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!
Ever wondered how reptiles are cared for at the San Diego Zoo and what is required to keep them happy and healthy? Educator and part-time Reptile Keeper Peter Gilson gave us an inside look at the behind-the-scenes details of the job that is responsible for maintaining this world-class reptile collection!
Mr. Gilson introduced us to the famous Galapagos tortoises. The ages of the tortoises are mostly approximated because the majority of their birthdates are unknown. The Zoo only has an estimated age on their youngest tortoise, Jaws, at 47 years old. Keepers believe their oldest tortoise, Speedy, to be at least 150 years old!
Most reptiles are kept in warm, humid environments and are only fed a few times a week to maintain a healthy weight and to accommodate their slow metabolisms. About three fourths of the reptiles in the Reptile House live in warm and humid environments, but the other quarter live in cooler environments.
As a safety precaution, a list of all Zookeepers, their locations, and what they are doing are listed on a board inside the Reptile House. There is an alarm in each corridor, hard-wired to call the Zoo security in the unfortunate event that a venomous animal bites a Zookeeper.
Cards listing animal information and the antivenin are posted on every venomous animal exhibit. At least two Zookeepers are required to be in the Reptile House if someone is working with a venomous species.
The incubator room has a very strict temperature regulation system, which is required for proper animal development. The room is kept cooler and less humid than the rest of the building, with the incubators set between 80 and 88 degrees. Mr. Gilson is showing us a group of baby Leaf-nosed snakes, just newly hatched.
The Shingleback skink is one of the most interesting reptiles we learned about! This lizard has some pretty amazing adaptations to keep it alive. Its head and tail look nearly identical and is a way to confuse predators. Another means of protection is its very hard armor-like scales. Unique to reptiles as a whole, they are monogamous. Not only do they only take one mate a season, they also return to that same mate every year.
Mr. Gilson demonstrated the process of handling a venomous snake. He was wearing a mask, using a bucket, and snake hooks to give us the full effect!
For safety purposes, he used the nonvenomous two-headed California king snake, named “Brett and Brandon.” I’ve always heard about these snakes, but never seen one in real life!
Regrouping on Reptile Mesa, we had a conservation conversation. Mr. Gilson’s advice was to get a wide of range of experiences so you can jump into an exciting career later in life!
Before leaving the Zoo, we had the surprise opportunity to watch Mr. Gilson feed the crocodiles fresh fish. Not only are the fish a healthy snack for the animals, but it’s also a great source of enrichment. The crocidiles have to catch the fish like they might do if they were hunting in the wild.
Haley, Photo Team
Week One, Fall Session 2013