Watch Out For The Spines!

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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 Conservation Research, learn about their jobs, and then blog about their experience online.  Follow their adventures here on the Zoo’s website!

This week, we met Colleen Wisinski, Senior Research Technician for the Applied Animal Ecology and Applied Plant Ecology Divisions. Ms. Wisinski allowed us to observe her field of expertise, literally in the field! As we learned more about the coastal sage scrub habitat, cactus and cactus wren conservation became the central topics of discussion and observation. Through these species of plants and birds, we learned the importance of habitat conservation and restoration. It was a unique experience to see fieldwork in action!


After listening to Ms. Wisinski’s presentation about cactus wren habitat, she showed us the Shade House. In the Shade House, as seen in the picture, cacti are grown in pots so that later they can be planted to expand habitat for the cactus wren. It has been observed that cacti grown in pots prior to planting, survive and flourish with greater success.


Here we see intern Charlene observing a planted cactus. The flags surrounding the cactus indicate various things, such as pad types and how much watering is needed. This way those working in the field can identify the needs of each cactus.


Cacti not only yield protected homes for species, but also they provide fruit! Various animals eat and utilize the cactus fruit, along with the cactus wren.


Although seeming treacherous at first glance, cacti actually provide a protected home for the cactus wren. The nest pictured was built by a cactus wren; they build them in the shape of a football. Unfortunately, due to urbanization, cactus wren habitat is quickly being destroyed.


If captured, researchers will place identification tags on the cactus wrens. This way individual cactus wrens in the population can be recorded, helping to track their population numbers and movements.


Here we see Ms. Wisinski and educator Sarah Barnard observing a coyote brush plant and other various invasive weed species surrounding it. These invasive species have become a nuisance to coastal sage scrub habitat, making them dry and more prone to wildfires.


At the end of our day, we got to look out over the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Interns Marcel, Cam, Charlene, and Victoria enjoy this special opportunity. What a view!


The San Diego Zoo Safari Park dedicates nearly 900 of its leased acres to native species. It constitutes the largest patch of coastal sage scrub in the county!

Abby, Photo Journalist Team
Week Two, Winter Session 2013