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!
Dr. Lance Miller is a scientist with the Behavior Biology Division at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. We were eager to me him as he was our first speaker of the InternQuest session. We learned about what it means to be a behavior biologist and he took us to the Safari Park to talk about some of the projects he has worked on.
We began in the Conservation Education Lab at the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center for Conservation. Dr. Miller focuses his efforts on animal welfare at both the San Diego Zoo and the Safari Park. Animal welfare is the study of animal wellness through science where as animal rights is mainly concerned with how animals deserve to be treated based on their similarities to humans.
In front of the elephant exhibit, Dr. Miller explained that there are many reasons why the elephants at the Safari Park are so healthy. They have a well-managed diet, get plenty of exercise, and receive superb medical care.
Studies have shown that elephants that have everything they need for survival in their nearby surroundings will walk much less than those that need to go in search of their food, water, mates, etc. To compensate for the elephants walking less, keepers entice them using food rewards and also provide the animals with puzzle feeders that hang or roll in the exhibit.
In a matter of minutes it started to pour rain. We quickly jumped back into the golf cart where Dr. Miller concluded his talk on the elephants. Even the elephants hurried back under the rock structure in their exhibit to escape the downpour!
Lions are social animals and live in groups called “prides.” Generally the prides are composed of one male and a handful of females. The two main exceptions to this trend are if a male cub is born into a pride or if a group of young male lions are hunting together to survive.
Just like humans, animals need mental stimulation. At the Safari Park, different enrichment items are used to engage the animals. The lions have different preferences in terms of which enrichment items they are drawn to. For instance, the male lion loves cardboard and browse while the females love scents and gourds.
The Institute for Conservation Research conducted a massive research project on which scents tigers preferred, even developing their own “Tiger Scent” as a result of these efforts. Hundreds of perfumes were donated and by studying which high, middle, and low notes the tigers preferred, scientist were able to extract six scents and then mix those to create a very potent scent of their own that the tigers love.
Joseph, a fellow intern, smells the custom tiger scent created by the Institute of Conservation Research. He seemed to really enjoy it! Joseph even described it as smelling like a mix of cleaning chemicals, Pine Sol, and citrus.
Haley, Photo Team
Week One, Fall Session 2013