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Riley’s Declassified Baby Bird Survival Guide

Zoo InternQuest is a seven-week career exploration program for San Diego County high school juniors and seniors. Students have the unique ability 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!

Despite the hay fever and constant cleaning, there is one thing I have always loved about springtime: baby birds! Each spring my family takes home two new baby chickens from the farmers market. For three months, these birds are entirely dependent on me for heat, food, and shelter. Raising chicks really is a full time job. However, the San Diego Zoo takes raising chicks to a whole new level. This week, the interns visited the Aviary Propagation Center (APC) where we met with Animal Care Manager, Nicole LaGrego and Senior Keeper Ann Knutson.

Along with the rest of the APC team, these two women serve as surrogate mothers for birds who were rejected by their mothers. Sometimes, eggs are also hand raised so endangered species will lay more eggs and produce more offspring. As a chicken owner and frequent chick raiser myself, I can contest that raising birds can be a time consuming and frustrating task, however it is also a very rewarding job. After raising 2,341 eggs Ms. LaGrego, Ms. Knutson and the aviary propagation team have it down to an exact science. While there is a huge difference between raising chickens and raising exotic birds, they gave me many helpful tips to raising a flock of my own.

From the first day an egg is laid to the birds first few months, temperature and humidity are some of the most important factors in a bird’s environment. Eggs are kept in large incubators set at different temperatures depending on the birds species. Each day, keepers weigh eggs and turn them slightly. Turning the eggs prevents the developing bird from becoming stuck to the shell. Humidity affects how much weight an egg loses per day. Weight loss is a way to measure a chicks development. A healthy egg loses about 15% of its mass per week. If an egg is losing too much or too little weight, the humidity is adjusted accordingly. After the egg hatches, temperature plays a huge role in the chicks health. While some birds develop feathers inside the egg, most are hatched completely naked. Birds cannot regulate their own body temperature and rely on the environment for heat. For chickens, a heat lamp will provide sufficient warmth, but exotic birds have different requirements. Hatchlings are raised in another type of incubator that is kept at a carefully regulated temperature and humidity.

The next challenge of hand rearing birds is feeding. First, keepers must figure out what type of diet is best suited for the bird. Then, they must find a creative way to deliver the food. It is important that these birds do not imprint on the keepers. If a bird imprints on humans, it will not know how to act around other birds therefore cannot share an exhibit and sometimes cannot reproduce. To minimize the chance of imprinting, keepers will cover themselves with sheets and use hand puppets to feed the birds. However, some birds are used as ambassador animals. These animals are trained for educational purposes so keepers are instructed to handle these birds as much as possible. As for raising chickens and other domestic birds, the more handling and time spent with the birds the better. This will make them docile and used to human interaction.

Raising birds takes a lot of hard work and dedication. But, as Ms. Knutson said, “ The most rewarding part is to see each chick’s individual personality.” Believe it or not, birds can be just as charismatic and playful as a dog. My own chickens beg for food and follow me around the yard. Each one has a distinct temperament and personality of their own. The same is true of the birds raised at the Zoo. Next time you visit the Zoo, take a look at some of the birds and pay attention to their different habits. You might just love them so much, you’ll decide to raise domestic birds of your own!

Riley, Real World
Week Six, Fall 2015

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Pathologists: The Disease Detectives

Zoo InternQuest is a seven-week career exploration program for San Diego County high school juniors and seniors. Students have the unique ability 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!

Riley_W5_picThis week interns met with Dr. Megan McCarthy, a Resident Pathologist at the San Diego Zoo. Although it may not sound like it, Dr. McCarthy’s job is similar to the work of a detective. When animals die, Dr. McCarthy’s job is to find the cause of death and prevent other animals from dying the same way. The difference is, instead of chasing criminals Dr. McCarthy is hunting down microscopic bacterium and viruses. Pathology, or the study of disease, is a key component of conservation. When disease spreads in animal populations it can wipe out entire species and disturb the ecosystem. Dr. McCarthy and the other Veterinary Pathologists at the Zoo aim to “remove disease as a roadblock to conservation.” From protecting the Zoo collection to identifying viruses in wild animals the pathology department plays a very important role in conservation.

The first step in finding a disease is to take tissue samples from the deceased animal. On our visit to the Hospital, Dr. McCarthy demonstrated a necropsy, or animal autopsy. Necropsies are performed on all animals found dead at the zoo including native wildlife, and collection animals. This way, Pathologists can target the start of disease and inhibit its spread. Once an animal has died, it is important to collect tissue samples from each vital organ as soon as possible. Sometimes, there are obvious “clues” to indicate the cause of death. Other times, the animal looks completely healthy. In both cases, samples are passed on to the histology lab. In histology, the tissue samples are made into microscope slides so the Veterinary Pathologist can take a closer look at what happened to the animal. Identifying diseases is the hardest, but most important part of the job.

Once a disease is identified, preventative measures can be taken to assure the health and safety of the collection. This becomes crucial to conservation efforts. The Zoo holds many irreplaceable critically endangered animals; it could take just one disease to wipe out the entire population. By studying disease in collection animals, important knowledge is gained about diseases in wild populations. The pathology department can help animals that are critically endangered, like the California condor, by identifying the main causes of death and preventing future animals to die in the same way. For example, a wild condor was brought into the Zoo hospital with lead poisoning. Even though it was being treated, it unfortunately died. The necropsy revealed it died from an undiagnosed viral infection. In future cases, veterinarians would know to look for infections and a compromised immune system.

Disease investigation could be the saving grace many species need to overcome extinction. Although there is still little known about diseases in exotic animals, the San Diego Zoo has made leaps and bounds in research. The hard work of Dr. McCarthy and the pathology department have contributed to the health of the Zoo collection as well as the success of the Zoos conservation programs. Dr. McCarthy says her favorite part of the job is to see the animals happy and healthy, and to know that she is making an impact by minimizing the threat of extinction.

Riley, Conservation team
Week Five, Fall 2015

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Chew-sing the Perfect Career

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!

Riley_W3_photoWith 3,700 hungry mouths to feed at the San Diego Zoo, organizing daily feedings is not an easy job. This week the interns met with Deborah Lowe, Nutrition Services Supervisor at the Zoo’s forage warehouse. Ms. Lowe and her seven co-workers tackle the enormous task of keeping each animal at the zoo healthy, happy, and well fed. Being the Nutrition Services Supervisor, Ms. Lowe oversees the entire feeding process from ordering restaurant quality foods, to preparation, to delivery. To some, this might seem like too big of a job to swallow, but with Ms. Lowe’s extensive zoo experience and qualifications it is almost a piece of cake.

Ms. Lowe’s interest in biology began in her teenage years when she participated in a program just like Zoo InternQuest. During her internship at the Zoo she realized that she liked the physicality and environment that zoos offered as a workplace; although she was still unsure of what career she wanted to pursue. After high school, Ms. Lowe attended University of California, San Diego where she majored in biology with a minor in physical education. These courses gave her extensive knowledge of body systems, anatomy, and the benefits proper nutrition has on the body. While initially, Ms. Lowe wanted to be a physical therapist because of her love of sports, the Zoo offered her a very different opportunity.

Through college, Ms. Lowe continued to volunteer with the Zoo, and eventually was hired part time with the buildings and grounds services. While this job was not her ideal career, it served as an important stepping stone into her current position. Ms. Lowe advises anyone who wants a zoo career to get involved anywhere they can. Being involved is the most important and surest way to getting hired at the Zoo. After working and volunteering at the Zoo for many years, a position in Nutrition Services opened up. Ms. Lowe jumped on the opportunity and has stayed in this position for the past 18 years. While this job does not include sports, Ms. Lowe says she is highly satisfied with her position and enjoys the people, animals, and environment of the Zoo. In her free time Ms. Lowe coaches volleyball, giving her the best of both worlds.

Ms. Lowe admitted that Nutrition Services was not a career she considered when she was in high school, but she has been very happy. This will be her 30th year with the Zoo, and in this time, she has had some amazing and unique opportunities. She recalled the time that Travel Channel star, Andrew Zimmerman, recorded an episode on the special panda cakes created in the forage warehouse, and another time, when she created Valentine’s day “bloodscicles” for two jaguar cubs. Lowe says that despite the challenges and responsibility of her job, she has found it to be rewarding and fulfilling. Every time she walks around the zoo and sees the animals happy and healthy she can rest assured it’s been a job well done (not medium rare).

Riley, Careers Team
Week Three, Fall 2015

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Raising a Baby: The Perfect Formula

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.

Raising a baby is a labor-intensive full time job. They are constantly crying, eating, or needing a diaper change. Now imagine if this baby had four legs, a tail, fur, and required special medical and dietary care. This week, I met with Becky Kier, a Senior Keeper in the Neonatal Assisted Care Unit (NACU). At first Ms. Kier’s job sounded like a dream come true. Each day Ms. Kier cares for the young mammals that have been rejected by their mothers. This means that she is caring for a huge variety of animals, anything from kangaroos to tigers. But, I soon learned that the job is much more than snuggling with tiger cubs. Just raising a healthy human baby can be a huge challenge, but raising a special needs animal baby takes this challenge to a whole new level.

NACU keepers are basically full time single parents. They have to balance their home lives (even raising their own children) with the constant care of the animals. Ms. Kier says that a lot of what she learned while raising these animals carried over into raising her own son. When her son was born premature, she was not worried. After all, it was nothing she hadn’t seen before. Being a NACU keeper means there is not a reliable schedule; just like a human baby the animals need round the clock care. For Ms. Kier, that might mean leaving her own family and coming in at two am on Christmas. Also like a human, baby animals are constantly growing, therefore, constantly hungry. While some animals, like primates, can be given human bottles and formula, feeding can be a very tricky task with other species. Surprisingly, this is a math intensive process. The NACU has devised specialized nipples, formulas, and feeding schedules for each animal based on weight and gastric capacity. Raising exotic animals means that Keepers can’t just go to the grocery store and pick up formula. They have to match the animal as closely as they can with a domestic species and make a formula mixture that works. Usually this is made from goat’s milk, and puppy or kitten formula.

Beyond the basic care for these animals, keepers form a special bond with the animals like a mother does with a child. Ms. Kier recalled a time when she met with a grown tiger years after she had hand reared it. At first Ms. Kier did not recognize the tiger, but it recognized her. She said it rubbed against the fence and vocalized to get her attention. Ms. Kier was amazed that even after all the time that had passed, the animal still recognized her. Ms. Kier also has formed a special bond with a fossa named Isa. Usually, this carnivorous, cat-like mammal is known for its fiery temperament, but not Isa. When Ms. Kier took us to his exhibit he immediately ran over to her and demanded attention. This fierce animal might as well have been a puppy dog. This bond has been beneficial in caring for and training Isa. Isa, and many other animals hand reared in the NACU, have gone on to become animal ambassadors for the zoo. Animal ambassadors are a group of hand-trained animals that are used in educational presentations. These animals are vital in raising awareness for conservation and educating the public about wildlife.

Working in the NACU is not an easy job. It is demanding both physically and emotionally. Ms. Kier says that every day is a learning experience. Similar to baby guides written for new parents, extensive journals are kept in the NACU so future keepers will have a thorough guide to raising each animal. While there is no perfect formula to raising a baby, the San Diego Zoo’s NACU is the one of the best around.

Riley, Real World Team
Week Two, Fall 2015

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Battle for Bonobos

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!

Shannon_W1aBonobo? Isn’t that a drum? No, no, those are bongos. Maybe it’s some type of exotic banana Oreo? It was only the second day of Zoo InternQuest, and I was excited to meet with Kim Livingstone, Lead Primate Keeper at the San Diego Zoo. When Ms. Livingstone announced that we would be learning about bonobos, that excitement quickly dissolved to confusion. I’ll be honest, I had no idea what a bonobo was. It turns out, I am not the only one. The world is widely unaware of this adorable ape from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, DRC, and other primate species that greatly need our help. Despite conservation efforts, this unawareness, along with deforestation and habitat loss, are the leading reasons why many primates are going extinct. Luckily, there are people like Ms. Livingstone to fight for animals like the bonobo.

Working with organizations like Lola Ya Bonobo and the San Diego Zoo has allowed Ms. Livingstone to aid in primate conservation efforts. In the DCR, and many other undeveloped nations, poachers hunt adult primates for meat and attempt to sell infant primates as pets. Lola Ya Bonobo is a conservation organization located in the DCR, that rehabilitates these orphan bonobos and attempts to stop poachers. Lola Ya Bonobo also builds schools to help educate the people of the DCR, and hires poachers to save bonobos instead of kill them. Ms. Livingstone explained that education and awareness are the strongest forms of protection for endangered animals. The more people know, the easier it is for them to help. Often times, most people do not realize that their lifestyle (I.e. hunting primates, burning wood, polluting water sources) is affecting the ecosystems and eventually the economies around them. Rare animals like the bonobo are a huge draw for tourists. Once the animals are gone, the tourists will stop coming, and their money will no longer support the local businesses. Programs like Lola Ya Bonobo are essential in changing bad habits and giving the animals, and people, the best chance for survival in their native countries. Much closer to home, the San Diego Zoo hosts a very successful breeding program, or Species Survival Program, for bonobos and other endangered primates. Ms. Livingstone hopes to one day be able to go to the DCR and see bonobos in their natural habitat. In order for there to be any bonobos left to see, we must make efforts locally and globally to ensure the survival of this species.

So, the big question is: How can we help an animal that lives on the other side of the world? First, raise awareness. The more people know, the more they can help. Habitat loss and pollution are global issues that will only be solved by everyone working together. Second, in the words of Ms. Livingstone, “Think global, buy local.” Shipping products across the world or even just the country, can have tremendous impacts on the environment. Fossil fuels pollute the air, many materials such as paper and wood are wasted in packaging, and buying foreign products does nothing to stimulate the local economy. Before ordering something from out of state, check to see if it can be purchased locally. If not, ask yourself if it is really necessary. Finally, buy sustainable products. Replace items that contain ingredients that are not environmentally friendly and always check if the packaging is recyclable. For example, products like palm oil are greatly contributing to habitat loss in South East Asia, negatively affecting orangutans and other endangered species. Acres upon acres of forest are cut down and replaced with palm farms. This leaves orangutans, and thousands of other animals with nowhere to live, breed, or forage. Not buying this product is the only way to stop the habitat loss and send a message to the producers.

After meeting with Ms. Livingstone, I have learned many important things. I now know that a Bonobo is an ape native to the DCR, and like most primate species, they are in grave danger. Conservation is a group effort, and we are all responsible to help. We have the power to demand products that do not require the displacement of an entire ecosystem. We have the power to demand change.

Riley, Conservation Team
Week One, Fall 2015

 

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It’s a Wild Thing

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!

riley_profileHello! My name is Riley, I’m a senior at Temecula Valley High School and I love animals. My passion started at a very young age with lion coloring books, animal crackers and shows like The Wild Thornberries. This love evolved into weekly trips to the zoo, aquarium, and pet store. In school, my favorite subject has always been biology, especially pertaining to animal behavior, anatomy and ecosystems. My room is even decorated like an African safari. To put it simply, I am obsessed. I want to learn everything and anything there is to know about animals. So, when I heard about the Zoo InternQuest program I knew that I absolutely had to apply.

One of the biggest problems with this passion is that I can’t refuse any creature who needs a home. It all started fifteen years ago when we adopted a feisty little min pin named Paco. Before we found him, he was kept locked in a cage all day, but now he gets all kinds of love and attention, even though he doesn’t like it. Fast forward a few years later, and I made my second adoption, a sweet, but chubby, chihuaha named Pepper. After the dogs, I quickly spiraled out of control adopting a flock of hens, a rabbit, a plethora of fish and even two parakeets. To my parent’s dismay, I transformed our Temecula tract house into a mini farm.

When I’m not caring for my menagerie of animals, you’ll find me on the lacrosse field, bent over a book studying, or trying (and failing) to become fluent in Spanish. I also enjoy skiing, beach trips, and playing board games with my friends.

I am so excited for the next seven weeks and I can’t wait to pursue my passion for animals in the years to come. I hope you’ll find a quick paws and join me in this incredible journey; I promise it will be a hoot! (Caution: I love animal puns)

Riley Graham
Profile, Fall 2015