Zoo InternQuest

Zoo InternQuest

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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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Sunshine on the Future’s Horizon

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!

 This week, interns had the opportunity to meet Torrey Pillsbury and Roger Petersen, two Senior Mammal Keepers at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. They are in charge of caring for some of the animals in the main field exhibits, specifically the area that the keepers call the north run. When out observing the animals, Ms. Pillsbury and Mr. Petersen take detailed notes on the behaviors of the animals and mark when a new baby is born to keep accurate records.

Originally opened as a breeding center for the San Diego Zoo, the Safari Park has since prospered into an attraction of its own. One of the Safari Park’s main goals is to educate the public about how they can make a difference in the conservation of animals and be a hero for wildlife. Ms. Pillsbury explained how the Safari Park also focuses on the breeding of exotic and endangered species so they can maintain a genetically healthy and viable population. It is the San Diego Zoo Global’s hope that eventually endangered species will be released back into the wild after the threat of its native habitat is no longer a problem.

Just recently, six female southern white rhinos were flown in from South Africa to help with the rhino breeding program at the Park. These rhinos will not only help with the near threatened southern white rhino population, but also play a role in trying to bring the critically endangered northern white rhino back from the brink of extinction. Ms. Pillsbury and Mr. Rogers play a vital role in maintaining the environment of a variety of animals that may later be moved to another facility for breeding purposes.

Since its founding, the Safari Park has been very successful in researching the breeding behaviors of rhinos and is now one of the best at breeding southern white rhinos. Last month, a new southern white rhino was born at the Park. The calf was named Kianga for the Swahili word sunshine, she is sure to brighten the future for the southern white rhino species. She is the 94th rhino calf born at the Safari Park, and when she matures, Kianga will either stay at the Park or be moved to another zoo to become part of the global breeding program.

Other animals in the African and Asian plains exhibits are constantly being moved to and from the Park to ensure a successful and healthy breeding program. Ms. Pillsbury mentioned how birth records of all the animals are shared with the studbook keepers who are in control of determining when an animal will move so that its genes do not become overrepresented. Eventually, these animals are moved to reserves so that their species can slowly be reintroduced into the wild. When an animal is going to be transferred from the Safari Park, it is Ms. Pillsbury and Mr. Petersen’s job to move the animal into temporary holding and ensure it remains healthy and comfortable in its new situation.

Although very concerned with exotic species around the world, Ms. Pillsbury explained how the Safari Park also works locally to ensure the conservation and preservation of some endangered species here in San Diego. Mr. Petersen mentioned how the Safari Park has put aside acres of land, known as the back 900, to preserve the endangered coastal sage scrub species. These plants are slowly losing population due to more frequent wildfires and increased land development. While many may simply think of exotic animal species as being vulnerable, it is important to remember the native species that can be found in your own backyard.

Kylie, Conservation Team
Week Six, Fall 2015

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Chirping for Conservation

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

Nicole LaGreco and Ann Knutsons’ entire job revolves around picking up chicks. No, no, not like that – chicks – as in baby birds. Ms. LaGreco and Ms. Knutson work at the Avian Propagation Center (APC) at the San Diego Zoo. Ms. LaGreco is an animal care manager, Ms. Knutson, a senior keeper, but what is the APC? It’s a facility where baby birds whose parents couldn’t care for them are given a second shot at being raised. The APC, like all other divisions of San Diego Zoo Global, is contributing to the conservation of endangered species around the world.

Many of the APC’s conservation efforts are fairly direct; they make a difference on an individual scale. When keepers raise hundreds of individuals, the effects of their work grow quickly. Every baby bird they are able to save is a boost to its species’ population, especially when that bird grows up to have babies of its own. The Guam kingfisher, bird species that has been declared extinct in the wild, is an excellent example. Guam kingfishers have been hunted to extinction on their native island by invasive brown tree snakes. There are now only 150 Guam kingfishers left, and only in zoos. The APC raises all of the San Diego Zoo’s Guam kingfishers with minimal human imprinting so that they are potential candidates for release into the wild once the tree snakes have been removed. While the kingfisher is by far the APC’s most extreme case, they also work with other endangered species, like the Andean cock of the rock, the blue crowned laughing crush, and the Dalmatian pelican. And even if a species is not endangered, keeping babies alive and creating a thriving population serves as a preventative measure.

Another way the team at APC helps conserve bird species is by raising animal ambassadors. The flamingoes that guests meet at Backstage Pass and many of the birds who star in educational shows around the Zoo and Safari park grew up with the APC staff. These birds go on to inspire the public and promote awareness for conservation in hundreds of guests every day.

On a more global scale, the APC team works on international projects to help endangered species around the world. For the past few years the Zoo has been sending APC staff to the Galapagos Islands to help raise mangrove finches. This finches’ populations have been declining, mainly because of a fly introduced to the island that kills their chicks with astonishing efficiency. The fly has a 97% mortality rate in mangrove finch chicks, but surprisingly, it has no effect on adult birds. Since adults are not susceptible to death by fly bites, APC keepers can help. By pulling eggs from nests and raising the chicks away from the flies, they are able to keep the chicks alive until the fly is no longer a threat to them. The adult finches are then released back into the wild on their native island, so the population can start to grow again.

The APC’s work is a very hands-on type of conservation. They help each bird they work with to grow up and live a successful, independent life. From the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park to an island thousands of miles away, the dedicated team at the Avian Propagation Center is making a difference for baby birds – and it all starts by picking them up.

Naomi, Conservation Team
Week Six, Fall 2015

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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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Fine Feathered Friends

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!

Last week the interns were able to meet Nicole LaGreco and Ann Knutson at the Aviation Propagation Center (APC) located at the San Diego Zoo. Ms. LaGreco is an Animal Care Manager and Ms. Knutson is a Senior Keeper. Both Ms. LaGreco and Ms. Knutson help with the hand rearing of birds for the Zoo and Safari Park. Their jobs involve everything from incubation of eggs, to making food, to feeding chicks, and keeping extensive records.

Before she came to work at the San Diego Zoo as a Keeper in the APC, Ms. LeGreco originally wanted to work with primates! After her first internship at the Philadelphia Zoo, she found that working with primates just wasn’t the right fit for her; however, she knew she still wanted to work with animals in some capacity. She worked at the Atlanta Zoo for 8 years before she moved to San Diego to work as a Keeper in the APC to gain more hands on experience with animals. Once Ms. LeGreco saw the passion her boss had for birds she began to share that same passion.

Ms. Knutson always knew she wanted to work with animals, with that in mind she got a General Biology degree from UCSD. Originally she wanted to go into field research and got an internship in Texas with the Institute for Wild Bird Populations. Through her internship she learned that she wanted to make more of a day to day impact and decided to become a zoo keeper. Ms. Knutson worked at the Austin Zoo, and then moved to the Sedgwick County Zoo as a Lead Penguin Keeper for 6 years before transferring to San Diego in 2012 to work in the APC.

What does working in the APC entail exactly? The APC receives eggs from the Zoo that do not have parents to properly care for them. The eggs are then sent into the incubation room where they are kept at the right temperature and humidity. Each egg is either hand rotated by the keepers, or by machines, to ensure proper development of membranes in the shell. On average eggs are supposed to lose about 15% of their weight due to evaporation. So, during incubation the keepers track the weight loss about twice a week, if the egg is not gradually losing weight it means the embryo is not developing correctly and changes must be made to the temperature and humidity of the incubator. Keepers also do something called candling in which they shine a bright light into an egg to monitor the chick’s development and determine if they are close to hatching. Once eggs are close to hatching they are moved from the incubation room to the hatching room.

After an egg has hatched, they are moved into the brooder room. It is here that keepers create and hand feed chicks. However, the keepers in the APC must be very careful when working with the chicks otherwise there is a chance imprinting could occur. To avoid that problem keepers wear big sheets over their heads or use sock puppets when interacting with the chicks. Another large part of working in the APC is record keeping. From the day they receive the egg to the day the bird is sent to an enclosure, records are kept on their weight and overall health as well as what they eat. These records are very important for creating protocol for a certain species, which can be used for the new eggs they receive.

The APC is a great place for gaining hands on experience with birds! If you have a passion for birds following a career path like Ms. LeGreco’s or Ms. Knutson’s might be for you. Hand rearing these birds from eggs to adulthood is a very rewarding and worthwhile profession for anyone who wants to make an impact on an animal’s daily life.

Camille, Careers Team
Week Six, Fall 2015

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An Amazing Safari Adventure

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!

Being immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of African and Asian wildlife is something that the interns have been anticipating since the beginning of our 7-week journey. On Wednesday, the interns had the opportunity to meet Mr. Roger Petersen and Ms. Torrey Pillsbury at the San Diego Safari Park. Mr. Petersen and Ms. Pillsbury are both Senior Mammal keepers and have been working at the Park for 24 and 31 years. They take care of the immense animal diversity including various rhinos, elephants, giraffes, and other hoofstock. It was nice meeting these two veteran keepers and listening to their vast knowledge about the animals in the Safari Park.

The interns’ day started when we arrived at the Safari Park. We all introduced ourselves to Mr. Petersen and Ms. Pillsbury; their friendly smiles and welcoming demeanors made the interns feel at home instantly. We first spent time in Mr. Petersen and Ms. Pillsbury’s office, where they discussed some of their daily job assignments with the interns. They showed us two large record books where they keep new daily information on almost all the mammals at the Safari Park. Who knew taking care of animals involved so much writing!?

The day continued as we left the office and entered a caravan. This is where our adventure began! As we filed onto the truck, the interns noticed a bundle of acacia branches stacked up in the middle of the sitting area. We all realized what was in store for the rest of our trip at the Safari Park: we were going to be feeding the animals! With Mr. Petersen behind the wheel of the caravan, Ms. Pillsbury sat with us and discussed her career at the Park as we drove toward the main field exhibits. In the caravan, the interns had to prepare the animal food by removing the leaves off of the acacia branches. The task was long and tedious but well worth it when the time came to feed the animals.

Mr. Petersen made our first stop at the Asian Savanna, where we got to feed apples to three hungry greater one-horned rhinos. As I fed the rhinos and touched their leathery skin, Ms. Pillsbury explained the importance of their prehensile lips, which allows them to grab low hanging leaves. Her in depth explanation was demonstrated in real time as the rhinos poked their lips out for their tasty treat. After the interns ran out of apples and the rhinos subsequently became disinterested, we moved on to another area of the park. On the other side of the park we met another greater one-horned rhino named Bopu. Here Ms. Pillsbury fed him the branches from the acacia plant while further explaining the rhinos’ diets. She emphasized the compelling fact that all rhinos are herbivorous browsers and grazers. After saying our goodbyes to Bopu, Ms. Pillsbury, Mr. Petersen, and the interns made our way to African Plains to see one last animal. When we finally got to African Plains, we were pleasantly surprised to see a 17-foot tall reticulated giraffe walk in our direction. We had the opportunity to feed him the leaves we took off the acacia branches. As the interns put handfuls of acacia leaves up in the air, the giraffe happily snatched them with his purple, sandpaper-textured tongue. Feeding the giraffe marked the end of our safari adventure. Our time feeding and petting both the rhinos and the giraffe reinforced all the information we learned from Ms. Pillsbury.

On our way back to the office, the interns had the opportunity to ask Ms. Pillsbury a few questions. Surprisingly, her time with animals does not end when she leaves the Safari Park. She stated that she owns a few horses named Speedy, Lima, and Patty. When asked how working with the animals at the Park translates to working with her horses, Ms. Pillsbury responded that she believes that the opposite is true: that it is actually the time she spends with her horses that make a difference to what she does at the Safari Park. She said her ability to work so well with the wild animals is an acquired trait that she has learned from working with her animals at home.

Our time with Ms. Pillsbury and Mr. Petersen has given me a broader insight on the animals at the San Diego Safari Park and has taught me more about their characteristics first-hand. Being able to pet and feed the animals was an awesome experience that I’ll never forget!

Bami, Real World Team
Week Six, Fall 2015

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The Evidence is in the Slides

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!

 This week, interns had the opportunity to meet with Megan McCarthy, Resident Zoological Pathologist, and Yvonne Cates, Histology Technician, to learn about what happens to an animal after it dies. Animals from both the Zoo and Safari Park come to the Wildlife Disease Labs to be examined in order to try to determine the cause of death. The most common animals are small birds, but the pathologists work with deceased animals as large as an elephant.

Megan McCarthy is a Resident Zoological Pathologist at the Zoo. She first received an undergraduate degree in economics before deciding to go back to school to study to be a vet. After graduating from vet school from NC State, Dr. McCarthy applied to UC Davis to do a residency program to learn about being a zoo pathologist. She currently works with five other zoological pathologists at the zoo.

Megan McCarthy is a Resident Zoological Pathologist at the Zoo. She first received an undergraduate degree in economics before deciding to go back to school to study to be a vet. After graduating from vet school from NC State, Dr. McCarthy applied to UC Davis to do a residency program to learn about being a zoo pathologist. She currently works with five other zoological pathologists at the zoo.

Interns first walked to the Wildlife Disease Lab, part of the Zoological Hospital and Biological Research Center, to began to explore the process of examining a deceased animal. Here, Dr. McCarthy showed us a presentation depicting what she does every day and why it is important to pay attention to the animals that have passed. Included in the presentation were three cases that the interns worked through to determine the possible cause of death of each animal.

Interns first walked to the Wildlife Disease Lab, part of the Zoological Hospital and Biological Research Center, to began to explore the process of examining a deceased animal. Here, Dr. McCarthy showed us a presentation depicting what she does every day and why it is important to pay attention to the animals that have passed. Included in the presentation were three cases that the interns worked through to determine the possible cause of death of each animal.

Half of Dr. McCarthy’s job involves working at her microscope and analyzing tissue samples on the cellular level. As a pathologist, she looks at possible pathogens found in an animal that may have been the cause of death. In some cases, such as when dealing with a virus, Dr. McCarthy is unable to see the true pathogen and instead looks for signs that the pathogen did pass through the specific area. Those working in molecular pathology will take this a step further and use a scanning electron microscope to analyze the sample on a molecular level.

Half of Dr. McCarthy’s job involves working at her microscope and analyzing tissue samples on the cellular level. As a pathologist, she looks at possible pathogens found in an animal that may have been the cause of death. In some cases, such as when dealing with a virus, Dr. McCarthy is unable to see the true pathogen and instead looks for signs that the pathogen did pass through the specific area. Those working in molecular pathology will take this a step further and use a scanning electron microscope to analyze the sample on a molecular level.

After a quick introduction, interns walked to the histology lab to find out what it takes to make the samples of animal tissue visible under the microscope. There are many steps that go into preparing these slides, and a great deal of care goes into it. One slip up could prevent the zoological pathologists to properly analyze the sample for the animal’s cause of death.

After a quick introduction, interns walked to the histology lab to find out what it takes to make the samples of animal tissue visible under the microscope. There are many steps that go into preparing these slides, and a great deal of care goes into it. One slip up could prevent the zoological pathologists to properly analyze the sample for the animal’s cause of death.

Yvette Cates is a Histology Technician in charge of preparing the samples. In the containers are tissue samples taken by the zoological pathologists from various parts of the deceased animals. The tissue samples are currently being ‘fixed’ by using formalin to denature the proteins and stop the process of the tissues breaking down.

Yvette Cates is a Histology Technician in charge of preparing the samples. In the containers are tissue samples taken by the zoological pathologists from various parts of the deceased animals. The tissue samples are currently being ‘fixed’ by using formalin to denature the proteins and stop the process of the tissues breaking down.

After fixing, the samples are put into this machine to remove the excess water and replace the open spots with paraffin. This process takes 6 to 8 hours, so Ms. Cates leaves the machine to do its job overnight. The paraffin makes the tissue samples last for a long time; some of the tissue samples in the histology lab are from over 30 years ago.

After fixing, the samples are put into this machine to remove the excess water and replace the open spots with paraffin. This process takes 6 to 8 hours, so Ms. Cates leaves the machine to do its job overnight. The paraffin makes the tissue samples last for a long time; some of the tissue samples in the histology lab are from over 30 years ago.

After being sliced, the tissue samples are moved to this machine to stain different parts of the cells. Each color will highlight a different structure when placed under the microscope. Some of the stains are made in the histology lab by following a recipe, and others are ordered from various places across the country.

After being sliced, the tissue samples are moved to this machine to stain different parts of the cells. Each color will highlight a different structure when placed under the microscope. Some of the stains are made in the histology lab by following a recipe, and others are ordered from various places across the country.

Once stained, the tissue sample slides are ready to be examined by the zoological pathologists. Each case requires a different amount of slides, with a small frog requiring only a couple and a large elephant requiring dozens. This is because more samples are taken from various parts of the same tissue to ensure a good representation of the organ as a whole.

Once stained, the tissue sample slides are ready to be examined by the zoological pathologists. Each case requires a different amount of slides, with a small frog requiring only a couple and a large elephant requiring dozens. This is because more samples are taken from various parts of the same tissue to ensure a good representation of the organ as a whole.

Occasionally, a different type of process needs to be done to show the animal’s structure as a whole. In the case of this frog, all of the tissues were left transparent and only the skeletal structure was stained. This frog had some leg abnormalities, so only staining the skeletal structure made it easier to find where the problem started.

Occasionally, a different type of process needs to be done to show the animal’s structure as a whole. In the case of this frog, all of the tissues were left transparent and only the skeletal structure was stained. This frog had some leg abnormalities, so only staining the skeletal structure made it easier to find where the problem started.

Next, interns visited the building where the necropsies take place. A necropsy for an animal is used in the same way that an autopsy would be used for humans. The deceased animals are taken here to receive a gross examination and have samples taken from various parts of their anatomy.

Next, interns visited the building where the necropsies take place. A necropsy for an animal is used in the same way that an autopsy would be used for humans. The deceased animals are taken here to receive a gross examination and have samples taken from various parts of their anatomy.

Before entering the necropsy room, interns were required to wear plastic shoe coverings to prevent contaminants from entering the building. In between every animal necropsy, tools and tables are sanitized to prevent the spread of disease and to help properly determine the animal’s specific cause of death. When leaving the necropsy building, it was also required for interns to step through a footbath.

Before entering the necropsy room, interns were required to wear plastic shoe coverings to prevent contaminants from entering the building. In between every animal necropsy, tools and tables are sanitized to prevent the spread of disease and to help properly determine the animal’s specific cause of death. When leaving the necropsy building, it was also required for interns to step through a footbath.

Lastly, Dr. McCarthy showed us some preserved samples taken from animals. Here, a horn is being compared to an antler in terms of bone structure and composition. Other animal sections included a section of a deer’s brain, a cross section of an elephant’s foot, and a skull from a hippo.

Lastly, Dr. McCarthy showed us some preserved samples taken from animals. Here, a horn is being compared to an antler in terms of bone structure and composition. Other animal sections included a section of a deer’s brain, a cross section of an elephant’s foot, and a skull from a hippo.

Kylie, Photo
Week Five, Fall 2015

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Path to Pathology

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!

Dawn_W5_picThe interns had the pleasure to meet Megan McCarthy, D.V.M., this week. Dr. McCarthy is a Resident Zoological Pathologist at the Zoo’s Wildlife Disease Laboratories, and works mostly in the Clinical Pathology Lab. Pathology is a branch of veterinary medicine, what Dr. McCarthy calls the study of the “essential nature” of a disease. This “essential nature” is basically how a disease functions and how it might affect the subject, zoological pathology being the study of the nature of diseases in animals specifically.

Dr. McCarthy’s job at the Zoo is mostly puzzle solving; her goal is to figure out how a deceased animal died. She and the rest of her team go about this by looking at the past clinical history of the animal, conducting necropsies, analyzing tissue samples (also known as histology), analyzing blood work, etc. Sometimes the cause of death may be obvious during the necropsy, like in the case of an obstructed gastrointestinal tract. However, most of the time, Dr. McCarthy and her associates must go through a long process of deductive reasoning to figure out what went wrong with the animal.

The Wildlife Disease Laboratories not only find the cause of death for a wide variety of the Zoo’s animals, from tiny frogs to elephants, but also native animals that were found deceased in areas surrounding the Zoo. The reason for this is to monitor any diseases present in wildlife that may potentially affect animals within the Zoo.

Zoological pathology is a very specialized field, so there is really no structured academic path to zoological pathology. There are only about 25 full-time zoological pathologists working at zoos in the United States. Dr. McCarthy actually earned her first degree in economics at Yale University as an undergraduate, and then realized she had distaste for working in the field after graduating. She then decided to go to veterinary school at North Carolina State University, with the goal of becoming a zoo veterinarian. While at vet school, Dr. McCarthy learned about and fell in love with pathology and histology. She was able to obtain a residency here at the Zoo through University of California, Davis, and she will soon be taking the Board Exam to officially become a specialist in zoological pathology.

Most of Dr. McCarthy’s work is spent in front of a microscope, which is her favorite part of her job. Dr. McCarthy especially loves histology because she is able to see a “snapshot” of an animal’s life in just a small tissue sample.She also does monthly rounds to check in with keepers, veterinarians, and other staff. Dr. McCarthy also regularly conducts necropsies, in which she examines deceased animals and collects small tissue samples of all of the organs to analyze. By analyzing tissue samples, Dr. McCarthy and her colleagues can identify any diseases in the animal, such as chytrid fungus, an epidemic among amphibians that has caused massive population declines and even extinctions.

If you’re looking into a future in zoological pathology, Dr. McCarthy says that zoos aren’t your only option. Many zoological pathologists also work in education and academia, diagnostic laboratories, and research. Dr. McCarthy’s work at the Zoo is important not only to San Diego Zoo’s animals, but to other zoo animals as well as wildlife around the world. Understanding and treating diseases such as chytrid fungus, is crucial for global conservation efforts and combating population decline.

Dawn, Careers Team
Week Five, 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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Spotting Giraffe Extinction Before It’s Too Late

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

It would be pretty safe to say that most of us know what giraffes are. They’re pretty hard to miss, and they hold a special place in our hearts as one of the iconic African plains animals. The irony? We know very little about them. Giraffes are a surprisingly unstudied species. We’re not sure how they communicate, why they fight, or where they travel. We’re not even sure how many subspecies there are, with estimates ranging from six types to nine.

Community-based Conservation Ecologist David O’Connor works with just one subspecies, the reticulated giraffe. When he started his field work, he was just a researcher, following and recording the giraffes’ movements and taking notes of their social patterns. He reevaluated the purpose of his study when he walked into neck snare – a trap set by poachers to kill giraffes. When he got out of the trap, he decided he wanted to focus on giraffe conservation instead of species research.

Upon investigation, he found that the outlook for wild giraffes was grim. Giraffes are being poached for their meat and parts, even in protected areas. Eleven giraffes are killed every day. At this rate, they will be extinct in the wild by 2020. They are already gone from seven countries where they used to roam.

Mr. O’Connor is working hard to change their fate, spending several months every year in northern Kenya to conserve giraffes in their natural habitat. His official work partners include the Northern Rangelands Trust and the Giraffe Center in Nairobi, but he says that his most indispensable allies are the native Samburu peoples. The Samburu are pastoralists, which means that they graze their animals out on open land with no fences or boundaries. The livestock and the people live with the wildlife; it is not uncommon for a herd of domestic goats to be grazing with a herd of giraffes, zebras, or even elephants. This huge overlap between people and animal means that the support of local communities is key to successfully saving a species.

A big part of Mr. O’Connor’s work now is surveying the Kenyan people. By understanding native people’s thoughts about giraffes, he hopes to better predict and affect their behaviors towards the species. The first step of this process is learning why there is a demand for a product like giraffe meat. This is the root of the problem. Once this is understood, Mr. O’Connor can figure out how to combat or eliminate the demand.

What Mr. O’Connor has found is that the Samburu, and other locals, have very positive feelings about giraffes. They like seeing the beautiful creatures out on the plains. But some of these people are still poachers. Why? As it turns out, none of the poachers want to be killing giraffes, they just need a job with a stable income to support their families. Knowing this, giraffe conservation centers and national parks are able to reach out to some of the poachers and employ them. With their new jobs, the poachers do exactly the opposite of what they did initially; they protect giraffes and educate others as to why poaching is not the way to go, and why giraffes are worth much more alive than dead.

In addition to his surveying, Mr. O’Connor works closely with others who are dedicated to giraffe conservation in Kenya. There is extensive research sharing and education of the public to help spread an understanding of giraffes.

Mr. O’Connor is also able to continue researching the giraffes, like he had originally set out to do. His current project investigates the effects of Samburu livestock on giraffe feeding grounds. Many of the Samburu are making the switch from cattle herding to camel herding because of terrible droughts, and Mr. O’Connor is looking to see if the camels have any overlap with giraffe browsing range. He collects most of his data through vehicle based surveys, following the giraffes across the savannahs to learn about where and what they eat.

In the future, Mr. O’Connor would like to hire locals to help with field work, use camera traps to better track down the elusive giraffes, and use DNA analysis to pin down exactly the number of giraffe subspecies. Another hope for the future is that all these conservation efforts will pay off, and the giraffe will be brought back from the brink of extinction. With the help of the native people, it looks like gentle giants will be able to stay an icon of the African plains for many years to come.

Naomi, Conservation Team
Week Five, Fall 2015