Posts Tagged ‘ZooKeeper’

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!

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!