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Caring for Newborns at the NACU

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!

From birth, animals need an extensive amount of care. But what happens when a newborn animal is left without its mother or is injured? This is where the keepers working in the Neonatal Assisted Care Unit (NACU) step in. Kim Weibel, Senior NACU keeper, becomes the animal’s acting mother. She feeds the newborn around the clock if necessary, take its temperature, burps the baby, and cleans up after them. It is no surprise that when the animals grow up they often remember their “mothers” from the NACU.

When a newborn animal arrives at the NACU the right nipple must be determined for the animal’s bottle. It is important that the hole on the nipple is the appropriate size, otherwise the newborn may aspirate. Holes are made by heating wires of various sizes and poking it through the nipple.

When a newborn animal arrives at the NACU the right nipple must be determined for the animal’s bottle. It is important that the hole on the nipple is the appropriate size, otherwise the newborn may aspirate. Holes are made by heating wires of various sizes and poking it through the nipple.

When keepers are feeding more than one animal at the same time, they use markers to mark each animal in the litter. This process is called litter marking, an important step to avoid over feeding by being very clear about which individual has been fed. The markers are non-toxic posing no harm to the newborns if the residue is ingested.

When keepers are feeding more than one animal at the same time, they use markers to mark each animal in the litter. This process is called litter marking, an important step to avoid over feeding by being very clear about which individual has been fed. The markers are non-toxic posing no harm to the newborns if the residue is ingested.

Almost every newborn, regardless of its species, requires warmth to survive. This incubator does just that: keep the newborn warm and cozy. This mimics the warmth the mother would have provided for its baby.

Almost every newborn, regardless of its species, requires warmth to survive. This incubator does just that: keep the newborn warm and cozy. This mimics the warmth the mother would have provided for its baby.

Ms. Weibel explains the process of making formula that is fed to the newborns at in the NACU. The formula is made according to the gastric capacity of the animal, which is the amount of food the neonate can ingest. This is obtained by taking the animal’s weight in kilos and multiplying it by fifty. Through this, you can also figure out your own gastric capacity!

Ms. Weibel explains the process of making formula that is fed to the newborns at in the NACU. The formula is made according to the gastric capacity of the animal, which is the amount of food the neonate can ingest. This is obtained by taking the animal’s weight in kilos and multiplying it by fifty. Through this, you can also figure out your own gastric capacity!

Making formula is much like mixing cake batter. Here interns Victoria and Cam whisk and strain the formula to obtain a smooth consistency. This is crucial because if the formula remains clumpy, it could cause the baby mammal to aspirate.

Making formula is much like mixing cake batter. Here interns Victoria and Cam whisk and strain the formula to obtain a smooth consistency. This is crucial because if the formula remains clumpy, it could cause the baby mammal to aspirate.

Formula must be bottled and dated with its expiration date and time. Once the formula has expired, it must be immediately discarded. If two types of formulas were mixed together in one bottle, the formula with the earlier expiration date determines length of time the formula can remain in the refrigerator.

Formula must be bottled and dated with its expiration date and time. Once the formula has expired, it must be immediately discarded. If two types of formulas were mixed together in one bottle, the formula with the earlier expiration date determines length of time the formula can remain in the refrigerator.

Ms. Weibel shows us the different types of formula used for Zoo animals. Combining the formulas Esbilac and Enfamil is ideal for nursing primates, bears, and gazelles. If an animal is not fed the right formula it could develop stomach or intestinal problems.

Ms. Weibel shows us the different types of formula used for Zoo animals. Combining the formulas Esbilac and Enfamil is ideal for nursing primates, bears, and gazelles. If an animal is not fed the right formula it could develop stomach or intestinal problems.

Tinka, the Parma wallaby was found as a tiny joey on the floor of her exhibit. Miraculously, NACU keepers were able to restore her back to health. This means that the keepers worked around the clock to save her.

Tinka, the Parma wallaby was found as a tiny joey on the floor of her exhibit. Miraculously, NACU keepers were able to restore her back to health. This means that the keepers worked around the clock to save her.

Intern Victoria holds a pouch that is designed to mimic the pouch of a marsupial. The fabric is extremely soft and keeps the baby warm.  The pouch is also seamless to prevent the newborn from ingesting any loose fabric.

Intern Victoria holds a pouch that is designed to mimic the pouch of a marsupial. The fabric is extremely soft and keeps the baby warm. The pouch is also seamless to prevent the newborn from ingesting any loose fabric.

Isa, the fossa, demonstrates his affection towards Ms. Weibel who helped to raise him in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Only found in Madagascar, fossas have lost 94% of their original habitat. Consumers– be aware of where your products come from to make sure you don’t contribute to these animals’ habitat loses!

Isa, the fossa, demonstrates his affection towards Ms. Weibel who helped to raise him in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Only found in Madagascar, fossas have lost 94% of their original habitat. Consumers– be aware of where your products come from to make sure you don’t contribute to the loss of their habitat!

Charlene, Photo Team
Week six, Winter Session 2013

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Building Bird Populations

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!

charlene_W5_picSome say the smallest changes make all the difference. This rings true in the eyes of Ann Kuntson, a bird keeper at the Avian Propagation Center located at the San Diego Zoo. Although Ms. Kuntson’s job mainly entails working “behind-the-scenes,” she is also connected to the public. She explained that being able to help a chick emerge from its shell, grow up and eventually join the other birds in the Zoo is the most rewarding part of her job. Once birds go on exhibit, guests have the opportunity to see and observe them. Hopefully, this helps foster an appreciation for these birds that will manifest itself into a passion for conserving all species for future generations.

While interviewing Ms. Kuntson, she led my fellow interns and me into the incubation room. This is where eggs, usually pulled from a nest on exhibit, are kept until it is time for them to finally hatch. For instance, the Micronesian Kingfisher is an endangered species, making them especially important to assist during the breeding and hatching process. Bird Keepers like Ms. Kuntson will usually pull an egg from the nest if the mother bird lays more than one. This allows for the mother bird to take better care of one chick while the other is being raised by hand. This procedure of pulling eggs will lead to better survival rates for hatchlings, helping to further the ultimate goal of the APC keepers: to ensure the survival of managed care populations of specific bird species. For some species this might mean eventual release back into the wild. The chicks hatched at the Zoo not only help protect bird species like the Micronesian Kingfisher from extinction, they also increases the number of birds in managed care. The increasing population of birds in the zoos could help to educate visitors all around the world by providing an opportunity for them to marvel at the birds in a way that would otherwise have been impossible.

In addition to preserving a population, the APC’s techniques for healthy chick development also play an important role in collaboration with other zoos and conservation centers. Every chick that hatches and survives is documented. The information is then made available so the Zoo can share with other organizations around the world. By having a “network of communication” with others working in the field of avian propagation, the Zoo assists in the advancement of new and better techniques for the hatching and incubation of bird eggs. This leads to the continued growth of bird populations throughout other conservation centers.

Although caring for birds can be quite difficult, many people do not seem to be aware of this. For some people, birds might not make the best pets. While they are charming, many birds, especially parrots, can be loud. Along with the potential noise, people also do not realize how long birds live. Some macaws, a type of parrot, can live to be eighty years old. It is important for people to do a lot of research before getting birds as a pet. This why educating the public is such an important aspect of a bird keepers’ job; it not only motivates people to get out there and help, it also instills a type of appreciation and respect for all bird species.

So what can you do to help the cause? There are a number of ways the average person could help. First of all, keep your cats indoors. Domestic cats are often left to wander in and outside people’s homes. This has led to a decrease in native bird populations. You can also choose to keep trees, bushes, and native flowering plants in your backyard to provide birds with places to roost. Keeping bird baths and bird feeders clean will also help prevent the spread of disease among birds.

Bird species are often overlooked as being a species important to conserve. Birds serve an important part of many ecosystems, and without them animal communities could crumble. Allowing people to see birds in their habitat plants a seed of appreciation within them. Bird keepers, like Ms. Kuntson, play an important part in conserving bird species and are one of the reasons why birds are able to capture the hearts of people who get to see them.

Charlene, Conservation Team
Week five, Winter 2013

 

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It’s Not Just a Vet’s World

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

charlene_W4_picMany people who are interested in working with animals automatically think that becoming a veterinarian is the only possible career to pursue in order to fulfill their dreams. However this assumption can often be proved wrong. Senior Hospital Keeper, Kristin Clapham, who works at the Jennings Center for Zoological Medicine located within in the San Diego Zoo, demonstrated the many possibilities of being able to work in close proximity with exotic animals.  

As a Senior Hospital Keeper, Ms. Clapham explained to us the many responsibilities her job entails, from cleaning pens to “babysitting” the patients residing in the Zoo’s hospital. Hospital keepers are also responsible for feeding the animals based on a specific diet, weighing the animals for check-ups, observing animal behavior for signs of healing or discomfort, and coordinating with veterinarians and ground keepers. It may sound like a lot of work, but for an animal lover this would be a dream come true. “It’s never the same day twice,” stated Ms. Clapham. Not only do the Hospital Keepers get to care of exotic animals, Ms. Clapham explained, but they also get to work with animals that are often unknown to most people. Another skill vital to being a Hospital Keeper is communication. Ms. Clapham emphasized her relationship with animal ground keepers, who work in close relation with the animals at their exhibits. This relationship can provide information and help veternarians decide as to which animals need further treatment or are fully recovered.

Many people may look at a Hospital Keeper and imagine they deal with animals in pain on a daily basis. The truth of the matter is that only about five percent of the animals that actually come into the hospital are in critical condition. Nevertheless, those who are squeamish and faint of heart, be warned; being a hospital keeper is not the most glamorous job. “What goes in must come out.” Naturally, animals, especially large ones, eat a lot. This requires keepers to clean up after their patients, and although most animals are not extremely sick, the reality is that some do pass away. Fortunately this is not usually the case. When asked what the most rewarding part of her job was, Ms. Clapham responded by saying “seeing an animal leave the hospital.” There are many success stories that you get to be a part of as a hospital keeper. Knowing that you were a factor in helping an animal recover, Ms. Clapham stated, is the best part of the job.

How do you get to become a hospital keeper in the first place? If you are truly interested in pursuing this profession, get involved. As a teenager Ms. Clapham also interned at the San Diego Zoo and volunteered at the Feral Cat Coalition. She attended Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo and studied animal science. While in college, she continued her volunteer work, preparing food at primate facilities. Through this she got more exposed to animals and it broadened her views on the different professions that would involve being with animals. In the end it all comes down to taking advantage of every opportunity available when exploring your interests.

Commitment and consistency are the two characteristics needed in obtaining your dream profession. “Never so no,” to an opportunity and “trust yourself and go for it” are the words of wisdom Ms. Clapham offers. If you have a passion explore it, and in the end you may be rewarded with being able to do what you love every day.

Charlene, Careers Team
Week Four, Winter Session 2013

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Saving Species from Extinction

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!

Inside the Beckman Center for Conservation Research, you’ll find the Genetics Division, where staff members work to apply scientific technology for the conservation of animals and for the greater understanding of biology and evolution of species. Within the Genetic Division, cells, DNA, tissues, and blood are banked in the Frozen Zoo® for preservation, in the hopes of one day utilizing the specimens to contribute to genetic variation within a species’ population or even for comparison of different DNA samples to determine possible inherited abnormalities through karyotyping. We had the privilege of getting an inside look at how some of these processes are applied to conservation research.

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Steven Thomas, Senior Research Technician, who works in the Molecular Genetics part of the division, explains the process of PCR (polymerase chain reaction) in which DNA is amplified for the purpose of gene mapping and species identification. This can be useful when applied to conservation because by mapping the genes of a species, scientists can better pinpoint the evolution of a species and its branching patterns.

Mr. Thomas describes how the genetic analyzer helps to finalize products of PCR. The DNA fragments obtained from PCR are run through the genetic analyzer and are dyed with fluorescent colors, a process similar to gel electrophoresis, to determine the hereditary material of an animal or the gender. This is useful when Mr. Thomas assists in determining the best mating pair for California condors to produce the most viable offspring.

Mr. Thomas describes how the genetic analyzer helps to finalize products of PCR. The DNA fragments obtained from PCR are run through the genetic analyzer and are dyed with fluorescent colors, a process similar to gel electrophoresis, to determine the hereditary material of an animal or the gender. This is useful when Mr. Thomas assists in determining the best mating pair for California condors to produce the most viable offspring.

Cameron, a fellow intern, is given the opportunity to determine the “sire” and “dam” of a California condor offspring. He uses the information acquired from PCR and the genetic analyzer that was organized through the computer. By observing the similarities of the genes of the offspring and the potential parents, parentage can be assigned.

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In the Cytogenetics Lab, Marcel, another fellow intern, is observing a tissue culture under the microscope. Tissue samples obtained for research and preservation are collected opportunistically and are grown in a culture in preparation to be banked in the Frozen Zoo®.

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The cells depicted above were obtained from epithelial tissue. The staff working in the Cytogenetics Lab explained that it was difficult to remove the cells grown in the flask because of their adhesive tendency to stick onto the walls. This poses a problem for preservation because the cells cannot be transferred and thus the staffs preferably do not grow epithelial tissues.

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Marlys Houck, a researcher in the genetics division who manages the Cytogenetics Lab, shows us a karyotype of a baby gorilla. It was determined that the gorilla was missing portions of chromosome three. In this instance, the Frozen Zoo® proved to be vital; researchers were able to use the specimens in the Frozen Zoo® to determine whether or not the chromosomal abnormality was inherited.

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Dr. Oliver Ryder, the Director of the genetics department, explained the possibility of saving endangered species and even potentially bringing back extinct species. By utilizing fossils and other genetic materials of species, scientists can sequence all of an organism’s DNA. Through this process of DNA sequencing, the species’ genetic information is better understood.

Charlene, Photo Team
Week Three, Winter Session 2013

 

 

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Cactus Wrens Need Cacti

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!

charlene_W2_picThroughout history, advancements in technology and acquisition of knowledge have led to the expansion of human territory. People, whether they realize it or not, are invading the homes of not only animals but plants as well. There is only so much that these species can take until they themselves begin to decline in numbers along with their acreage of habitat. Colleen Wisinski, Senior Research Technician for the Applied Animal Ecology and Applied Plant Ecology Divisions at the San Diego Institute for Conservation Research, taught us about the devastating effects of human intrusion on local plants and animals.

Ms. Wisinski explained to us the rarity of certain ecosystems, specifically the coastal sage scrub ecosystem. Unfortunately due to the flat and coastal characteristics of this Mediterranean ecosystem, it makes it ideal for urbanization. It does not stop there however, coupled with urbanization is the introduction of non-native species to the environment, which leads to increased competition and interference between the invasive and indigenous species. The Coastal cactus wren (campylorhynchus brunneicapillus) for instance, is the subspecies of the cactus wrens found right here in San Diego. It has become a species of special concern due to habitat loss and urbanization. Recovering the cactus wren population has proven to be difficult, as Ms. Wisinski explained. Cactus wrens rely heavily on cacti for shelter as well as food. Making the restoration of cacti especially urgent.

However, it has been difficult to restore the number of cacti for the Coastal cactus wren. The wrens prefer to build their nests in cactus stands that are at least three feet tall, which takes approximately five years to grow. Devastating wildfires impacted much of this critically endangered habitat back in 2007 and many cactus wrens lost their homes. Unlike other bird species, cactus wrens are dispersal- limited, meaning that they do not move very far from their current habitat, making it harder to recover their population. In an effort to restore the wrens’ habitat, Ms. Wisinski, along with other conservationists, has experimented with the planting of cactus pads, planting them upright, flat, and horizontally at the biodiversity preserve located adjacent to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. They also experimented with amount of water the cacti received. The most effective strategy that they discovered in growing the cacti seemed to be caging them. It protected the cacti from animals that nibble and nip at them, allowing the cacti to grow at a faster rate.

As an Ecologist, Ms. Wisinski has also had the responsibility of monitoring the number of Cactus coastal wrens in the area. She has surveyed the population of cactus wrens on the biodiversity preserve, placed bands on the nestlings to keep track of them, and set up camera traps in order to observe breeding behaviors. The efforts of restoring the wrens are laborious. The ecological research that is required to provide answers to the problems facing the wrens can take years.

We, as humans, must be considerate of other organisms that inhabit the planet. Our homes take homes, our intrusion destroys, and our existence imposes. Learning to live with other animals as well as learning to take care of the environment alone will have a great impact on how species survive. Awareness is key. If people are more knowledgeable about endangered species and environmental threats, then that initiates the driving force for action. Simply by getting involved in restoring a species’ habitat, for instance, could make all the difference.

Charlene, Conservation Team
Week Two, Winter Session 2013

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Condors Back in Flight

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!

charlene_W1_picAdjacent to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park is the Arnold and Mabel  Beckman Center for Conservation Research, which contains six laboratories, forty- eight offices, and the Zoo’s library. Of the six laboratories, one of them, the Conservation Education Lab, is dedicated to giving students and teachers a hands-on experience in conservation science. Maggie Reinbold, founding member of the Conservation Education Division, taught us the importance of conserving not only the environment, but the species that inhabit it as well, specifically the California Condors.

California condors were on the brink of extinction with only about two dozen left in the world at one point. The condors were listed as an endangered species beginning in 1967, but despite their status their numbers continued to fall. With less than 25 condors remaining on the planet, conservation reasearchers working at the San Diego Zoo made the bold move to capture all of the condors form the wild and start an intensive captive breeding program in the hopes of recovering their population. With all of the hard work put into restoring the California Condors their population has steadily increased to over four hundred as of now. But what were the factors that had caused the condors depleted numbers?

Mrs. Reinbold explained to us, that like many other species on the planet, habitat destruction and poaching are some of the factors that had contributed to their depletion. Aside from those factors however lead poisoning seemed to be the number one cause for the condors’ decline. It was discovered that  lead bullets hunters use to kill various animals, would later be ingested by the condors because they are scavengers. Laws have been implemented in California illegalizing the use of lead bullets in areas where condors are present to prevent this from happening. Another factor that contributed to the decline of condors was power line collisions. Due to the condors’ enormous size (more than a nine-foot wingspan) they would easily crash into power lines and would plummet to their deaths or even be electrocuted. To prevent this as a future problem, Mrs. Reinbold described the use of aversion therapy in which scale power lines were set up in the condors’ pre-release pens. Each time a condor would land on the mini power line, a small jolt would ring through the condor’s body, training it so that they will no longer approach power lines. This method of aversion therapy has been very successful.

Mrs. Reinbold, founding member of the Conservation Education Division, taught us in a very short period of time about the importance of conserving species. Without these species, ecosystems could be disrupted and future generations will not have the privilage of marveling at the beauty of the creatures found on earth. It is crucial that we as individuals think twice about our actions and how it can affect the environment in which humans and animals live in. Conservation researchers have successfully prevented one species from extinction, and hopefully by spreading the word, efforts of conserving species will not be wasted.

Most of the time people overlook the species that live within their own area. People usually look to foreign countries and sympathize with the most well- known endangered species such as pandas, tigers, and whales. While expressing their concern with these animals are helpful, we must also realize that the species that live in your local area are just as important. Although the California condors have experienced some growth in their population they still need help. By spreading knowledge about this animal specie and by simply throwing away trash in the designated areas, people can directly help all organism, especially those who live close by.

Charlene, Real World Team
Week One, Winter 2013

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The One Unlike the Others

 

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!

Internship Profile pictureI was the middle child of my family. I grew up with two sisters who looked very similar to me and, thus, most people expected us to be somewhat alike. However, I had developed an interest in wildlife which separated me from them, and with that a passion grew.

I remember going outside in my backyard as a young child looking at the trees and under rocks for various insects and small animals. My dad saw this, and he knew I had inherited his passion for animals and the environment as well. I watched programs that aired on the Discovery Channel and Animal Planet. My sisters would tell me that I was boring and too “old” for my age, but because of my interest in wildlife I found my individuality. This would guide me towards an appreciation for the environment and my community.

I wanted to find an outlet for my interest in nature but I did not know where to begin. Upon learning about the San Diego Zoo InternQuest program, I eagerly jumped at the opportunity. I hope that my interest in animals and the environment will one day manifest itself into a full-blown career, whether it be in veterinary sciences or conservation.

With my last year of high school at hand, making the most of it is my goal. I have already learned so much through the extracurricular activities and sports that I am involved in, such as track and cross country.  These sports have become a very important part of my life. Not only do they teach me to stay in shape, but also amplify my appreciation for the environment. I have the privilege of running with other athletes and friends on different trails through San Diego’s wilderness. I have learned secret routes and places that I can call mine. These trails have become my haven where I can spend time thinking about possible career paths I might take. The more I experience nature, the more I am inspired  to pursue a profession working with nature and animals. I look forward to interning at the San Diego Zoo for the next seven weeks and learning about the different professions that work with wildlife.

Charlene
Winter Session 2013