Posts Tagged ‘ZooKeeper’

21st Century Zoo Keeper

by | January 21st, 2011

Zoo keepers from all over the world studying training and enrichment at the Oakland Zoo.

Zoos sure have changed since the 19th and even 20th centuries. The most obvious changes have been in the housing of animals. Sterile concrete floors surrounded by metal bars have been replaced by natural substrates, rockwork, water features and climbing structures. What is not always as obvious is the difference in the zoo keepers! Unskilled laborers who merely raked, hosed and delivered food have been replaced with knowledgeable professionals who provide for the animals’ psychological needs in addition to their physical needs. 21st century Zoo keepers are compassionate, aware, and educated. How does this change take place? Where does an enthusiastic new zookeeper go to learn how to address an animal’s psychological needs? Where do experienced keepers go to hone their skills and learn the newest techniques? To the Oakland Zoo of course!
This is the second year in a row that the Oakland Zoo has hosted the Training and Enrichment Workshop for Zoo Animals (TEWZA) put together in conjunction with Active Environments and The Shape of Enrichment. Zoo keepers from all over the US and even as far away as Africa spent a week at the Oakland Zoo learning positive reinforcement training and effective enrichment strategies. In addition to classroom work and lectures, workshop participants were able to practice their hands on skills with some of the Zoo’s animals.
Training classroom work included lectures on operant conditioning terminology, socialization training, desensitization and acclimation, problem solving and shaping plans. Many of our own Oakland Zoo animals and keepers demonstrated training techniques for the workshop delegates. The participants were then broken up into smaller groups to write shaping plans for new behaviors before going out into the zoo to practice what they learned!

An anaconda explores novel substrate enrichment provided by the participants.

A gibbon enjoys a rope ladder provided by the particpants.

Another aspect of the workshop focused on enrichment. Lectures included the effect on animal welfare, setting goals, planning enrichment appropriate to the species, observation strategies, data collection, and safety. The participants separated out into small groups once again and planned enrichment for their designated species, including going through an approval process, building the devices and observing and evaluating the effectiveness of the devices. Several of the Zoo’s animals benefited from these enrichment projects!

Workshop participants observe an Aldabra tortoise participating in a voluntary blood draw using positive reinforcement.

Workshop Participants collect data on the effect their enrichment has on the animal's behavior.

More and more we are seeing zoo keeping as a holistic experience. By incorporating the psychological aspects of training and enrichment into our daily routines we are truly entering a time of renaissance for our profession. In the 21st century we are not merely keeping zoo animals, we are enriching their minds and their lives.

ZooKeeper Celebrates 30 Years at Zoo

by | December 22nd, 2009

Erica Calcagno, Animal Keeper III Photo credit: Nancy Filippi

“It’s a dangerous job, but somebody’s gotta do it.” This is a cliché Erica Calcagno would laugh at, because those words would never come out of her mouth. Calcagno works with lions, tigers, camels, bison, and California tule elk. It’s a job she truly loves. When asked if the work she does is dangerous, Calcagno replied, “Obviously lions and tigers are dangerous, but it’s the pressure and responsibility of taking care of the animals that can be stressful. They can’t tell you what they want or what they need. You have to anticipate it and figure it out.”

Erica began her career at the Oakland Zoo in 1977, and she’s had the opportunity to bond with many animals, watch them grow up, and sadly, she’s been there when they die. She prefers working outside with animals rather than indoors with humans. “It’s a job that just fits,” stated Calcagno. It’s a fit that’s lasted thirty years.

The relationship between an animal keeper and an animal is unique and inspirational to see first hand. Erica Calcagno actually gets greeted by the tigers with a noise similar to that of a cat purring. “But, it’s different than actual ‘purring,’ because tigers only make the chuffing sound to greet one another or someone they know,” said Calcagno. When you are in the same room as a lion, “you actually feel the vibrations of the roar in the air around you,” said Calcagno. The male camel expresses himself to Erica by expanding his throat to make a percussive sound. It’s a sound Calcagno really enjoys hearing.

The Oakland Zoo is very fortunate to have animal keepers like Erica Calcagno; she is a person who has spent decades providing quality care to animals. Thank you, Erica, for the hard work you put in each day and the dedication you show the animals at the Oakland Zoo. Happy 30th Anniversary!