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A Safari in San Diego

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 adventure here on the Zoo’s website!

The interns on November 11th had an extraordinary opportunity to meet with Senior Mammal Keepers: Torrey Pillsbury and Roger Petersen who work at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Ms. Pillsbury and Mr. Petersen gave the interns a tour of some of the field enclosures and introduced us to the various animals they care for including rhinos, giraffes, wild cattle and various hoofstock. The interns were able to meet and feed different animals from two different regions, South Africa and Asia. Meeting with Ms. Pillsbury and Mr. Petersen was an experience that was interesting and unforgettable.

Ms. Pillsbury and Mr. Petersen start their day early at six in the morning. They start their day by heading into their office then checking their board, the black book and the red book. Additionally, there is a white board which contains all of the exhibits, the type of species, and number of animals in each exhibit. The black book gives information about the animals specific needs. The red book holds all the information about each animal: births, strange behaviors, injuries, diet, and an identifying number of each animal. In the red book, Ms. Pillsbury and Mr. Petersen will also log what occurred that day, so the next day another keeper will know what occurred as well. The keepers will then go up to their forage warehouse where they load their trucks with hay for each species they are assigned for the day.

When out in the field enclosure, Ms. Pillsbury and Mr. Petersen use ear notches and tags to identify different hoofstock. The notches and the tags are a number that are registered with the San Diego Safari Park. Currently, they can mark up to 600 animals for the same species. When checking for all the animals Ms. Pillsbury and Mr. Petersen will write down the number of notches because the animals are constantly on the move.

Growing up around horses and dogs, Ms. Pillsbury’s love for animals came at an early age. She would often visit the Zoo with her grandmother. Ms. Pillsbury attended El Capitan High School in Lakeside, California. At the age of 19, Ms. Pillsbury began working at the San Diego Safari Park as a horse trainer. After working with the San Diego Safari Park’s horse show, Ms. Pillsbury began training elephants in the elephant show. Ms. Pillsbury then worked at the Phoenix Zoo with elephants and orangutans. Following her time in Phoenix, Ms. Pillsbury came back to the San Diego Safari Park and worked at the Neonatal Assisted Care Unit where she cared for a baby gorilla and black rhino. Ms. Pillsbury has worked at the San Diego Safari Park for 25 years.

Mr.Petersen became interested in animals from watching birds on his fishing trips. When Mr.Petersen went on fishing trips, he would bring his binoculars to study and document the different species he saw. Mr. Petersen’s work as a keeper started at SeaWorld with the penguins. Ms. Pillsbury’s favorite part about being a senior mammal keeper is working with the animals and that her day is never the same. Working with large mammals such as wildebeests and rhinos can be dangerous and the animals can be unpredictable, but as senior mammal keepers, Ms. Pillsbury and Mr. Petersen never have boring day at work.

Lauren, Career Team
Week Six, Fall 2015

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The Quest to Preserve for Future Generations

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 adventure here on the Zoos website!

Lauren_W4_picOn Wednesday, October 28, 2015, the interns met with Dr. Christopher Tubbs, a Scientist at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research who works in the Reproductive Physiology Laboratory. In the Reproductive Physiology Laboratory, the main goal for the scientists is to help ensure the reproductive success of the animals at the Zoo and Safari Park. Dr. Tubbs works to preserve and allow endangered and threatened species to have the best possible chance to reproduce.

Dr. Tubbs has been involved with projects involving fertility of southern white rhinos and the marine environment effects on California condors in their reproductive stage. In the lab, Dr. Tubbs does blood tests to determine the hormone levels of the animals. Through the blood test, the scientists can look at the hormones such as their estrogen and progesterone. Progesterone is high during the reproductive cycle. However, it is unrealistic for Dr. Tubbs to take multiple blood samples from the species to determine their hormone levels. Instead, keepers gather urine and feces samples, and then Dr. Tubbs and his team can monitor the animals’ reproductive cycles and their hormone levels.

While working in the Reproductive Physiology Laboratory, Dr. Tubbs gets samples of rhino feces every week. After the feces have been tested, Dr. Tubbs makes a graph of the data from black, southern white and greater one-horned rhinos. When the rhinos show elevated progesterone levels, it means that they are possibly ovulating or pregnant.

The graphs from the hormone data gathered from animal’s feces are very important in certain animals such as pandas. Being solitary by nature, female and male pandas have to stay in separate enclosures because they will become aggressive. When a female panda’s progesterone levels peak, she may be ready for reproduction. Female giant pandas only ovulate a few days out of the year, so it is crucial that the Reproductive Physiology Laboratory notify the keeper once this occurs to introduce the male panda to the female panda otherwise they will miss the opportunity for breeding.

Dr. Tubbs is also working on a diet change for the southern white rhinos to ensure that they are able to reproduce. The pellets, which make up a high percentage of the southern white rhino’s diet contained phytoestrogens that can cause reproductive problems for this species of rhino. In response to this discovery, Dr. Tubbs had bars put in place over the field feeding troughs to keep the southern white rhinos from eating the pellets that contained high levels of phytoestrogens. Dr. Tubbs’ says his job is rewarding because he is able to make a difference in preserving various animal species and is able to raise awareness and to explain how chemicals affect the environments where the different species live.

Lauren, Conservation Team
Week Four, Fall 2015

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The San Diego Zoo’s Food Locker

Zoo InternQuest is a seven-week career exploration program for San Diego 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!

On Thursday, October 22, 2015, the Interns had an inside look at the Nutritional Services Department. The interns met with Deborah Lowe, the Nutritional Services Supervisor at the San Diego Zoo. The interns had the opportunity to view all the different spaces that allow the Nutritional Services Department to prepare food for all species.

On the left is Ms. Katie Kerr, an Associate Nutritionist at the San Diego Zoo, and on the right is Ms. Deborah Lowe, the Nutritional Services Supervisor at the San Diego Zoo. Ms. Lowe led the interns through the different parts of the Nutritional Services Departments. Each warehouse in the Nutritional Services Department allows Ms. Lowe and Ms. Kerr to provide the San Diego Zoo’s animals with specialized dietary care.

On the left is Ms. Katie Kerr, an Associate Nutritionist at the San Diego Zoo, and on the right is Ms. Deborah Lowe, the Nutritional Services Supervisor at the San Diego Zoo. Ms. Lowe led the interns through the different parts of the Nutritional Services Departments. Each warehouse in the Nutritional Services Department allows Ms. Lowe and Ms. Kerr to provide the San Diego Zoo’s animals with specialized dietary care.

In the bird kitchen they house the hobart machine. Ms. Lowe, and the rest of her team, use the hobart machine to dice up the fruit. The hobart machine saves them time on their prep work by dicing up fruits and vegetables much quicker than by hand. For the birds alone they have to dice up 240 pounds of fruit each day. Each bird has an individual preference between vegetables and fruits just like we do. For example, the hornbill’s enjoy eating vegetables.

In the bird kitchen they house the hobart machine. Ms. Lowe, and the rest of her team, use the hobart machine to dice up the fruit. The hobart machine saves them time on their prep work by dicing up fruits and vegetables much quicker than by hand. For the birds alone they have to dice up 240 pounds of fruit each day. Each bird has an individual preference between vegetables and fruits just like we do. For example, the hornbill’s enjoy eating vegetables.

In the forage warehouse, Ms. Lowe took the interns into a large fridge where they store fruit. Meat and fish are stored in different fridges to avoid contamination. The forage team has pre-cut fruit stored in the fridge as seen in the photo above. All the fruit that the San Diego Zoo serves to the animals is restaurant quality.

In the forage warehouse, Ms. Lowe took the interns into a large fridge where they store fruit. Meat and fish are stored in different fridges to avoid contamination. The forage team has pre-cut fruit stored in the fridge as seen in the photo above. All the fruit that the San Diego Zoo serves to the animals is restaurant quality.

Ms. Lowe took us into the meat freezer, also in the forage warehouse. The meat is stored at a colder temperature than the fruit for preservation purposes. When the interns went into the freezer it was much colder than the produce fridge because it allows the meat to stay fresher for longer periods of time.

Ms. Lowe took us into the meat freezer also located in the forage warehouse. The meat is stored at a colder temperature than the fruit for preservation purposes. When the interns went into the freezer, it was much colder than the produce fridge because it allows the meat to stay fresher for longer periods of time.

Next, the Interns went into the grain room, one of the first buildings built at the San Diego Zoo. Interns on their tour of the grain room, found out that that space holds large amounts of dog food, cat food, parrot food and other types of dry foods and grain. In the picture above, Ms. Kerr is holding a bag of dry food from the grain room that is filled with pieces that are all different shapes, sizes and colors. The interns learned that the animals have preferences too. Certain animals have a preference of shape, size and color of their food.  With a variety of foods, Ms. Lowe can ensure that the animals will eat and receive proper nutrition.

Next, the Interns went into the grain room, one of the first buildings built at the San Diego Zoo. Interns on their tour of the grain room, found out that that space holds large amounts of dog food, cat food, parrot food and other types of dry foods and grain. In the picture above, Ms. Kerr is holding a bag of dry food from the grain room that is filled with pieces that are all different shapes, sizes and colors. The interns learned that the animals have preferences too. Certain animals have a preference of shape, size and color of their food. With a variety of foods, Ms. Lowe can ensure that the animals will eat and receive proper nutrition.

Ms. Lowe also took the interns into the food storage space where we found items very similar to their own pantries. Primates will drink Gatorade when they are sick which can help stop bloating.

Ms. Lowe also took the interns into the food storage space where we found items very similar to their own pantries. Primates will drink Gatorade when they are sick which can help stop bloating.

In the barn, the Nutritional Services Department stores three types of hay: sudan, bermuda, and alfalfa. The hay is stored inside to reduce the amount of hay lost by the wind, rain, other elements, and even, rodents. Ms. Lowe will not accept a load of hay if it is raining because the hay will ruin if it is wet. She will then reschedule the delivery. Before Nutritional Services Department feed the hay to the animals they test the hay for certain levels of nutrients. If the hay was harvested to early it can be harmful to the animals. Also, before feeding the hay to the animals they check the hay for trash, or other harmful items to ensure the animals safety.

In the barn, the Nutritional Services Department stores three types of hay: sudan, bermuda, and alfalfa. The hay is stored inside to reduce the amount of hay lost by the wind, rain, other elements, and even, rodents. Ms. Lowe will not accept a load of hay if it is raining because the hay will ruin if it is wet. She will then reschedule the delivery. Before Nutritional Services Department feed the hay to the animals they test the hay for certain levels of nutrients. If the hay was harvested to early it can be harmful to the animals. Also, before feeding the hay to the animals they check the hay for trash, or other harmful items to ensure the animals safety.

The last room Ms. Lowe showed the interns was the bug room. In the picture above, stacked on a shelf are mill worms in large trays and king worms in cups. The mill worms are stored living on top of one another. The king worms are sorted into the cups by the amount of worms and their weight.  Mill worms are given to the Tasmanian devils, birds, meerkats and primates.

The last room Ms. Lowe showed the interns was the bug room. In the picture above, stacked on a shelf are mill worms in large trays and king worms in cups. The mill worms are stored living on top of one another. The king worms are sorted into the cups by the amount of worms and their weight. Mill worms are given to the Tasmanian devils, birds, meerkats and primates.

Additionally, king worms are also stored in the bug room, and are kept for a week before they start to die. King worms are an aggressive species and will try to bite you. King worms are also given to the Tasmanian devils, birds, meerkats and primates as a source of high protein and enrichment for these animals.

Additionally, king worms are also stored in the bug room, and are kept for a week before they start to die. King worms are an aggressive species and will try to bite you. King worms are also given to the Tasmanian devils, birds, meerkats and primates as a source of high protein and enrichment for these animals.

In addition to the mill worms and king worms stored in the bug room, there are crickets. For three days crickets are feed with a yellow powder, which is a high calcium diet. Being that crickets are a source of high protein, they are often fed to a variety of bird and reptile species. In one week, Birds alone are fed 10,000 crickets!

In addition to the mill worms and king worms stored in the bug room, there are crickets. For three days crickets are feed with a yellow powder, which is a high calcium diet. Being that crickets are a source of high protein, they are often fed to a variety of bird and reptile species. In one week, Birds alone are fed 10,000 crickets!

Lauren, Photo Team
Week Three, Fall 2015

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Power to the Plants

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 adventure here on the Zoos website!

Lauren_W2_picOn Wednesday, October 14, 2015, the interns met with Emily Howe who is a Research Coordinator for the Plant Conservation division at the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research. Ms. Howe received her bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies at Hamilton College in New York. Ms. Howe was inspired to work with plants because growing up on a farm she was curious knowing why the animals would only eat certain plants at certain times of the year. Ms. Howe later went back to school and earned her Masters in Ecology at San Diego State University. Through a Navy contract with San Diego State University, Ms. Howe studied the plant species on San Clemente Island for seven years where she even found a grass species, dissanthelum californium, that was believed to be extinct.

Ms. Howe recently started her new job at the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research in March, and her newest project is habitat restoration at Lake Hodges in Rancho Bernardo, California. This project consists of growing and transplanting native plants, which help native species become more populous and resilient. Ms. Howe finds her job very rewarding as she is going to plant over 10,000 plants at Lake Hodges. Ms. Howe and the Institute for Conservation Research are putting in 25 different plant species at Lake Hodges. One of the plants being transplanted is coyote bush, baccharis pilularis. Interns helped with the restoration process by moving coyote bush plants from cone shaped planters to larger rectangular planters called tree pots. This part of the process allows the roots to further develop. At the restoration site at Lake Hodges, she may have to remove the non-native plants by hand or by herbicides to increase the survival rate of the native species. The herbicides used by Ms. Howe and her team are carefully chosen for their efficient manner and low impact on the native soil. In addition to doing native species restoration work at Lake Hodges, Ms. Howe enjoys seeing the native animal species return to the habitats she has restored such as roadrunners, endangered cactus wrens, rattlesnakes, mule deer, and scorpions.

Some of Ms. Howe’s biggest challenges are timing and funding. Timing is a challenge because the seasons change. One season may not receive enough rain during that period. In ten years, if the climate continues to change plant biologists will have to shift their focus from helping the ecosystems look like they did before and turn their focus on helping the disturbed ecosystems work. The plant biologist will have to make a transition and accept that they will have to work with different species because the weather, fog and amount of moisture available. Ms. Howe’s work is also affected by the drought. Some native plants can tolerate the drought and can knock out non-native plants, however, this is not always the case. The drought conditions are hot and dry and can be hard on the plants. Ms. Howe’s day is never the same as she could be working outside in the Institute’s shade house planting and replanting native species or she could be in her office doing statistics and collecting data. With her day-to-day schedule being so drastically different, Ms. Howe’s routine also depends on the season. In the summer, Ms. Howe is often in the field watering and weeding. While working in the field, you need to be able to adapt to changing weather and to always remain positive. To be successful in this field, Ms. Howe believes that it is extremely important to be passionate about your work.

Lauren Patterson, Careers Team
Week Two, Fall 2015

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Amphibians: The Alarm System of an Ecosystem

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 adventure here on the Zoo’s website! 

Lauren_W1_picOn Thursday, October 8, 2015, interns met with Peter Gilson, a Reptile Keeper and an Educator Guide at the San Diego Zoo. When Mr. Gilson started college at Point Loma Nazarene University, he received an internship at the San Diego Zoo to work with reptiles. After interning at the San Diego Zoo, Mr. Gilson realized he was passionate about teaching people about reptiles and amphibians. Later, Mr. Gilson worked at the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research where he studied mountain yellow-legged frogs.  

Did you know that the Galapagos tortoise have a special relationship with the keepers? The giant Galapagos tortoise likes to be scratched on its neck. In the wild, the Galapagos tortoise stretches out it’s neck for the finch to know it is safe to land. The finch then proceeds to eat off parasites from the tortoise. However at the San Diego Zoo, this process does not occur with the finches. The Galapagos tortoise still exhibits the behavior of extending its neck for the keeper to receive scratches. Similarly, cats exhibit the same behavior with their owners. Cats stretch out their necks to allow owners to scratch their chin.

As we toured the zoo, we went back behind the amphibian enclosures where they kept salamanders, frogs and other small reptiles, the enclosures stuck out of the wall looking like black space modules. On the back of each enclosure there is a sticky note that serves as a warning sign to notify the keeper about the amphibians who have a tendency to jump out or run and hide when the back enclosure door is opened. Additionally, these amphibians need moisture to survive. The keepers put moss in the bottom of each enclosure to help keep it cool and moist. Interestingly, amphibians and reptiles become stationary when the temperature rises and being too hot is more harmful than being too cool. If their enclosure became to hot, it can lead to brain damage just like leaving a small child in a hot car can lead to death or injury.

Amphibians are having a harder time adapting to changes in environmental conditions that occur in the air, water and land that are caused by burning of fossil fuels and runoff of fertilizer. It is believed that 33 percent of the known amphibians are threatened with extinction. In Southern California, we have many species newts and frogs that are affected by human actions. Humans contribute to the poor quality of air and water by using fertilizers and weed killer, which are harmful and can negatively affect amphibians. Frogs are extremely sensitive to the changes in the environment from their early stages as an egg and into their adulthood. Frog’s eggs have no protective outer shell to protect them from UV radiation or pollution such as the runoff of fertilizers and weed killer. As adults, frogs take in water and air through their skin. When they take in water and air, they can also take in pollution from the air, water and the land, which can kill the frogs over time. In addition to harsh chemicals used by people, chytrid fungus also affects amphibians. Chytrid fungus attacks the frog’s skin, which then makes it difficult for the amphibian to breathe. The San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research is on the forefront of studying and treating chytrid fungus in the wild. Zoos are able to determine and treat collections of frogs with chytrid fungus. However, the Panamanian golden frogs can no longer live in their natural habitats.

Why should you care? Amphibians are known as an indicator species. Indicator species serve as the alarm systems to the health of an ecosystem. If we continue to lose the amphibians in our ecosystem, it could lead to the extinction of other animals that use them as food source. To save amphibians, we should try and limit the use of fertilizer and pesticides. You can replace fertilizer with coffee grounds, orange peels or crushed up eggshells to provide extra nutrients for your plants. Instead of using harmful pesticides use epsom salts to kill and repel insects. Another alternative to harmful chemicals is a mixture of vinegar and lime juice. Simple tasks like these will help us save and protect amphibians.

Lauren, Real World Team
Week One, Fall Session 2015

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Horse Lover

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

lauren_profileWith numerous moves (over twelve) in my lifetime, it has led me to a variety of unique animal experiences. Given my passion for animals, each one of these encounters is a treasured memory.

However, one of my dreams is to one day own a horse of my own. Growing up, I had the privilege of caring for my grandfather’s horses on his farm. Of course, I love to ride them too! I love the time I get to spend with the horses. To feel them move beneath me as we ride the trails allows me to think, plan and dream of what is to come. Horses are powerful, and at the same time, they are gentle; I love that about them. I plan to major in veterinary medicine and that comes from my love of horses and passion to take care of them.

I also love to swim. I have competed on the Swim team for four years and played Water Polo for the last three years. While living in Hawaii, I enjoyed snorkeling in the crystal, clear waters and swam with schools of colorful tropical fish, sea turtles, dolphins and even a shark! Swimming in the ocean makes me feel alive and connected with the animals that live in that environment. I love to observe animals in their natural habitats whether it be in the water or on land.

This past summer, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to work with two veterinarians. I had a wide range of exposure of care to many types of animals, and what a veterinarian does on a daily basis. In the future, I aspire to work with animals, to continue to grow in my knowledge and help conserve their natural habitats.

InternQuest is a challenge that I look forward too. I am delighted to have the opportunity to meet and work with professionals in the Animal Science field, to gain knowledge from all the unique experiences and to share these experiences with you.

Lauren
Profile, Fall 2015