Australian Keeper Exchange

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A young bongo

G’day from Sydney, Australia! Normally I am the rhino, camel, and warty pig keeper at the San Diego Zoo. For the next six months I am the giraffe, bongo, zebra, tapir, and pygmy hippo keeper at the Taronga Zoo in Sydney. My blog posts were usually about weighing rhinos or what was going on in the meerkat mob a few years ago. This one is about my first six weeks here in Sydney.

I arrived at the end of October; it was all a bit overwhelming since I haven’t been a “new” keeper in almost seven years. Learning the routine at another zoo can be difficult the first week or so. I am on the ungulate team here, and the keepers have been great. We work more as a team, whereas we work more independently at the San Diego Zoo.

Taronga Zoo is set right on the north side of Sydney Harbor. Every morning when I walk in, I see the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge right over the giraffes’ heads; I would have to say the giraffes have one of the best views in Sydney! The collection of animals here is similar to San Diego’s, with a wide variety from all over the world. The most exciting thing for me as a keeper is the opportunity to see animals in a zoo that are rarely are exhibited in American zoos. I am scheduled to meet the platypus. For anyone who has seen these animals on TV, this is very exciting! They are only exhibited in Australia, and the chance to get to meet this monotreme (egg-laying mammal) will go down as one of the best parts of my exchange.

The wildlife around the zoo is also very interesting. Animals that we only have in zoos in America are flying and running around this zoo daily: rainbow lorikeets, sulfur-crested cockatoos, laughing kookaburras, and water dragons. The most exciting for me so far were the flying foxes I saw when I went to dinner last night. Flying foxes are the larger members of the bat family (Megachiroptera). I studied the smaller ones in Costa Rica in college, so I was thrilled to see these huge flying mammals in person here.

I have been put in charge of getting weights on the bongo antelope to see if the younger female is pregnant. She has been trained for weigh-ins, and we got her first weight on Wednesday. Here’s hoping her weight keeps increasing! I am lucky enough to be here for six months and look forward to updating everyone on more animals and experiences I encounter. Happy new year from Down Under!

Laura Weiner is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, The Dirt on Rhinos.