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About Author: Carly Jo

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A Story of Survival

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 jobs, and then blog about their experience online. Follow their adventures here!

wallabyIn 2011, keepers and vets at the San Diego Zoo were watching a female Parma wallaby. (Parma wallabies, once thought to be extinct, are an endangered species.) Keepers knew this particular female was deteriorating from esophageal disease, but also had a baby in her pouch. On July 5th, as a keeper was raking the exhibit, she spotted a tiny little critter on the ground—the baby wallaby! The joey was rinsed off and rushed to the Zoo nursery, or Neonatal Assisted Care Unit at the San Diego Zoo.

Tinka, as keepers named this marsupial, was cold, hairless, and embryonic. Her weight was just under two ounces. Keepers guessed that the mother was unable to provide sufficient nutrients (due to her illness) and might have ejected the baby from her pouch.

As a first step of action, the NACU keepers, including Senior Keeper Kim Weibel, kept Tinka in a soft cloth, an environment much like her mother’s pouch. This would not only comfort the joey, but also provide a place for development (as months of crucial growth for marsupials occurs within their mother’s pouch). They created the surrogate pouch out of fleece and flannel, suspending it within an incubator to keep it warm and humid.
Ms. Weibel and her team ordered three special types of Biolac formula from Australia used to hand-rear young marsupials. They began feeding Tinka the protein-rich Biolac 100 every two hours to stimulate development and muscle growth. Soon Tinka started showing signs of improvement; one ear began to stand erect, and peach fuzz began to grow around her face.

Tinka’s diet soon began to change. The keepers gradually introduced Biolac 150 and 200, which were loaded with carbohydrates to stimulate even more growth. She began to gain considerable leg and tail muscle. Keepers at the NACU compared her weight with that of another zoo’s hand-reared wallaby. She was nearly up to normal weight standards for her age! As she began to eat solid foods, Tinka grew out of her once-spacious pouch and had to be fitted with a larger one. To Ms. Weibel and the nursery staff, these significant changes demonstrated her readiness to graduate from the NACU.

Leaving the nursery was a step-by-step process. Keepers gave Tinka time out of the pouch in a playpen in the nursery and sun time in a vacant yard by the wallaby exhibit. This was part of the socialization process to rejoin the family of wallabies. An off-exhibit space was cleared for Tinka behind the enclosure. Soon she began to spend time away from the nursery keepers during the day- with an adult female wallaby! She would always return to the NACU overnight.

On December 26th, Tinka spent her first night in this space alone. When NACU keepers checked on her in the morning, she was perfectly happy, comfortable, and stress-free. As she continued to bond with the single adult female, she eased her way into meeting the rest of the Parma wallabies at the Zoo. She officially graduated from the nursery on February 19th, 2012 and moved in full-time with the rest of the group. According to Ms. Weibel, returning an animal to its home and family group is the most rewarding part of her job.

Tinka’s survival was a success for the Zoo and for Parma wallabies as a species. Parma wallabies are endangered throughout Australia and New Guinea. They were actually thought to be extinct before a population was found on an island near Auckland, New Zealand in 1965. This discovery started a captive breeding program for the species in Australia, hoping to repopulate and reintroduce the species back into the wild. Luckily, although the Parma wallaby remains rare, the population is thought to be slowly increasing, so long as further habitat destruction does not take place. Raising endangered species like the Parma wallaby at the Zoo helps to grow the captive population, allowing more potential for the species to someday be re-released into the wild.

Currently, Tinka is thriving and getting along fabulously with the other females on exhibit. You can see these cute, fuzzy wallabies at the San Diego Zoo across from the 4-D Theatre at the west end of Skyfari. Look for Tinka, and remember her miraculous story of survival and those who helped her along the way.

Carly Jo, Conservation Team
Week Six, Winter Session 2013

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Intelligent Elephant

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!

carly_W5_picYou’ve probably heard the saying “elephants never forget.” This statement, while it sounds cliché, might be true. Elephants are extremely smart, much more advanced than most animals. This being so, elephants need to be entertained all day long to keep their minds stimulated.

Lead Elephant Keeper at the San Diego Zoo, Ron Ringer, has worked with elephants for over thirty years. Currently under his care at Elephant Odyssey are six elephants, two African and four Asian. He loves every minute of his job, noting that elephants never have a day off, so neither do their keepers. Elephant keepers rotate so there is always an experienced keeper on duty to look after and entertain these miraculous animals, even on holidays.

Today, we met Devi, 36 years old and one of the youngest elephants at Elephant Odyssey. We learned that Devi really enjoys hanging out with her human friends, pick- pocketing and spraying them with water to get their attention. In many ways, taking care of elephants is much like taking care of a five-year-old. Mr. Ringer notes that all elephants are individuals, just like humans. They go through developmental stages, from infant to preteen to adult. They also have individual personalities, just like people. Their mental capabilities are very advanced compared to other animals. We are still learning new information about elephant intelligence, which continues to amaze researchers around the world.

Interacting with the elephants illuminates their advanced understanding. To get the elephants to do distinct behaviors, keepers use 35-40 different vocal cues (paired with visual signals) such as “trunk,” “ear,” and “foot.” Most of the time, the elephants cooperate with ease. Other times, however, the elephants seem to have selective hearing and choose to ignore their keepers’ wishes—to which the keepers move on and ask for a new behavior, eventually returning to the desired behavior. When the desired behavior occurs, the keeper rewards the elephant with his or her favorite treat. Elephants sometimes attempt to communicate with their keepers using vocalizations (although there are only a few the keepers can actually hear). The most common is a trumpeting noise, followed by chirps and rumbling growls. Most vocalizations elephants make are too low for humans to hear. They are used solely for communicating with the rest of the elephant herd. However, these vocalizations can be and are often recorded, edited to a higher frequency, and used for research.

To maintain and continue to increase the elephants’ quality of care, keepers at the Zoo continue to find new ways to provide exercise and enrichment. Instead of placing heaps of hay on the floor of their exhibits, keepers place hay behind fenced feeders. This way, the elephants can pick at the hay, working to get their food out clump by clump. This way, the food lasts longer—if the hay were all in a pile, it would be gone in less than an hour. Also, keepers place hay and treats in buckets and other holed-out toys, or “food puzzles,” along the ground and attached to structures above their heads, so that the elephants have to manipulate the toys to get their prize of hay, pellets, and other treats.

The San Diego Zoo is constantly looking for ways to improve the way they work with elephants. The more time the keepers get to spend with these amazing creatures, the more experience and knowledge is gained. This only leads to better methods to care for, understand and enrich the lives of these majestic elephants.

Carly Jo, Real World Team
Week Five, Winter Session 2013

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The Reptile Ambassador

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!

carly_W4_picMr. Peter Gilson’s priority is to persuade the public to understand the ecological value of reptiles and amphibians. You don’t have to be afraid of them or love them, just respect them as another animal living on this earth that are important to humans and the environment. Reptiles and amphibians need conservation too.

Directly after high school, Mr. Gilson began working at the San Diego Zoo as an intern for Summer Zoo Camp. He continued working with the Education Department at the Zoo while obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree at Point Loma Nazerene, majoring in Environmental Science and minoring in Communications. Within this department at the Zoo, his love for educating and mobilizing the public grew. During college, Mr. Gilson also spent time in Panama and Costa Rica looking for the bushmaster, a venomous snake known for its size and defensive nature. Sadly his team had no avail, as these snakes are extremely well camouflaged.

When Mr. Gilson obtained his dream job interning with the Reptile Department at the San Diego Zoo, he continued his work connecting reptiles to the public. After graduating from college, he was hired as an Educator in the Education Department, but often fills the role as a keeper with the Reptile Department. He acts as a translator in this way, teaching the public how to appreciate and understand the reptiles close to his heart. His favorite aspect of the Education Department is working with children and animals simultaneously, and connecting people to wildlife, seeing them understand its value.

As a Keeper at the Reptile House, Mr. Gilson does a lot of maintenance. He cleans the reptile pens, puts out food for the animals in the morning and cleans the food out at night. In the evenings, he takes the animals inside, luring them into their shelters with food. Recently, keepers like Mr. Gilson have tried training reptiles such as the Galapagos Island Tortoises to return to their barn with a bell, but it seems these animals are more visually motivated by brightly colored foods. As a Keeper, Mr. Gilson also trains staff within the Education Department on how to handle reptile Animal Ambassadors, such as Monty the ball python.

Although Mr. Gilson loves his job, claiming to get the best of both worlds, he admits it can become depressing at times. The conservation outlook for reptiles and amphibians is a cause for concern as most people simply don’t understand the value of these animals and that many of them will go extinct in the next few years without conservation efforts to save them. Even though the Zoo is breeding Panamanian frogs (which are extinct in the wild), there is  currently no plan for rereleasing them, as the population would die out immediately from what had caused the original extinction—chytrid fungus. However, other projects serve as a light at the end of the tunnel. The work being done with the endangered Mountain Yellow Legged Frogs has brought these frogs back to our local San Bernardino Mountains. (see: http://blogs.sandiegozoo.org/2013/03/07/from-tadpoles-to-froglets-headstarting-endangered-mountain-yellow-legged-frogs/). This project is proof that conservation can work. While fires, mudslides, unnatural predators, pesticides, fungal infections, and most importantly, loss of habitat, have decimated their numbers, the successful breeding and re-release of these amazing amphibians is a testament to the fact that if people care enough to act, we can save species from extinction.

Ultimately, Mr. Gilson wants the world to see what he sees—that reptiles and amphibians should be admired just as much as other animals, like the cute and cuddly mammals we all know and love. He wishes to provide people with experiences that will show that snakes and lizards have unique personalities, much like a dog or a cat. Although connecting people to wildlife can be the most challenging part of his job, as there are people who are never going to care or listen, the most rewarding part is when the switch goes on in peoples’ heads—and he knows that going forward the people he meets might care about reptiles and amphibians more than they ever did before.

Carly Jo, Careers Team
Week Four, Winter Session 2013

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Studying Panda Behavior

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!

Ms. Suzanne Hall is a Senior Research Technician in Applied Animal Ecology at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. She focuses on behavioral research with Asiatic bears, including the mother-cub relationship and infant development. Today, Ms. Hall showed us how to use an ethogram to track the behaviors of giant pandas on exhibit at the Zoo.

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The group prepares to conduct a 20-minute observation of GaoGao using an ethogram. Ms. Hall explains that an ethogram is used to record different behaviors by the panda for each minute that passes. The panda narrator on duty would tell us when the stopwatch beeped, and when to switch to the next minute’s column.

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As soon as the stopwatch starts, Marcel records GaoGao’s behavior in 1-minute intervals, noting if the panda is searching for food, eating bamboo, or not visible. Our experience mirrored what volunteer do on a regularly basis. Data is collected to monitor the bears’ behaviors and record changes over time. Researchers will analyze this data and make suggestions based on what they find.

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Abby overlooks the panda exhibit and records GaoGao’s behaviors in her ethogram. Behaviors are only recorded if they occur for five seconds or more. Some behaviors, such as “food search” and “locomote,” are very similar and the researcher must pay close attention in order to distinguish them.

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This ethogram illustrates that GaoGao fed on bamboo for over six intervals, or six minutes, straight, through the acronym FDB. The point sample column is used as a quick reference to at what GaoGao was doing during each interval. The substrate shows where each point sample was occurring (on rock, grass/dirt, in water, or in trees/brush). Sometimes, the substrate is the most difficult observation to record. Even if GaoGao was leaning on a rock, most of his weight was supported by the dirt and thus a “c” for dirt would be recorded.

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In addition to bamboo, GaoGao’s diet includes “provisioned food,” such panda bread (located in front of him on the rock), made of bamboo and ground up biscuits. When GaoGao fed on panda bread, a FD code was recorded on the ethogram. Researchers can monitor GaoGao’s eating habits and adjust his diet accordingly.

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Pandas in the wild spend at least twelve hours a day eating bamboo. This was supported through today’s twenty-minute observation. GaoGao’s was eating bamboo for nearly 70% of our time watching him.

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Ms. Hall and the group discuss the results of our behavioral study. She explained that ethograms are mostly used for conducting research on animals in zoos. This type of observation allows scientists to answer specific research questions, such as why a certain species will not breed in managed care facilities.

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In addition to conducting research, writing papers, and finding funding for research studies, conservationists like Ms. Hall also work hard to mobilize the public to take action. She noted that “you conserve what you love, and you love what you know.” Hopefully, her research with Asiatic bears will help people understand and care about their future.

Carly Jo, Photo Journalism Team
Week Three, Winter Session 2013

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A Frozen Zoo

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!

carly_W3_picThe San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research (ICR) houses the largest Reproductive Physiology lab in the United States. Dr. Barbara Durrant, Director of the Reproductive Physiology Division, and Senior Research Technicians, Ms. Carly Young and Ms. Nicole Ravida, preserve animal cells and DNA for the future.

Did you know cat sperm is a close match to bear sperm? The Reproductive Physiology Lab has teamed up with the Feral Cat Coalition (which captures and spays/neuters feral cats) to obtain feline sperm that would otherwise be thrown away. They use this supply of sperm to test and perfect their methods in the lab, including new techniques for freezing and thawing these animal reproductive cells. Researchers want to know the best way to freeze the cell samples so that they may produce more motile sperm when thawed; motile sperm are more likely to reach and fertilize the egg. However, one technique does not work for all types of sperm, thus, multiple techniques must be tested on multiple samples to determine the best methods for different species of mammals, birds, and even reptiles.

Sperm samples are not the only cells researchers preserve. Located on the floor of the Beckman Center at the ICR, the Frozen Zoo® houses thousands of gametes (reproductive cells including eggs and sperm), cell cultures, embryos, blood, and DNA of different species of animals. These samples have been collected over the past thirty-seven years, and will continue to be collected, preserved and thawed when necessary. This process has become a priceless tool for conservation efforts nationwide.

So when would these cells be needed? There are many techniques used in the general field of reproductive physiology, such as invitro fertilization, artificial insemination, and a relatively new process called ICSI, or intracytoplasmic sperm injection. For instance, if a natural disaster swept out an entire species of animal but their gametes were kept at the Frozen Zoo®, reproductive physiologists could possibly implant the species’ sex cells in a related animal and produce a baby. The new process, ICSI, is groundbreaking in that a single sperm cell is injected into a single egg, rather than placing hundreds of sperm inside the oviducts (as in artificial insemination). Amazingly, the sperm cell does not have to be motile, as it does not have to travel through the reproductive system to fertilize the egg—it is already inside. Reproductive physiologists have also realized that the sperm’s tail must be crushed when placed inside the egg, as the tail then releases enzymes from its membrane which help the zygote (fertilized egg) split into two. ICSI is used for extremely precious animals to bring them back from the brink of extinction.

There are a limited number of reproductive physiology labs working on these techniques in the United States. As more people spread the word about work done with the Frozen Zoo®, this branch of conservation will receive more support and attention. Awareness is key to ensuring the survival of these labs and the species they work to protect.

Carly Jo, Conservation Team
Week Two, Winter Session 2013

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Educate Me, Please!

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!

carly_W1_picThis week, we were fortunate to meet Ms. Kimberly Carroll who works within the Education Department at the San Diego Zoo. She led us on a tour around the Zoo in which she detailed many exciting facts about her job, which differs on a daily basis. It was an experience of a lifetime but one that Ms. Carroll performs every day! Her main goal is to connect people with wildlife so that they will be more likely to support conservations efforts for endangered species.

On our first leg of the tour, we walked to the meerkat exhibit to meet Ms. Carroll’s supervisor, Ms. Stephanie Alexander, before they headed behind the exhibit to leash up two meerkats (a brother and sister named Hakuna and Matata). We followed behind the scenes to a shade-covered area with benches and what looked to be some sort of small-animal-sized jungle gym. Ms. Alexander and Ms. Carroll met us, with meerkats in hand, to demonstrate the training process for Educators who work with Animal Ambassadors. Educators often give animal presentations throughout the Zoo, educating the public with up-close experiences they will, hopefully, never forget. On this occasion, Ms. Carroll was gaining certification in her next step of training with Hakuna. First, Stephanie demonstrated how to hold the meerkat so that the guests may be able to pet the animal. After Ms. Alexander gave Ms. Carroll clearance, we were the first group to pet a meerkat under Ms. Carroll’s supervision! If you’ve never pet a meerkat, their fur is not quite soft, but not too wiry. It is just right.

Once the meerkats were unleashed and returned to their enclosure, we walked to the small theatre within the Children’s Zoo to meet an Animal Ambassador named Kizzy. Kizzy is an African grey parrot who is showcased at many different places in San Diego, such as elementary schools and the Kaiser Hospital Pediatric ward, to help educate the public on conservation awareness. Ms. Carroll showed off many of Kizzy’s talents for us, such as stretching out her wings and clucking like a chicken. Before Ms. Carroll returned Kizzy backstage, she gave us the same talk that she gives the public- noting that without human help, endangered species could become extinct in ten to fifteen years.

We trekked across the main entrance of the Zoo and found a light green eight-passenger cart awaiting our arrival. We hopped in for a tour around the Zoo. Kimberly detailed that our experience from here on out would be much like that of an Inside Look Tour (for details visit: http://www.sandiegozoo.org/zoo/special/inside_look_tour). We drove past a pair of peacocks perching atop a photo booth, zooming past the tiger and hippo exhibits before stopping the cart at the panda research station. We met Ms. Alyssa Medeiros, a Panda Narrator, who educates the public with fun facts about pandas- their daily habits and quirks- and answers any questions a visitor may have. Alyssa also acts as a second pair of eyes for the pandas’ keepers, tracking the number of scent marks left during mating season. Her job allows her to spend most of the day observing the pandas, whereas the keepers don’t have that luxury, for they are busy cleaning and preparing the pandas’ diet.

Continuing on, Ms. Carroll presented us with a would-you-rather question that received a unanimous vote to feed a camel before our day came to a close. His named was Mongo (short for Mongolia, where Bactrian camels are found). He was dark brown with two humps, and enjoyed our gifts of celery by quickly gobbling chunks up with his slobbery, whiskery lips, his big brown eyes always trained on you.

At the end of the afternoon, we drove over to the giraffe exhibit, hoping to get a chance to feed them as well. We walked through a tall wooden gate next to the enclosure and headed to the back of the exhibit where Nicky, a ten-year-old female Masai giraffe, strode over, interested by our appearance. Ms. Carroll brought over a plastic tub of lettuce and we each held out leaf after leaf to have Nicky’s long, dark tongue come down to snatch it up.

We headed for the Zoo’s exit to wrap up the day. We all came to a general consensus that today was so much fun, that Ms. Carroll has an awesome job, and that we couldn’t wait for the adventures to follow during the next six weeks. The best part is, taking a tour of the Zoo helps endangered species. All proceeds help to further conservation efforts, including projects for animals around the world.

Carly Jo, Real World Team
Week One, Winter Session 2013

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What is Passion?

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!

cymbal meAfter career-hopping from paleontologist to CEO of Disneyland, I decided that I wanted a career that promised new and exciting opportunities daily. From that point, I struggled to find my passion for weeks on end. How do you even know what you’re passionate about? How does one define passion? Then I realized it was in front of me the whole time.

I’ve always been exposed to animals. My home was always filled with not only my pets, but also those of all my friends and family. My elementary school often scheduled assemblies that presented exotics such as hedgehogs, tarantulas, and albino Burmese pythons. I took horse-riding lessons and showcased them at competitions, becoming quickly attached to the three horses I spent all of my free time with. I volunteer at the San Diego Humane Society, grooming and socializing cats and small pets (such as rabbits, rats, and guinea pigs). I’ve had a Zoo membership since I was 10, starting as a birthday gift from my brother and sister-in-law to compliment their’s. My passion is animals.

The final challenge has led me to Zoo InternQuest. What career involves animals and differs day to day? Once I discovered my dream career belongs within the zoo, everything fell into place. I applied and was accepted to Zoo InternQuest, and then applied (and was accepted) to San Diego State University’s pre-biology (with an emphasis on zoology) major.

Beyond preparing for college, I am an avid reader/writer, a lover of all things Disney, a proud cat owner, and a cymbal player in my high school’s drumline/trumpet player in wind ensemble. Adding to this list, I am now an intern at the Zoo, and am ecstatic to begin my trek into the world of zoology.

Carly Jo
Winter Session 2013