Mammal Keepers: The Driving Force

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The Safari Park has the most successful breeding program for the massive white rhinoceros.

Zoo InternQuest is a seven-week career exploration program for San Diego County high school juniors and seniors. Students have the unique opportunity to meet professionals working for the San Diego Zoo, Safari Park, and Institute for the Conservation Research, learn about their jobs, and then blog about their experience online. Follow their adventures here!

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is an 1,800 acre sanctuary dedicated to the research and conservation of wildlife. It is part of San Diego Zoo Global, a conservation organization devoted to saving endangered species worldwide. The animals at the Safari Park represent several endangered species, and some have been pulled away from the brink of extinction.

The Park provides security, care, and breeding programs, along with a spread of knowledge that helps conserve the diversity of life there. Having a living collection of animals is instrumental in these efforts, and that is made possible through the effort and care of staff such as mammal keepers. Jennifer Minchino and Torrey Pillsbury are two of these awe-inspiring keepers. They work alongside other staff members to nurture the living animals and create many conservation opportunities for the many animals at the Park.

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is a safe refuge for more than 400 species of animals. Here there is no threat of poaching, habitat destruction, or other detrimental factors. The Park staff’s care and knowledge allows them to live longer, procreate often, and provide new facts and statistics. For example, the Safari Park has a great track record for births. Mrs. Minchino works with the endangered Uganda giraffes, and they have had a total of 115 births at the Park. With the efforts of Ms. Pillsbury and others, the Arabian oryx, once extinct in the wild during the 1960’s, have made a comeback by having a total of 342 calves at the Park. The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is also proud to have the most sucessful captive breeding program for white rhinoceros. Every one of the babies of each species are recorded and cared for by these mammal keepers.

The babies are not the only things recorded. The keepers maintain their own “black book” full of detailed information regarding the behavior and care of the different species at the Park. These records are used as reference for the future, as well as a way to spread success to other zoos. The keepers at the Safari Park have first hand experience with animals that may be difficult for other places to raise, and vice versa. With the aid of keepers like Mrs. Minchino and Ms. Pillsbury, zoos can collaborate to learn how to raise, care for, and breed their own set of endangered animals.

Mammal keepers like Mrs. Minchino and Ms. Pillsbury not only support the animal populations in managed care, but through release programs, help the wild populations as well. The San Diego Zoo Safari Park and its staff work tirelessly to create the best environments and futures for their animals. If possible, the Park will attempt to return animals to their natural habitats. The sad side of this story is that for a lot of animals, there is no true natural habitat left. Many of these animals have been driven into endangerment and near extinction by poaching and habitat loss. Most animals returned to the wild are placed in protected preserves to avoid a repeat of their distress. In some instances, guards are even necessary to ensure the safety of the animals. While it is always the goal to have a sustainable wild population of each endangered species, the safety of the Safari Park is a much better reality for many species. Until more preserves and other safe havens are created, many of the animals will continue to live their happy lives in the care of the Safari Park.

Mrs. Minchino and Ms. Pillsbury are two members of the large team that work for the conservation of animals. While the work these ladies do has an emphasis in exotic animals, conservation itself is not limited to distant places. The San Diego Zoo Safari Park strives for the best for their animals and all species globally. They have conservation efforts spread across the world. Visit the San Diego Zoo Global website to see how you can help.

Denae, Conservation Team
Fall 2012, week six