Fine Feathered Friends

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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!

Last week the interns were able to meet Nicole LaGreco and Ann Knutson at the Aviation Propagation Center (APC) located at the San Diego Zoo. Ms. LaGreco is an Animal Care Manager and Ms. Knutson is a Senior Keeper. Both Ms. LaGreco and Ms. Knutson help with the hand rearing of birds for the Zoo and Safari Park. Their jobs involve everything from incubation of eggs, to making food, to feeding chicks, and keeping extensive records.

Before she came to work at the San Diego Zoo as a Keeper in the APC, Ms. LeGreco originally wanted to work with primates! After her first internship at the Philadelphia Zoo, she found that working with primates just wasn’t the right fit for her; however, she knew she still wanted to work with animals in some capacity. She worked at the Atlanta Zoo for 8 years before she moved to San Diego to work as a Keeper in the APC to gain more hands on experience with animals. Once Ms. LeGreco saw the passion her boss had for birds she began to share that same passion.

Ms. Knutson always knew she wanted to work with animals, with that in mind she got a General Biology degree from UCSD. Originally she wanted to go into field research and got an internship in Texas with the Institute for Wild Bird Populations. Through her internship she learned that she wanted to make more of a day to day impact and decided to become a zoo keeper. Ms. Knutson worked at the Austin Zoo, and then moved to the Sedgwick County Zoo as a Lead Penguin Keeper for 6 years before transferring to San Diego in 2012 to work in the APC.

What does working in the APC entail exactly? The APC receives eggs from the Zoo that do not have parents to properly care for them. The eggs are then sent into the incubation room where they are kept at the right temperature and humidity. Each egg is either hand rotated by the keepers, or by machines, to ensure proper development of membranes in the shell. On average eggs are supposed to lose about 15% of their weight due to evaporation. So, during incubation the keepers track the weight loss about twice a week, if the egg is not gradually losing weight it means the embryo is not developing correctly and changes must be made to the temperature and humidity of the incubator. Keepers also do something called candling in which they shine a bright light into an egg to monitor the chick’s development and determine if they are close to hatching. Once eggs are close to hatching they are moved from the incubation room to the hatching room.

After an egg has hatched, they are moved into the brooder room. It is here that keepers create and hand feed chicks. However, the keepers in the APC must be very careful when working with the chicks otherwise there is a chance imprinting could occur. To avoid that problem keepers wear big sheets over their heads or use sock puppets when interacting with the chicks. Another large part of working in the APC is record keeping. From the day they receive the egg to the day the bird is sent to an enclosure, records are kept on their weight and overall health as well as what they eat. These records are very important for creating protocol for a certain species, which can be used for the new eggs they receive.

The APC is a great place for gaining hands on experience with birds! If you have a passion for birds following a career path like Ms. LeGreco’s or Ms. Knutson’s might be for you. Hand rearing these birds from eggs to adulthood is a very rewarding and worthwhile profession for anyone who wants to make an impact on an animal’s daily life.

Camille, Careers Team
Week Six, Fall 2015