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Carnivore Campout Kick-Off!

Shani, a serval, met campers up close during Carnivore Campout at the Zoo.

Shani, a serval, met campers up close during Carnivore Campout at the Zoo.

Last weekend, we held our first Carnivore Campout here at the San Diego Zoo. Campers started off the evening creating felt carnivore ears, including blue leopards, pink cheetahs, and green lions! Wearing their ears with pride, families had the opportunity to take a photo with two special guests: Ojos, a screech owl, and Wrangler, a caiman lizard. After a fabulous introduction from the Zoo’s own Dr. Zoolittle, we met some of the Zoo’s smaller carnivores in the auditorium. Our amazing educators brought in Shani, a serval, and Estrella, a ring-tailed cat, who sniffed, stretched, and rolled around before our eyes. Finally, guests met Phu, our charismatic binturong, more commonly known as the bearcat. After getting up close and personal with these carnivorous creatures, we enjoyed a bus tour of the Zoo and returned to Camp Timbuktu for a delicious dinner.

When our bellies were full, we met up with Dr. Zoolittle, who informed us of a mystery unfolding at the Zoo. Soon after, we embarked on an endangered species mystery hunt, searching for clues spread out all over the Zoo. After we identified the culprit, we took a break to see one more animal—a Madagascan ground boa named Manja. Our brave educators brought this magnificent snake out to the campground, and, with the help of a little extra lighting, we were able to see and even touch him!

After enjoying extra-gooey s’mores around the campfire, we took a nighttime stroll around the Zoo to visit some nocturnal animals. Back at the campground, we fell asleep to the sounds of our African lion, M’bari, roaring.
In the morning, we enjoyed a mouth-watering meal. Afterward, we visited the jaguar and maned wolf exhibits to watch them devour their own breakfast. After a brief walk through Elephant Odyssey, we boarded a bus and headed for the exit. All in all, it was a roaring good time!

Miss out on last week’s Carnivore Campout? Don’t worry, there are more sleepovers to come!

Carnivore Campouts will be held at the San Diego Zoo on July 19 and August 16.

Black & White Overnight sleepovers will be held August 2 (families) and August 9 (adults only).

Spooky Sleepovers will be held October 18 and 25.

Visit our sleepover page or call 619-718-3000 for more information!

We hope you can join us soon for a wild night!

Megan Adcock is a conservation education specialist at the San Diego Zoo.

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Roar & Snore: Sizzling Summertime Fun at Safari Park

There are many animal presentations throughout your Roar & Snore experience. The tiny pygmy falcon made a big impression on people.

There are many animal presentations throughout your Roar & Snore experience. The tiny pygmy falcon made a big impression on people.

There is really no better way to spend a summer evening than hassle-free camping under shooting stars with a warm breeze and a menagerie of animal calls echoing through the valley. The Roar & Snore Safari at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park allows you to do just that, which my friend Teresa and I did in early July. There’s a choice of tent accommodation from Classic (what we chose) to Premium (includes a Queen-sized bed, rug, and lamps—more like “glamping” than camping). Roar & Snore Safaris feature Adults Only, Family Nights, and All Ages to choose from. Check in time is 4:15 p.m. and, while strapping young men transfer your luggage from your car to a van and deposit it at your tent, campers enjoy the first of several animal presentations in a shady area in front of the Safari Park entrance. We got to meet a surprisingly fast African leopard tortoise and a hyper-alert pygmy falcon while campers checked in.

Roar & Snore accommodations are rustic and comfortable. And you can’t beat the view!

Roar & Snore accommodations are rustic and comfortable. And you can’t beat the view!

We were divided into four groups, each sporting a nifty, glow-in-the-dark color-coded wristband, and we headed to camp. We settled into our digs and savored the view from Kilima Point, overlooking the African Plains habitat replete with giraffes, rhinos, buffalo, springbok, and more. After supper, as the shadows stretched long, our guide took us through the new Tiger Trail, and we were treated to a behind-the-scenes tour of the tigers’ bedroom area and the keepers’ workspace. The structure is so well made and expertly ventilated, that if there was a wildfire, cats and keepers could hunker down in the building and stay safe.

On our way back to camp, we got another animal presentation featuring a darling little sugar glider (“the smallest marsupial”), a hypnotic sand python named Woma, whose flattish head indicates it is a shoveler of sand and soil, and a shy three-banded armadillo, which soon felt comfortable enough to unfurl for us. As we headed to see elephants, there was splashing and excitement in the air…with dusk descending, several of the elephants decided it was the perfect time to take a dip! In a tangle of trunks and trumpeting, the young pachyderms frolicked in the pool, as kids are wont to do. As one pushed another under water, its trunk opening would crack the surface like a periscope. Soon it would bob up and return the dunking. The giant matriarchs stood nearby, one tossing dirt on her back, another scratching against a log and bellowing every so often. It was a pool party I was happy to witness!

Seeing the animals at night was a truly magical experience.

Seeing the animals at night was a truly magical experience.

Returning to camp, where the fire was crackling, we were given the ingredients to make roasted marshmallow s’mores and had some time to relax and count stars before the next optional add-on: a walking tour with night vision goggles! Eight of us intrepid campers chose to participate, and we were given our super-power binoculars. With a push of a button, the eyepieces glowed night-vision green. I squealed with delight.

We headed out past Lion Camp to the Africa Tram road. It was magical—nighttime chirps and murmurs punctuated by the alto roar of Izu, the male lion. The air was cool and fragrant…and it was DARK. Outlines of palm trees and giraffes were all that were visible with the naked eye, but through the goggles, details and texture prevailed. Animal eyes reflected glowing green back at us. African crowned cranes stood stalk still, clearly visible through the goggles.

After our early morning tram tour, we saw the lion cubs Ken and Dixie warming up for the day.

After our early morning tram tour, we saw the lion cubs Ken and Dixie warming up for the day.

I was breathless with this whole new nocturnal world revealed to me. With the naked eye, about all you could see in the cheetah exhibit was an ear gliding by, but with the goggles, you could see her sleekness and spots clear as day. I wonder what she thought about this little group of upright apes peering at her through green orbs as she gracefully glided before us, comfortable in her own skin and the night. I will never, ever forget seeing the Safari Park with truly fresh eyes.

Karyl Carmignani is a staff writer for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, Still Ga Ga for Gao Gao.

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Carnivore Campout

The Zoo's comfortable campground is inside the Zoo and just yards away from the critters!

The Zoo’s comfortable campground is inside the Zoo and just yards away from the critters!

Hello, carnivore connoisseurs!
Here at the San Diego Zoo, we are gearing up for our first-ever Carnivore Campouts this July! Carnivore Campout is a family sleepover event where guests will have the chance to meet some of our fiercest animals. We will enjoy up-close experiences with some unexpected meat-eaters, including some of our big cats and reptiles. The Zoo’s own animal researcher, Dr. Zoolittle, will present some special games and challenges, and guests will embark on an Endangered Species Mystery Hunt to try to figure out where our missing lions have gone! Campers will be treated to another animal visit in the evening before enjoying s’mores around the campfire and finally falling asleep to the sounds of the Zoo.

In the morning, campers will enjoy a hearty breakfast and may just spot some unexpected carnivores nearby enjoying their own morning meal! Before heading home, we’ll meet some of our bravest (and most careful!) keepers and get an up-close look at more of our world-famous carnivorous cats and dogs.

Carnivore Campouts will be held at the San Diego Zoo on July 12, 19, and 26, and August 16.

Can’t make it to a Carnivore Campout? The San Diego Zoo also hosts Black & White Overnight sleepovers in August and Spooky Sleepovers in October. Visit our Zoo Sleepover page or call 619-718-3000 for more information!

We hope you can join us soon for a wild night!!

Megan Adcock is a conservation education specialist at the San Diego Zoo.

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World Giraffe Day

Rothchild's or Uganda giraffes would often just stare at me for hours during my research.

Reticulated, or Somali, giraffes would often just stare at me for hours during my research.

Let’s give giraffes the spotlight they deserve! Saturday, June 21, 2014, will be the first-ever World Giraffe Day. Finally, the importance of giraffe conservation is recognized! We agree with the organizers: the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere is the most appropriate day to celebrate the tallest animal! Plans are to have an Open House that day at the San Diego Zoo’s giraffe barn for all Zoo guests from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Keepers will be on hand to answer questions and show you giraffe biofacts.

While I may be biased, giraffes are the best animals there are. Giraffes are up there with elephants, rhinos, whales, and lions in iconic status in the minds of the public. However, compared to those species, we know relatively little about giraffes. They are the forgotten megafauna.

Here are just some of the things we don’t know for certain:

How many types of giraffes are there: 6, 7, 8, or 9 subspecies? Consensus is growing that there are 9.

How do we quantify a giraffe herd?
Giraffes seem to have fission-fusion assemblages, with individuals wandering in and out of groups seemingly willy-nilly, without anyone in charge. By the way, a group of giraffes is called a tower—brilliant!

How do they communicate?
They’re basically silent, although some researchers think giraffes may be communicating ultrasonically, and we just can’t hear it.

Giraffes are also good climbers.

Giraffes are also good climbers.

The greatest mystery of them all: Why the long neck?
This hasn’t been fully answered!

How many are there?
This is perhaps the most important question from a conservation perspective. We don’t know for certain, but the current estimate is that there are perhaps 80,000 left in the wild. That seems like a lot; however, that summation glosses over an ominous truth: giraffes are facing dark days and need our attention, research, and help.

Let’s dissect that 80,000 figure and break it down by giraffe subspecies. Please see Table 1 (below), and you can see it is a mixed story.

Giraffe Population Table

Some giraffes, such as the Masai, seem to have relatively healthy populations, while other giraffes are struggling. Especially startling are the West African, Rothschild’s, and Thornicroft’s subspecies population numbers. And Nubian giraffes, unfortunately, may already be extinct in the wild; we’re not sure. This massive rapid decline has occurred just over the past 20 years or so and with very little notice. Giraffes are slipping away in silence.

There are several reasons, we think, for these declines. We need more data, but the main causes contributing to the extinction of giraffes are habitat loss, poaching for food and mythical medical cures, and trophy hunting, to a lesser extent. Since giraffes are little studied, there are likely additional factors that we need to uncover.

But let’s take what we know. Habitat loss is the number one cause of species declines and extinctions worldwide. It is no different with giraffes. As human populations increase, and traditional livelihood and land uses change to being less conducive to wildlife, less room is available for giraffes to live and find food and water. Layered atop this are the climate-chaos induced changes in rainfall patterns. Unpredictable rainfall cycles result in less food resources for giraffes (and other herbivores), leading to a decline in population.

A male Masai giraffe strolls past flamingos in Tanzania.

A male Masai giraffe strolls past flamingos in Tanzania.

The next large driver toward extinction is also a recent development: poaching. Many poverty-stricken regions of sub-Saharan Africa have a hard time finding sources of animal protein. Growing human populations and a decline in traditionally harvested wildlife species have led people to seek new sources of protein. As such, giraffes are being poached in increasing numbers for their meat. Despite their size, giraffes can be easy to kill if you know what you’re doing. All poachers need is a bit of steel wire. A correctly placed leg- or neck-snare can capture a giraffe that is then killed or may be left to die slowly. Unfortunately, such poaching is having an increasingly devastating effect on giraffe numbers.

A third, and perhaps the most infuriating, driver of giraffe decline is poaching giraffes for mythical medical cures. Somehow, a myth began that, if eaten, giraffe bone marrow and brains will protect against HIV-AIDS infection. This is absolutely not true. But this myth has taken hold and created a black market, such that poachers can get U.S. $140 or more for giraffe marrow. This is heartbreaking on multiple levels. Giraffe are being pointlessly slaughtered to obtain a “medicine” that does not work. Add to this the human tragedy—all those who have taken this “cure” and falsely believe they are safe from infection. Thus, they engage in risky behaviors, become infected themselves, and likely further spread the AIDS pandemic.

My research has focused on giraffes in East Africa, specifically human-livestock-giraffe interactions. I studied how reticulated giraffes forage in the wild (what plants they eat and how high up) and how they co-exist with a newly introduced large livestock species, the dromedary camel. I noticed fewer and fewer reticulated giraffes in areas where camels are grazed. Reticulated giraffes have undergone a horrific decline: 80 percent over the past 15 years alone. Since the turn of the century, they have gone from about 28,000 strong to just 5,000 today. At that rate, they will be extinct by 2019. We have to act.

I dubbed this group of males the Tall Boy Gang.

I dubbed this group the Tall Boy Gang.

The underlying theme here is people-wildlife interactions. Successful conservation requires multidisciplinary and multi-pronged approaches that involve local people. If people do not buy into the conservation effort, then ultimately it is unlikely to succeed. So, in addition to better understanding the giraffe, we need to work in partnership with those communities living alongside giraffes to understand their cultural heritage, needs, desires, and goals. We need to offer poachers alternative, robust, and growing livelihoods and sources of income. We need to offer quality education to local communities. We need to offer sustainable sources of protein, and we need to collaboratively develop land and wildlife management plans. The holy grail? Make a living giraffe worth more to local communities than a dead one. By doing that, the rest takes care of itself.

That is what our team of community-based conservation educators with the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research does. So, in short, let’s stick our necks out and stand tall for giraffes! In partnerships with local communities, we’ll roll our sleeves up and get about researching and working to raise awareness and appreciation for the conservation of the majestic giraffe.

You can help us bring giraffes back from the brink by supporting the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy. Together we can save and protect wildlife around the globe. Let’s do this! Happy World Giraffe Day!

Check out a short film from reticulated giraffe conservation fieldwork in Kenya:

David A. O’Connor, M.Sc., is a consultant with the Conservation Education Division of the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read his previous post, California BioBlitzin’.

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Everything Ends in Necropsy

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!

What happens to Zoo animals when they pass away? How can we determine if an animal died of natural causes or had a contagious disease? Well, have no fear because the anatomic pathologists at the San Diego Zoo are prepared to investigate!

InternQuest travelled to the Jennings Center for Zoological Medicine at the San Diego Zoo. The Jennings Center has 5 different departments, all important to maintaining the health and wellbeing of collection animals, and we met two anatomic pathologists. Pathology is a special branch of veterinary medicine that focuses on diseases. Pathologists look at tissue samples from animals to determine what sorts of things may have infected the animal and determine if they are a threat to other animals in the collection.

InternQuest travelled to the Jennings Center for Zoological Medicine at the San Diego Zoo. The Jennings Center has 5 different departments, all important to maintaining the health and wellbeing of collection animals, and we met two anatomic pathologists. Pathology is a special branch of veterinary medicine that focuses on diseases. Pathologists look at tissue samples from animals to determine what sorts of things may have infected the animal and determine if they are a threat to other animals in the collection.

We met Dr. Jennifer Bernard (left), an Anatomic Pathology Fellow, and Dr. Sabrina McGraw (right), an Anatomic Pathology Resident. Dr. Bernard recently took a test, similar to the test she took to become a veterinarian, and is officially a pathologist! Dr. McGraw only has one more year to go before she, too, can take the test.

We met Dr. Jennifer Bernard (left), an Anatomic Pathology Fellow, and Dr. Sabrina McGraw (right), an Anatomic Pathology Resident. Dr. Bernard recently took a test, similar to the test she took to become a veterinarian, and is officially a pathologist! Dr. McGraw only has one more year to go before she, too, can take the test.

Dr. Bernard explained that pathology has two sides: clinical and anatomic. She explained that clinical pathologists, like her, are focused more on living animals and work to treat diseases before they can progress. Anatomic pathologists work with animals that have already died, trying to determine what killed the animal and how it might affect other animals in the collection.

Dr. Bernard explained that pathology has two sides: clinical and anatomic. She explained that clinical pathologists, like her, are focused more on living animals and work to treat diseases before they can progress. Anatomic pathologists work with animals that have already died, trying to determine what killed the animal and how it might affect other animals in the collection.

Dr. McGraw presented us with a case to test our pathology skills. The case of the “Coughing Condor” involved a bird that was being treated successfully for lead poisoning but still died, puzzling its keepers. She put a slide containing a sample of the condor’s tissue under the microscope for us to look at. It turns out, the lead poisoning had weakened the immune system of the bird, making it susceptible to infection.

Dr. McGraw presented us with a case to test our pathology skills. The case of the “Coughing Condor” involved a bird that was being treated successfully for lead poisoning but still died, puzzling its keepers. She put a slide containing a sample of the condor’s tissue under the microscope for us to look at. It turns out, the lead poisoning had weakened the immune system of the bird, making it susceptible to infection.

Each slide contains a tissue sample from a different animal. The samples are stained with different dyes to make certain features, such as parasites or fungi, stand out against the animal’s tissues. Once stained, the pathologists can more easily examine the tissue and determine what might have killed an animal.

Each slide contains a tissue sample from a different animal. The samples are stained with different dyes to make certain features, such as parasites or fungi, stand out against the animal’s tissues. Once stained, the pathologists can more easily examine the tissue and determine what might have killed an animal.

Dr. McGraw showed us a tissue sample from the “Coughing Condor” case. The teal is the tissue of the condor’s air sac and the pink is a mold called aspergillum. The mold infects a bird when their immune system is weak. This condor already had lead poisoning, so the aspergillum was able to infect the bird, leading to its death.

Dr. McGraw showed us a tissue sample from the “Coughing Condor” case. The teal is the tissue of the condor’s air sac and the pink is a mold called aspergillum. The mold infects a bird when their immune system is weak. This condor already had lead poisoning, so the aspergillum was able to infect the bird, leading to its death.

The skeleton of a small hoof stock was on display, but there was something distinctly different about it. This animal had an extra leg growing out of its pelvis! Dr. Bernard pointed out the different parts of the extra leg and explained that the leg would never have functioned because the muscles wouldn’t have attached to it properly.

The skeleton of a small hoof stock was on display, but there was something distinctly different about it. This animal had an extra leg growing out of its pelvis! Dr. McGraw pointed out the different parts of the extra leg and explained that the leg would never have functioned because the muscles wouldn’t have attached to it properly.

We got a special look inside the necropsy lab. Here, animals are dissected in order to determine cause of death in a way somewhat similar to a human autopsy on CSI. The lab is kept very sterile, as technicians have no way of knowing what sort of diseases an animal might be carrying. Dr. McGraw explained that the lab is cleaner and safer than a human hospital. Necropsies at the Zoo are important for ensuring the health of all animals in the collection.

We got a special look inside the necropsy lab. Here, animals are dissected in order to determine cause of death in a way somewhat similar to a human autopsy on CSI. The lab is kept very sterile, as technicians have no way of knowing what sort of diseases an animal might be carrying. Necropsies at the Zoo are important for ensuring the health of all animals in the collection.

When larger animals are brought in from the Zoo or Safari Park, a special lift allows for easy transport. The lift can support large animals, up to the size of a rhino! The lift extends all the way to the back of the necropsy lab so that the technicians can place the animal wherever they will be conducting the necropsy.

When larger animals are brought in from the Zoo or Safari Park, a special lift allows for easy transport. The lift can support large animals, up to the size of a rhino! The lift extends all the way to the back of the necropsy lab so that the technicians can place the animal wherever they will be conducting the necropsy.

Before leaving the lab it is important to sanitize any part of your body that came into contact with any part of the lab. Due to the strict protocols of the lab, we were instructed not to lean on any tables or touch anything in the lab. Even though the floors had been washed and disinfected for our visit, we also had to rinse the bottoms of our shoes in a footbath to ensure we didn’t leave with any contaminants on our feet.

Before leaving the lab it is important to sanitize any part of your body that came into contact with any part of the lab. Due to the strict protocols of the lab, we were instructed not to lean on any tables or touch anything in the lab. Even though the floors had been washed and disinfected for our visit, we also had to rinse the bottoms of our shoes in a footbath to ensure we didn’t leave with any contaminants on our feet.

A few doors down from the necropsy lab is the histology lab. Here, tissue samples from animals are made into slides that can later be studied and tested. The process is a bit complex, but the technicians and pathologists have it down to a science.

A few doors down from the necropsy lab is the histology lab. Here, tissue samples from animals are made into slides that can later be studied and tested. The process is a bit complex, but the technicians and pathologists have it down to a science.

While she showed us the histology lab, Dr. McGraw passed around the skull of a rodent from southern South America known as the plains viscacha. This particular plains viscacha suffered from an infection of the bone marrow known as osteomyelitis. Preservation of tissues and bones allows pathologists to study the different diseases that affected an animal long after it has died. This helps the pathologists learn more about the disease and how to detect it in other animals in the collection.

While she showed us the histology lab, Dr. McGraw passed around the skull of a rodent from southern South America known as the plains viscacha. This particular plains viscacha suffered from an infection of the bone marrow known as osteomyelitis. Preservation of tissues and bones allows pathologists to study the different diseases that affected an animal long after it has died. This helps the pathologists learn more about the disease and how to detect it in other animals in the collection.

The histology processing center is essential to turning a tissue sample into a slide. A tissue sample is put in the processing center to extract all the water from it. Once the water is extracted, it is coated with wax. The wax not only makes the sample stronger and easier to handle but also preserves the tissue. Pathologists make slides so that they can take a closer look at what affected an animal and help protect other animals in the collection.

The histology processing center is essential to turning a tissue sample into a slide. A tissue sample is put in the processing center to extract all the water from it. Once the water is extracted, it is coated with wax. The wax not only makes the sample stronger and easier to handle but also preserves the tissue. Pathologists make slides so that they can take a closer look at what affected an animal and help protect other animals in the collection.

Once a sample has swapped its water for wax it goes to the microtone. Here, the tissue is precision cut and placed on a slide. The microtone can cut a slice as thin as a few cells thick! The thinner the slice the better, as it then becomes easier to look at individual cells and determine what may have been wrong with the animal.

Once a sample has swapped its water for wax it goes to the microtone. Here, the tissue is precision cut and placed on a slide. The microtone can cut a slice as thin as a few cells thick! The thinner the slice the better, as it then becomes easier to look at individual cells and determine what may have been wrong with the animal.

The final step to making a slide is adding stains to it. Each stain is formulated to color a different tissue, fungi, virus, or other components that can infect animal cells. The staining process is automatic and there is a robotic arm that will add stains to the slides. Once the sample has been stained, pathologists have an easier time determining the cause of death for an animal. This is an important part of zoo veterinary medicine because pathologists can more confidently determine what affected and killed an animal, potentially saving other animals in the collection.

Libby, Photography Team
Week Six, Winter Session 2014

 

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Surprising Safari Adventure

Zoo Intern Quest 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 on the Zoo’s website!

Interns and I got to experience a day in the life of a mammal keeper at the Safari Park. We were expecting a ride in the keeper’s truck, but what we got was so much more…

Torrey Pillsbury (passenger’s side) and Jennifer Minichino (driver’s side) are hardworking Senior Mammal Keepers at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. They get up bright and early every morning to begin their rounds, feeding and checking on their animals. By caring for the mammals at the Safari Park, Ms. Pillsbury and Ms. Minichino are helping wildlife conservation efforts worldwide by contributing to breeding programs for endangered species. We had the privilege of riding in their four-wheel drive beauty for the day.

Torrey Pillsbury (passenger’s side) and Jennifer Minichino (driver’s side) are hardworking Senior Mammal Keepers at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. They get up bright and early every morning to begin their rounds, feeding and checking on their animals. By caring for the mammals at the Safari Park, Ms. Pillsbury and Ms. Minichino are helping wildlife conservation efforts worldwide by contributing to breeding programs for endangered species. We had the privilege of riding in their four-wheel drive beauty for the day.

Ms. Pillbury is displaying the keeper book that is used in all areas of the Safari Park to keep track of the animals, record any animal observations, and/or important information concerning their exhibit. If an animal looks injured or pregnant, it is noted here. Anything a keeper observes during their shift that they deem important is written down in the handy dandy notebook. Without it, keepers would have a difficult time communicating with each other between shifts about what the animals need to stay healthy and happy.

Ms. Pillbury is displaying the keeper book that is used in all areas of the Safari Park to keep track of the animals, record any animal observations, and/or important information concerning their exhibit. If an animal looks injured or pregnant, it is noted here. Anything a keeper observes during their shift that they deem important is written down in the handy dandy notebook. Without it, keepers would have a difficult time communicating with each other between shifts about what the animals need to stay healthy and happy.

The essential tools of a keeper: a rake, a shovel, a truck, and some food. The green branches on the left are acacia branches and the hay is excelsior hay, which many of the hoof stock at the Safari Park consume by the pound. Seriously though, scooping poop is a very important part of the job, so making sure you have a quality rake and shovel in essential.

The essential tools of a keeper: a rake, a shovel, a truck, and some food. The green branches on the left are acacia branches and the hay is excelsior hay, which many of the hoof stock at the Safari Park consume by the pound. Seriously though, scooping poop is a very important part of the job, so making sure you have a quality rake and shovel in essential.

(From left to right) Interns Samantha, Emily, Libby, and Tori are peeling acacia leaves off of their branches to feed to some animals unbeknownst to us. As we soon discovered, removing leaves from a tree is much easier if you are a giraffe. The sweet, sappy smell of the leaves wafted through the air of the Safari Park as we traveled towards our destination, the open fields.

(From left to right) Interns Samantha, Emily, Libby, and Tori are peeling acacia leaves off of their branches to feed to some animals unbeknownst to us. As we soon discovered, removing leaves from a tree is much easier if you are a giraffe. The sweet, sappy smell of the leaves wafted through the air of the Safari Park as we traveled towards our destination, the open fields.

While driving through the Asian Plains Exhibit, we encountered a prancing Indian blackbuck. His ears are turned downward because at the moment, another male was attempting to encroach upon his herd, and that, of course, just wouldn’t do. Although this animal is relatively miniature and cute, the acacia leaves were not for them. So who were the leaves for?

While driving through the Asian Plains Exhibit, we encountered a prancing Indian blackbuck. His ears are turned downward because at the moment, another male was attempting to encroach upon his herd, and that, of course, just wouldn’t do. Although this animal is relatively miniature and cute, the acacia leaves were not for them. So who were the leaves for?

This curious little orange east African Sitatunga also came over to check out our vehicle. The red tag in its ear helps the keepers identify who is who in the exhibit. A certain tag in combination with the ear notch can relay the number identification of the animal, the sex, or which family it belongs to. Since keepers often cannot get close enough to the animal to read a nametag, this system is very effective, especially at a distance.

This curious little orange east African Sitatunga also came over to check out our vehicle. The red tag in its ear helps the keepers identify who is who in the exhibit. A certain tag in combination with the ear notch can relay the number identification of the animal, the sex, or which family it belongs to. Since keepers often cannot get close enough to the animal to read a nametag, this system is very effective, especially at a distance.

A small group of deer seemed to take an interest in our truck. Maybe they know that it carries food?  These fluffy deer are called Indian Barasinghas, they are endangered in the wild, but the population at the Safari Park appears to be doing just fine. These deer are both healthy and happy!

A small group of deer seemed to take an interest in our truck. Maybe they know that it carries food? These fluffy deer are called Indian Barasinghas, they are endangered in the wild, but the population at the Safari Park appears to be doing just fine. These deer are both healthy and happy!

This Cape buffalo, whose relatives live in Africa, was just too cute to simply pass by, I mean, look at those big blue eyes! Since we had branches left over from our leaf stripping exercise, we gave these guys a snack. After all, they do need to eat several pounds of food a day.

This Cape buffalo, whose relatives live in Africa, was just too cute to simply pass by, I mean, look at those big blue eyes! Since we had branches left over from our leaf stripping exercise, we gave these guys a snack. After all, they do need to eat several pounds of food a day.

Here, we met Bhopu (pronounced BOH-POO). He is a greater one-horned rhino from India. He has great genes and is a fabulous candidate for breeding. When we fed Bhopu apples, he used his prehensile upper lip to (which acts like a finger) to grab the apples out of our hands. This resulted in some laughing and a large amount of stinky rhino slobber.

Here, we met Bhopu (pronounced BOH-POO). He is a greater one-horned rhino from India. He has great genes and is a fabulous candidate for breeding. When we fed Bhopu apples, he used his prehensile upper lip to (which acts like a finger) to grab the apples out of our hands. This resulted in some laughing and a large amount of stinky rhino slobber.

This beautiful greater one-horned rhino also coveted our apples and we were happy to oblige. However, tossing apples into a rhino’s mouth is not as easy as it looks, there were a couple missed shots that other animals cleaned up. She opened her mouth so wide we could see the molars in the back of her mouth, which are used for grinding plant material.

This beautiful greater one-horned rhino also coveted our apples and we were happy to oblige. However, tossing apples into a rhino’s mouth is not as easy as it looks, there were a couple missed shots that other animals cleaned up. She opened her mouth so wide we could see the molars in the back of her mouth, which are used for grinding plant material.

 

The giraffes see us coming! They are ready to chow down on some acacia leaves. From personal experience I can tell you that giraffes run and walk surprisingly fast for their size and height. Their necks are craned forward trying to get to the food as fast as they can! So that’s who the leaves were for…

The giraffes see us coming! They are ready to chow down on some acacia leaves. From personal experience I can tell you that giraffes run and walk surprisingly fast for their size and height. Their necks are craned forward trying to get to the food as fast as they can! So that’s who the leaves were for…

This is a Uganda giraffe. Check out that long tongue! Each inch of a giraffes tongue corresponds to one foot in neck length. Giraffes use their tongue to strip leaves off of tree branches. Their saliva is very thick and mucousy because acacia trees in Africa have long, sharp, thorns, and if a giraffe swallows a thorn, its saliva protects its esophagus and throat from being damaged. Needless to say, I discovered that giraffe spit is very thick.

This is a Uganda giraffe. Check out that long tongue! Each inch of a giraffes tongue corresponds to one foot in neck length. Giraffes use their tongue to strip leaves off of tree branches. Their saliva is very thick and mucousy because acacia trees in Africa have long, sharp, thorns, and if a giraffe swallows a thorn, its saliva protects its esophagus and throat from being damaged. Needless to say, I discovered that giraffe spit is very thick.

Sarah, our program supervisor, tries to hide the box of goodies unsuccessfully and the giraffes grab some easy leaves. Eventually, we were able to get the box out of their long-necked reach.

Sarah, our program supervisor, tries to hide the box of goodies unsuccessfully and the giraffes grab some easy leaves. Eventually, we were able to get the box out of their long-necked reach.

As I fed the giraffe a fresh green leaf, I could feel it’s breath of my hand and it didn’t matter that it was rather stinky because feeding a giraffe is one of the most amazing things I have ever done. Being this close to such a unique and exotic animal was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

As I fed the giraffe a fresh green leaf, I could feel it’s breath of my hand and it didn’t matter that it was rather stinky because feeding a giraffe is one of the most amazing things I have ever done. Being this close to such a unique and exotic animal was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

On the way out of the plains, Ms. Pillsbury told us stories of her past keeper days and how she went from riding horses to riding elephants all when she was only nineteen years old. Of course, no one at the San Diego Zoo or Safari Park rides any of the animals now, for the safety of the keepers and the animals. We ended our amazing day by thanking the keepers for this amazing opportunity and left with an even stronger sense of admiration for the passion Zoo Keepers exhibit on and off the job.

On the way out of the plains, Ms. Pillsbury told us stories of her past keeper days and how she went from riding horses to riding elephants all when she was only nineteen years old. Of course, no one at the San Diego Zoo or Safari Park rides any of the animals now, for the safety of the keepers and the animals. We ended our amazing day by thanking the keepers for this amazing opportunity and left with an even stronger sense of admiration for the passion Zoo Keepers exhibit on and off the job.

Kalee, Photography Team,
Week Six, Winter Session 2014

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Parenting gone Wild

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!

tori_week6_picBeing a parent is hard work. It’s like having multiple jobs in one. You have the responsibilities of a chauffeur, nurse, and chef all at the same time. I can only assume that being a parent can be challenging, but it can also be very rewarding to see your child grow up and achieve special milestones. Zoo keepers are similar in that they watch over animals and make sure all of their needs are met. They have to feed, clean up after, and love the animals they take care of just like parents care for their children.

Interns met with Torrey Pillsbury, Senior Mammal Keeper, and Jennifer Minichino, Senior Mammal Keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. We were given the opportunity to see what they do on a regular basis, including hand-feeding giraffes and rhinos! After spending a couple hours with them, I realized that the tasks they do resemble the ones that parents do. It is their job to provide food for the animals, make sure they have water, keep their exhibits clean, and make sure the animals are safe. First thing in the morning, Ms. Pillsbury loads her keeper truck with hay, alfalfa, about ten bags of pellets, and acacia leaves to feed the animals in her area. She also makes sure the exhibits are clean and that nothing is broken or out of place. To make sure that each animal is healthy, the keepers need to watch for behavioral changes such as an animal not eating. If an animal is acting different it could mean that he or she is sick. Any behavioral changes that a keeper notices are recorded in a notebook so that all keepers can watching over that animal are in the loop.

Parents have to make sure their children are safe at all times by constantly keeping an eye on them. Keepers also have to keep an eye on the animals by counting them each day to make sure that one hasn’t escaped or to see if a baby was born. You must be wondering how a keeper knows which animal is which when most of them look exactly the same. That is the purpose of the ear tagging and notching system. Each color tag and ear each notch means a specific number. Right after a baby is born, a keeper puts a tag in the bay’s ear, which is a similar process to getting your ears pierced. A keeper then clips specific parts of the baby’s ear to correspond with its number. This way the keepers will know exactly which animal is which in the wide-open exhibits.

Keepers also can develop special relationships with the animals. Ms. Pillsbury helped to hand raise a gorilla named Jamani because her mother was unable to properly care for her. Being hand-raised is when a human assist with raising an otherwise wild animal. When Jamani got older and was transferred to the North Carolina Zoo, of course Ms. Pillsbury was sad to see her go, but she knew she was going to a good zoo that would look after her. Now, Jamani has her own baby and is taking good care of her, which can be sometimes difficult for hand-raised animals. Sometimes hand-raised animals don’t know how to be a mother because they weren’t around their biological mother. Ms. Pillsbury was very happy and proud to see Jamani achieve this goal of becoming a mother.

Being a keeper isn’t always easy. They have to feed the animals, clean their exhibits, and make sure that they are safe. However, with these challenges come great rewards such as watching animals grown up, and sometimes being within touching distance of wild animals.  Parents and keepers are alike in that they have others that depend on them for their care and attention. In any career you will face challenges, but the rewards make it all worthwhile.

Tori, Real World Team
Week Six, Winter Session 2014

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Path to Pathology

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!

libby_week6_picWhen an animal at the Zoo or Safari Park is sick, a veterinarian can treat it. But, what if they don’t know what is making the animal sick? What if it dies before they can determine the disease that infected it? This is where the pathologists step in to help.

Now, you’re probably thinking what is a pathologist? Well, pathology is a special branch of veterinary medicine that is focused on diseases. It has two different subsets: clinical and anatomic. Clinical pathologists work with living animals. They determine what is making an animal sick through tissue and blood samples. Anatomic pathologists work with dead animals and use tissue samples to determine what killed an animal. Think of it like this: anatomic pathologists are concerned with population health while clinical pathologists are focused on individual health.

Dr. Jennifer Bernard, an Anatomic Pathology Fellow, explained that her job as a zoo pathologist consists of sitting at her microscope looking at the cells of animals that go through necropsy, a lab where technicians dissect the animals in a way that is somewhat similar to a human autopsy. All animals that die at the Zoo or Safari Park are sent to necropsy so that the technicians can take samples from it and determine cause of death. Dr. Bernard also explained that Zoo pathologists, working with nutritionists, animal care staff, and clinical veterinarians at the Zoo, contribute to public health. Zoo pathology is a very important field. For example, in 2006, there was an outbreak of the West Nile virus in New York, no doctors could diagnosis what it was. Who eventually made the diagnosis? Why, the veterinary pathologists at the local zoo! So, these professionals aren’t only helping the animals at the zoo, they’re helping people, too.

Dr. Bernard has always had an interest in zoos and exotic animals. Her interest in pathology began when she was working on a jaguar project in Brazil. She was helping catch the big cats and put radio collars on them so scientists could track their movements. Dr. Bernard also had the opportunity to work on research in a lab at Cornell University. While in school, she even spent a summer in South Africa working with cheetahs. When we met Dr. Bernard, she explained that earlier in the week she had taken her final test to become a veterinary pathologist, like the bar exam a lawyer takes in order to practice, and passed! Now, she has completed all her schooling and passed all the tests she needs as an anatomic pathologist! She said it was a long road, but it was well worth the effort because she is finally able to help the zoo animals she has been fascinated with since she was young.

Dr. Sabrina McGraw, is an Anatomic Pathology Resident. She works with Dr. Bernard and is only a year away from becoming a pathologist! Like Dr. Bernard, she works in necropsy and spends most of her time at her microscope looking at cells. Dr. McGraw grew up loving horses and aspiring to become veterinarian. She went to the University of Florida where she majored in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation and minored in Zoology and Chemistry. While in school, she had the opportunity to work on many projects, including a project involving black bears. The biggest danger to black bears is cars. When the bears cross the street in search of food or shelter they may wander in front of cars. Dr. McGraw worked with other scientists to track the movements of the bears and determine popular crossing areas. Once they found the crossing areas they were able to help place corridors under the road so the bears could cross the street without coming in contact with cars. Working on this project sparked Dr. McGraw’s interest in pathology. She enjoyed being able to help not only individual bears but the black bear population as a whole.

Dr. McGraw found population health fulfilling and wanted to work in pathology, but she still wasn’t quite sure. So, she went to work for a crime lab. In the lab they tested samples from racing dogs and horses to look for drugs, ensuring that no animal had an unfair advantage or was harmed. When that job was over, she decided to train as an EMT. She quickly discovered that it wasn’t for her and she left to work on different projects. She worked on a project trapping shore birds and testing them for avian influenza. Another project that she was involved in focused on white-tailed deer and different viruses that affect them. Dr. McGraw decided to go back to school to become a pathologist. She went to the University of California at Davis for three years and is now in her residency. Soon, she will take her test like Dr. Bernard and become a pathologist.

The road to becoming a pathologist is long and can be difficult but Dr. McGraw and Dr. Bernard have braved the difficult path and come out triumphant! Dr. Bernard (and soon Dr. McGraw) has joined the selective world of zoo pathology. There are only approximately 25 zoo pathologists total in the United States, and the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park are lucky enough to have 5 of the 25 on their payroll.

Pathologists at the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park are essential to maintaining the health of collection animals. By looking at samples from animals that died on site, they can determine if the other animals are in danger of infection. Without Dr. Bernard and Dr. McGraw, a disease that entered the Zoo could be detected too late. Though the path to pathology is long and difficult it is well worth the rewards.

Libby, Career Team
Week Six, Winter Session 2014

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Babies!

Zoo Intern Quest 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 on the Zoo’s website!

sabrina_week6_picHave you been to the Safari Park’s nursery lately? Right now, they have two beautiful lion cubs busily eating, playing, and sleeping—sleeping about 20 hours a day! But most baby animals at the Safari Park are raised by their mothers, including the adorable baby antelopes, deer, giraffes, and other hoofstock (hoofed animals) in the African and Asian Plains exhibit. InternQuest met “behind the scenes” with two keepers who work with these cuties Senior Mammal Keepers Torrey Pillsbury and Jenifer Minichino.

It’s not all fun and games working with baby hoofstock. The exhibits have hundreds of animals of many different species, so just keeping track of new babies is tricky. Each exhibit has a “red book,” which looks like a journal where the keepers record details of the day like whether an animal seems sick or a new baby has arrived. The keepers also keep a management log, where each animal, its species, and its number is recorded. But how do the keepers tell which animal is which? Well, when each animal is born, it is given a colored tag and numbered specific notches in one of its ears (kind of like a human ear piercing!). The color of the tag and the placement of the notches represent a number code. Keepers have to be really good at reading the notches because the animals in the larger exhibits are free to run around wherever they like, so the keepers often only get a fleeting glimpse.

The animals will get really close at feeding time, though! We were able to feed acacia leaves to the giraffes and they clearly loved it. We held out handfuls of the leaves for them to eat and I can only imagine that it was like being spoon-fed your favorite food. I never realized how big giraffes are until I saw them up close! Their tongues are really long, almost purple, and prehensile (which means they can grab things, similar to a monkey’s tail or an elephant’s trunk). When their marvelous tongues and fuzzy mouths had eaten all the acacia leaves, we reluctantly left. As we headed away, I even spotted a baby giraffe! Maybe you’ll spy him, too, if you take a tour around the African Plains exhibit.

On the way back from the African Plains, Ms. Pillsbury told us all about the Przewalski’s wild horses, one of her favorite animals, in the Asian Plains exhibit. They’re very cool-looking horses, with golden and white bodies and short, dark, and spiky manes. North American mustangs, descended from domesticated horses, just don’t compare—the Przewalski’s horse is the only subspecies that has never been domesticated. There are only a few hundred left in the world, but the Safari Park’s herd is doing their part for the species. Five out of six of the mares are due to give birth in the next six months, which means more babies in the Park!

But what good are animal babies—even the babies of endangered animals—to the rest of the species? In other words, how do the babies and their keepers contribute to conservation? Well, baby animals in the wild are vulnerable to everything from habitat loss and poaching to ordinary predation (being eaten by predators). What the Safari Park and other animal parks do is provide a secure home for animals to breed safely. Of course, it’s also a good thing for us humans. We get adorable baby animals to look at! When we get a chance to observe cute animals in a place that mimics their natural habitat (like the Safari Park), it shows us just how valuable these creatures are and how important it is to conserve them. I would love to have a world full of babies in their natural surroundings and surrounded by their own species!

Sabrina, Conservation Team
Week Six, Winter Session 2014

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Every Day is a New Day

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!

emily_week6_picIn today’s world, life is a jumble of different professional opportunities. You may not always know where your career will take you, even if you’ve already picked a career. Interns met with Torrey Pillsbury, Senior Mammal Keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and she told us how she had no idea that she’d begun a path to zoo keeping when she took a job as a horse trainer straight out of high school. Today, she loves working with the animals on the African and Asian Plains Exhibits at the Safari Park. Zoo keeping is a fun and rewarding career, but in order to handle the job, you have to be motivated and ready to get your hands dirty.

Ms. Pillsbury has been working at the San Diego Safari Park for almost 30 years. However, she became a keeper by taking a different route than keepers would need to take today. Being a zoo keeper has become very competitive and quite often those interested need a degree and a lot of previous hands-on animal experience. As a teenager, Ms. Pillsbury worked a lot with farm animals, especially horses. At only 17 years old, she was hired on to work in the Safari Park’s horse shows, alongside Joan Embry. Eventually, when the horse show closed, a friend who worked at the Park suggested that if she could ride horses, why not elephants? So she began riding elephants in the show and became the show’s first female elephant trainer.

When Ms. Pillsbury trained elephants, she became more confident working with exotic animals. After working with the elephants in the Safari Park for a few years, she went off to work at the Bronx Zoo for six years to help with their breeding program with their equine animals. She returned to San Diego after her time at the Bronx Zoo and became a mammal keeper at the Safari Park. She cares for many of the animals in the open exhibits including endangered species such as the Przewalski’s horses, the most endangered horse species on earth. At one time Ms. Pillsbury even helped to hand raise a baby gorilla!

Caring for horses and other animals isn’t simply putting them into a pen and feeding them, though. All of the animals in the Safari Park need to have strong fences that they can’t jump over or break. They also need big enough enclosures so that they will feel comfortable moving around. When we were between exhibits, we had to go pass through two different fences that stop animals from going between exhibits.

Ms. Pillsbury also makes sure that all of the exhibits look as natural as possible. Enclosures need to be clean, so, yes, keepers need to be able to shovel a lot of. In fact, keepers like Ms. Pillsbury dedicate two to three days a week to raking manure into trucks. Even so, Ms. Pillsbury says that those days are probably her favorite because she can observe the animals instead of having to keep track of them, deliver food, and record what she sees in a journal for all the keepers and vet technicians to review. There are still exciting points in her job, though. For example, sometimes keepers have to get rhinos into a pen by corralling them with trucks because they need to get them alone, usually for a check up. Ms. Pillsbury feels that her job is so important because she is responsible for a lot of different animals. Other people also rely on her, such as the vet staff who determine, from Ms. Pillsbury’s observations, if they need to bring an animal to the Harter Hospital located just next to the Safari Park.

Ms. Pillsbury learned a lot of what she knows about being a keeper on the job. For her current position, the most difficult part of the job, at first, was recognizing all the different species and individuals, because there are a lot of animals she cares for. Personally, I was surprised it wasn’t rounding up rhinos into a corral, but everyone has their opinions. On our trip, we saw Thompson’s gazelles, rhinos, buffalo, too many kinds of deer to count, Przewalksi’s horses, and by far the most memorable was the giraffes who don’t know the meaning of personal space. They stuck their heads in the truck while we were feeding them.

Although being a keeper sounds time-consuming, it’s completely worth it. While we were in the exhibit for just two hours, I saw why Ms. Pillsbury enjoys her job so much—there’s so many animals to work with. She told us she doesn’t mind leaving for work at 4:30 in the morning at all because she loves her job so much. She gets to work with animals from the other side of the globe, some of which are so endangered that they aren’t even found in the wild! Her favorite part of the job is being able to come to work every day and know that everything is going to be different from yesterday.

Emily, Careers Team
Week Six, Winter Session 2014