Critters for Conservation!

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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 job and then blog about their experience online. Follow their adventures here on the Zoo’s website!

tess_photo_week3From the large tigers to the delicate Fennec fox, every animal receives a huge amount of love and care from the staff at the San Diego Zoo. Many animals at the Zoo are endangered species which means they could go extinct in ten to fifteen years. That’s why Zoos are stepping in to help these animals both in managed care and in the wild. Nicki Boyd, Behavior Husbandry Manager, works every day to support conservation efforts at the San Diego Zoo. She helps keepers and veterinarians develop and refine their training programs, contributing to the health and well-being of many animals. She also works with Animal Ambassadors (animals who are trained to be comfortable in front of audiences) to educate the public about conservation. 

Can you imagine having to transport a large tiger through a crowded zoo just to take it to the hospital to get a routine blood sample? Luckily, with animal training, this doesn’t have to be the protocol to get a sample of blood. Ms. Boyd, instead, has trained animals (like cheetahs) to lay down for routine check-ups and blood draws. She uses a clicker and food as a reward, teaching the animal to calmly and willingly cooperate with the staff. With animal training, Ms. Boyd is able to help veterinarians weigh the animal, take its blood pressure, clean its teeth, or even give it medicine right in its bedroom. It’s much easier to perform many of the medical procedures in or near an animals’ exhibit instead of in the hospital. This saves time and money while also relieving stress for animals, keepers, and vets. If an animal can lead a long, healthy life in managed care, it contributes to conservation- zoos have more time to learn about the animal, develop breeding programs, and educate the public about conservation efforts.

Visitors to the San Diego Zoo can experience unique encounters with Animal Ambassadors. An animal might appear in front of a crowd while a staff member talks to the public about endangered species. In one show, a cheetah might make an appearance and a trainer will talk about threats facing cheetahs in South Africa (some cheetahs are in danger of being killed because local ranchers don’t want them eating their livestock). The San Diego Zoo has helped with conservation projects that donate dogs to ranchers to help scare off cheetahs. If the public can actually see an animal like a cheetah in front of them, they are more likely to want to help the conservation cause.

Another  Animal Ambassador at the Zoo is Akela, a Fennec fox. She also helps Ms. Boyd educate the public about conservation. Some Fennec foxes, as well as other wild animals, are hunted for their fur. The Zoo wants to encourage people to avoid buying products made with real animal fur. While Ms. Boyd talks about the fox, she might also talk about other endangered animals to encourage the public to support efforts to help those species in the wild, too. With every presentation, she offers action steps the public can take at home such as recycling or trying to reduce carbon footprints by decreasing household energy use. Ms. Boyd also explain that, while ambassadors like Akela are cute animals, they are not meant to be pets.

Ms. Boyd is among the many staff members at the San Diego Zoo who work every day to educate the public and help the Zoo’s animals lead healthier lives. Working with and studying animals at the Zoo will help researchers protect them in the wild. We, as people, also have the power to help animals who are close to extinction by supporting conservation efforts. Ms. Boyd reminded me that the work she does to encourage wildlife conservation is a possible career choice for me in the future.

Tess, Conservation Team
Week Three, Fall Session 2013