yard love butting around big, inflatable balls.  I suspect they may be playing some kind of top-secret goat soccer!

The goats in the Children’s Contact Yard love butting around big, inflatable balls. I suspect they may be playing some kind of top-secret goat soccer!

There’s lots to choose from, so I’m sure you’ll find something that will make one of our animals feel wild and wonderful.(Don’t forget to check with an adult before you purchase anything.)

So, until next time, remember – we only have one planet, so let’s all be conservation heroes and take good care of everything on it!

Our Beautiful Macaws and Why They Need Enrichment

by | September 6th, 2013

IMG_4963Oakland Zoo’s Animal Care, Conservation, and Research team has the privilege and challenge of providing our animal residents with an enriching, well-balanced life and advocating for the conservation of their wild counterparts.

The zoo’s flock of Blue and Gold Macaws recently got a healthy dose of extra enrichment.  The ACCR team combed through a handful of creative ideas to give the Macaw Exhibit a new, fresh look.  In addition to replacing some of the wood perching that had suffered significant wear-and-tear from years of the Macaws using them to keep their beaks sharp and strong, the team also added two twenty foot sections of rope.  The rope is a novel perching surface in this exhibit.  It will not only give our Blue and Gold Macaws something new and fun to play with, but it will also help keep their little feet healthy.  With some resourceful alterations to the ends of the rope, the Keepers are able to move the ropes to different angles whenever they please.  This way the birds get a bit of a “different look” with their perching without the keepers having to make any permanent rearrangements.

IMG_4968

The fun doesn’t stop there though!  The team recycled some cargo netting and stretched it out between some perching to support brand new bird baths.  Just like the native songbirds that like to bathe in the little puddles in your yard, Macaws and other Parrots love to keep themselves clean too.

But one may wonder…why?  Why do our Blue and Gold Macaws deserve this special treatment?

Macaws are smart.  Macaws are REALLY smart and curious.  It is this very characteristic that makes them coveted as pets.  Ironically, it is also what makes them inappropriate as a pet.  Meeting the behavioral and enrichment needs of these incredibly smart birds is difficult. 2013_0831 P B on new perches 2 A behaviorally unhealthy bird may become aggressive, destructive, or even sick.

Add to this the fact that Blue and Gold Macaws can live for over 60 years, and the bird often becomes an unbearable burden even for well-intentioned owners.  In fact, the four Blue and Gold Macaws in the Zoo’s collection came from such circumstances.  The Keepers responsible for the daily care of our Macaws are tasked with keeping them behaviorally and medically sound.  Having flexible and varied perching options will help immensely with this goal.

Next time you visit the zoo, be sure to swing by our Macaw Exhibit.  Check out the innovative rope perching and bird baths and see if you can spot all the other enrichment that may be hanging around the exhibit.  But most importantly, make sure you walk away with a better appreciation for our conservation message – while Blue and Gold Macaws are a breathtaking, charismatic bird, the needs of the individual birds and the sustainability of the entire species are best accomplished by discouraging their role in the pet trade.

PBI Leadership Camp: Blog 1

by | October 4th, 2011

What’s It Means To Be a Leader

Victor Alm – Zoological Manager

PBI campers by the Hudson Bay

After the flight from the Bay Area to Winnipeg, I finally got a chance to sit down and meet my sixteen fellow campers/ambassadors along with the facilitators of the zookeeper climate change leadership camp hosted by Polar Bears International.  After a short while, I came to realize that the folks at PBI want nothing less than for us to change the world, change the way we live our lives, all to help make a difference in the fight to mitigate climate change and save the planet and biodiversity that we love.

Inspired artic ambassabdor Victor Alm

The camp itself is in investment in us to do this and they want to support us along with the American Association of Zookeepers (AAZK) to come up with and institute action plans in our communities to do just that.   These statements were very overwhelming and spawned a discussion on what it means to be a leader.   One statement on what a leader could look like resonated with me:  A leader is not always the person who is sitting in the front of the room or the loudest voice, but can just be someone who is willing to take the initiative and make those first steps no matter how loud their voice is.  I spent a lot of time that evening tossing and turning thinking about those words and connecting it to two other messages about leadership that the Oakland Zoo has invested  in me over the years and how they can work synonymously with the statement above.  These statements are to lead by example and to focus on the issue or behavior at hand, not the personality or attitude.   When combined they create a trio of principles that may not be the specific pathway a leader must walk, but can aid in finding those first steps down the pathway towards making a difference, towards changing who we are,  and how we can start change through our leadership in our communities.  Having leadership that can facilitate and push change is needed by PBI, by AAZK, by the polar bears, by flamingos, and by all those in the natural world who can potentially be affected by climate change during their daily lives.   When you look at it like that, why not expect yourself to change the world, and why not be enthusiastic doing it?

Polar Bear from Afar

Please check out our PBI camp blog at

http://www.polarbearsinternational.org/programs/pbi-leadership-camps/groups/keeper-leadership-camp-1

Coming soon: A post about my trip to the Churchill Polar Bear Alert Program.

Michelle Jeffries: Zoological Manager Extraordinaire

by | September 23rd, 2011

For the most part, when you think of the term “manager” the words funny, energetic, and caring are not necessarily the first which come to mind. More often it may be along the lines of hard-working, diligent, and organized. Luckily for the Oakland Zoo, our newest Zoological Manager, Michelle Jeffries, encompasses all of these attributes. As lead keeper Amy Phelps points out, “Michelle is an inspirational team leader and one of the most positive people I have ever had the pleasure of working with.  She brings an upbeat attitude to every situation and never misses an opportunity to positively reinforce her staff!”

Michelle leading one of the zoo's camels into the night quarters.

With a degree in Zoology and Marine Science, Michelle has spent around thirty years accumulating an extensive and impressive background in marine mammal research and behavioral studies.  Michelle has worked across the U.S. for such renowned institutions as the Long Marine Lab at U.C. Santa Cruz where under Ron Schusterman she says, “the best thing I learned was that you train to a certain point and then you stop and see what the animal is capable of.”

From UCSC Michelle moved to the Brookfield Zoo’s Seven Seas in Chicago, then the Mote Marine Lab in Florida and finally back to California where she spent eleven years at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. There, Michelle held positions as Senior Sea Otter Aquarist and then Associate Curator of Mammals. (For a fun and educational video of Michelle showing a “Day in the Life of a Scientist” at the otter exhibit visit: http://Pbskids.org/dragonflytv/scientists/scientist10.html). At Monterey Bay, Michelle was able to take part in an innovative program in which orphaned otter pups were brought to the aquarium to be raised by exhibit females. These pups were later re-released back into the wild where they were able to breed successfully.  This experience holds a special place in Michelle’s heart. “When I look back at my career, I’m proud of a lot of things I was able to do, but the thing I’m most proud being a part of was the reintroduction program at the aquarium.”

Her human coworkers aren't the only ones who appreciate her!

 

So just how does someone with such extensive marine mammal experience end up in the very terrestrial world of the Oakland Zoo? Ready for a change, Michelle applied, in her own words “at the last minute of the last day” for the Zoological Manager position – and it was lucky for us she did! Michelle was hired in January of 2011 and definitely had her work cut out for her. Michelle has had to take over a section of the zoo which features some of our most senior keepers, a broad range of species, and over 180 individual animals! In addition, Michelle has the office aspect of the job to contend with, overseeing a variety of programs and initiatives. Her hard work is greatly appreciated by her colleagues. As fellow Zoological Manager Victor Alm points out, “I like Michelle because she is easy to work with and will always offer assistance on projects or staffing if needed.”

It’s not only her helpful attitude that her colleagues appreciate. Curator Colleen Kinzley credits Michelle as being  “wonderful to work with because she is consistently positive and optimistic, no matter what the obstacle her response always starts out with something like ‘That’s ok we’ll just . . .’” This sentiment is backed up by the keepers she oversees. Lead keeper and Oakland Zoo titan Erica Calcagno notes, “Michelle is quick to compliment someone for a job well done, is attentive to her staff’s needs, and has a great sense of humor.”

As much as we all appreciate Michelle, she attributes much of the success and enjoyment of her new position to the keepers she oversees.  With seven keepers totaling a combined 60 plus years of experience between them, Michelle recognizes “I’ve got great keepers who really know their animals.

In Michelle can be found the respect and professionalism required to make a wonderful leader, and the caring and compassion to make an exceptional boss and an amazing animal caregiver. Michelle’s enthusiasm and overall wonderful personality have made her a fantastic attribute to the Oakland Zoo. With all of the amazing people who work in the Animal Management Department, Michelle has definitely been a welcome addition here.

It's not all office work!

 

So if you see our wonderful Manager Extraordinaire Michelle Jeffries around the zoo, please tell her to keep up the good work!