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keeper exchange

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Giraffes in Australia

Laura teaches Nyota to touch a target when asked.

Laura is on a keeper exchange with the Taronga Zoo in Australia. Read her previous post, Rhinos in Australia.

Time really does fly when you are having fun! Last week, I was sitting in a meeting discussing giraffe physicals here at the Taronga Zoo. We are planning on training the giraffes on different behaviors so we don’t have to anesthetize them for routine medical procedures. I am working with the oldest female, Nyota, with one of the senior keepers.

Laura works to get a bull giraffe comfortable with having his hooves touched, an important part of giraffe care.

As we talked about our training goals and when the procedure would be, I realized I won’t be here for the final outcome. I have been here almost five months, and it actually feels like I work here! You get so involved with the animals and their care, and you forget that the time is almost up. We decided that we would both be the primary keepers on Nyota’s training and then pass it off to someone else when I leave.

It has been so great having the chance to live in another country and work at another zoo. I have learned so much about training, enrichment, teamwork, new animals, and the list could go on and on. The experience will forever be on my mind and Australia in my heart. After I finish work, I will be traveling to some amazing places. I plan to spend two weeks traveling to the north and south islands of New Zealand and then heading up to dive the Great Barrier Reef for three days. Both the people and the animals here have been amazing.

I am thankful to my team back home in San Diego for supporting me, and I look forward to returning to the San Diego Zoo with new information and appreciation for my job.

Laura Weiner is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

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Rhinos in Australia

Laura bonds with a young female black rhino.

Be sure to read Laura’s previous post, Australian Keeper Exchange.

As a zoo keeper we are supposed to care for all of our animals with the same expertise and energy. But we all have favorites, and mine have always been rhinoceroses! Back in San Diego I work with Soman and Surat, our greater one-horned rhino brothers (see The Dirt on Rhinos). The Taronga Zoo, where I’m doing my keeper exchange, does not have any rhinos, but I didn’t let that stop me. Last week two of my co-workers and I took the five-hour drive to the Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo. It is basically like Taronga’s version of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. You can rent buggies and drive through the pathways and hop out to see each of the huge exhibits. Most of the exhibits are single species, so it is quite different than the Safari Park’s mixed-species field exhibits. Either way, the animals have a huge amount of room to roam.

A young female greater one-horned rhino gets a "taste" of Laura!

The Taronga Western Plains Zoo has white, greater one-horned, and my favorite, black rhinos. When I started my zoo career, I worked with three black rhinos, and they have always held a huge place in my heart. I was able to visit with the rhinos and keepers at each exhibit and see how they manage their animals in such large enclosures. They have 10 black rhinos, 2 greater one-horned, and 8 whites. It was truly heaven for me! We discussed training, introducing males and females, weights, blood draws, reproductive testing, the whole lot. Visiting other zoos is such a great way to get new ideas and bring them back home. The sharing of information is so important to our job.

A Tasmanian devil at the Taronga Western Plains Zoo

They have a major Tasmanian devil breeding facility out there, too, and it was wonderful to get a glimpse of these well-known animals. Devils are very energetic and make such wonderful vocalizations. I also learned about housing them and their specific needs. Being so close to the ground, they really like to have a lookout point. Each of their individual dens had a small mountain of sticks, rocks, and dirt so they would be able to see what was going on from a small vantage point.

We stayed in the zoo house on grounds, which had wonderful old signs and pictures from zoo days gone past. I always enjoy seeing those pictures, because it will be some keeper from 1930 standing right next to a full grown hippo and just smiling at the camera!

It was such a wonderful trip, and we even saw wild kangaroos in the zebra exhibit. I am halfway through with my keeper exchange and cannot believe how fast time is flying. More adventures to come!

Laura Weiner is a senior keeper from the San Diego Zoo on a keeper exchange at the Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia.

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Australian Keeper Exchange

A young bongo

G’day from Sydney, Australia! Normally I am the rhino, camel, and warty pig keeper at the San Diego Zoo. For the next six months I am the giraffe, bongo, zebra, tapir, and pygmy hippo keeper at the Taronga Zoo in Sydney. My blog posts were usually about weighing rhinos or what was going on in the meerkat mob a few years ago. This one is about my first six weeks here in Sydney.

I arrived at the end of October; it was all a bit overwhelming since I haven’t been a “new” keeper in almost seven years. Learning the routine at another zoo can be difficult the first week or so. I am on the ungulate team here, and the keepers have been great. We work more as a team, whereas we work more independently at the San Diego Zoo.

Taronga Zoo is set right on the north side of Sydney Harbor. Every morning when I walk in, I see the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge right over the giraffes’ heads; I would have to say the giraffes have one of the best views in Sydney! The collection of animals here is similar to San Diego’s, with a wide variety from all over the world. The most exciting thing for me as a keeper is the opportunity to see animals in a zoo that are rarely are exhibited in American zoos. I am scheduled to meet the platypus. For anyone who has seen these animals on TV, this is very exciting! They are only exhibited in Australia, and the chance to get to meet this monotreme (egg-laying mammal) will go down as one of the best parts of my exchange.

The wildlife around the zoo is also very interesting. Animals that we only have in zoos in America are flying and running around this zoo daily: rainbow lorikeets, sulfur-crested cockatoos, laughing kookaburras, and water dragons. The most exciting for me so far were the flying foxes I saw when I went to dinner last night. Flying foxes are the larger members of the bat family (Megachiroptera). I studied the smaller ones in Costa Rica in college, so I was thrilled to see these huge flying mammals in person here.

I have been put in charge of getting weights on the bongo antelope to see if the younger female is pregnant. She has been trained for weigh-ins, and we got her first weight on Wednesday. Here’s hoping her weight keeps increasing! I am lucky enough to be here for six months and look forward to updating everyone on more animals and experiences I encounter. Happy new year from Down Under!

Laura Weiner is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, The Dirt on Rhinos.

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Tales from Down Under

Lindsey has her hands full with a koala!

G’Day! I’m Lindsey. At the San Diego Zoo, you’ll usually find me working around the Polar Bear Plunge and Elephant Odyssey areas, but for a little over a month I’ve had the pleasure of working with the Australia Bush team at the Melbourne Zoo in Melbourne, Australia. This story may sound familiar, as two keepers before me have also had this incredible opportunity. In 2008, Adam Ruble re-ignited the keeper exchange program at the San Diego Zoo, and it is due to his spirit and dedication, and the wonderful support of Zoo management, that I am able to report to you now from Australia.

When folks think of Australia, a place of kangaroos and koalas first comes to mind. As you can imagine, I was very excited to delve into the world of marsupials, having spent the last five years working with carnivores and ungulates. You can’t get much more Australian than the Aus Bush team! I now spend my days looking after Kangaroo Island kangaroos, red kangaroos, emus, parma wallabies, quokkas (another type of small wallaby), and a few species of birds. Very soon I’ll be introduced to rounds including the koalas, echidnas, tree kangaroos, platypuses, and wombats. The excitement is almost too much to contain!

In case you were wondering what a bandicoot looks like...

There is, however, one little known Australian critter that has caught my attention: the eastern barred bandicoot, or EBB. Now, I didn’t even know what a bandicoot was before I arrived here, and I was assured that I may not even see one during my time here, since they spend the majority of daylight hours tucked into nests. Bandicoots are a small marsupial weighing around 800 grams (28 ounces) at adult size. Their lifespan is two to three years in the wild, where their biggest threats are red foxes, habitat loss, and drought. The Victorian population of EBBs is considered extinct in the wild and only survives in three reintroduced populations. The Melbourne Zoo has been a part of a collaborative effort for captive breeding and release of EBBs for over 20 years.

A bandicoot receives a nail trim.

The Melbourne Zoo currently houses 29 EBBs that are being prepared as the next breeding group. Since they are nocturnal, the team was right: you really don’t see them up and about during the day, but once a month they are caught up, weighed, and assessed. It just so happened that one of these monthly weigh-ups occurred during my second week of work, and it was like watching a well-oiled machine as the Aus Bush team moved through the pens from one animal to the next with ease. The process begins by carefully moving so as not to crush the animal under foot as you search for its nest site and follows with selective placement of the net before coaxing the critter out of its cozy burrow. Once caught up, they’re transferred to the scale and then back to the keeper for a health assessment and nail trimming.

Strangely enough, this process has become one of the highlights of my time here and has spurred an interest in an animal that a few weeks ago I didn’t even know existed. Just last week I even got to sit in on a meeting of the EBB Recovery Team and learn more about the challenges of the reintroduction process and participate in discussions of how improvements can be made. I’m also hoping that I’ll be able to visit one or more of the release sites while I’m here.

All in all, very exciting times here in Australia, so thanks again to everyone who’s made this adventure possible!

Lindsey King is a San Diego Zoo keeper currently on a keeper exchange with the Melbourne Zoo.

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G’Day from Australia!

Ring-tailed lemurs

Ring-tailed lemurs

My name is Steve, and I am an ungulate keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Currently, I am on a three-month exchange with a keeper from the Melbourne Zoo, Jason Barry. Why, you ask? Last year two keepers did the same exchange: Adam from the San Diego Zoo and Brent from the Melbourne Zoo. (Read Adam’s post, Hopping along the Exchange, and Brent’s post, An Aussie in San Diego.) I was so intrigued by this that I thought I would give it a shot. I must thank Adam for laying the groundwork!

It was pretty easy to get started on my quest because I had Jason’s name from Brent. So I decided to send Jason an e-mail to see if he was still interested in a keeper exchange, and it turned out he was. We e-mailed each other for about six months and decided it was a perfect fit. As soon as we decided it would work, I bolted to my supervisor’s office. My supervisor thought it was a great idea, too.

October 18, I touched down in Melbourne; Jason arrived in San Diego on the 18th as well. Back in the States, I work with large ungulates, with some exceeding 800 pounds (360 kilograms). It’s a little different out here, where I work with tamarins that weigh as little as 5 pounds (2 kilograms). That’s right, primates. My round consists of ring-tailed lemurs, ruffed lemurs, and tamarins. Also, in my area we have capuchins, gorillas, gibbons, baboons, and mandrills.

After meeting my new crew, I set off with Uli. She has been here for a long time, so she knows the animals just by observing them on a daily basis. For me, identifying each will be a little more complicated; nope, no ear notches to help me…darn!

Everyone, from the keepers to the vets as well as the curators, has been very welcoming. I may not know the Australian lingo or even feel right saying it on the radio, but it is fun to listen to. Well, I “reckon” I should go play with the ringies. G-Night!

Steve Wieczorek is a keeper for the San Diego Zoo.

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An Aussie in San Diego

Brent with a lesser kuduG’day! My name is Brent, and I am one of the Sumatran tiger keepers from the Melbourne Zoo in Australia. For the next three months I am lucky enough to be working at the San Diego Zoo, participating in a keeper exchange with a great guy named Adam. I’m working in the San Diego Zoo’s hoofed animals team, while he looks after our native animals at the Melbourne Zoo. It has been an outstanding experience so far! (Read Adam’s previous blog, Hopping along the Exchange.)

Now, most of the information I knew about America came from watching Jerry Springer on Australian TV, but so far I have not even seen ONE dwarf fighting with a large security guy. In fact, every single person I have met here at the San Diego Zoo and around San Diego have been absolutely fantastic. Californians seem like very relaxed and friendly people, just like back home in Australia. I think I might stick around and run for mayor.

One of the reasons I came to the San Diego Zoo was to learn more about ungulates (animals with hooves), and there is no better place in the world to do that than here at the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park. Being a tiger keeper, most of my hoofed animal knowledge revolved around how to prepare meat to feed to the tigers…but I needed more.

Adult dik dikThe animals that I get to care for are amazing. I’m learning about reindeer, Calamian deer, Sichuan takins, Japanese serow, Soemmering’s gazelles, red-flanked duikers, Cape blue duikers, hairy armadillos, lesser kudu, pronghorn, tufted deer, steenbok, and my favorite: the dik diks. They are amazing little African antelope weighing about six pounds (2.7 kilograms) and their name comes from the alarm call they make when they are startled. Visitors to the Zoo will be lucky enough to see our one-week old baby dik dik near the west end of the Skyfari aerial tram. He could be the cutest animal in history!

Speke's gazelleAnother animal that I look after and I’m really enjoying learning about is the Speke’s gazelle. These guys are another African antelope weighing around 40 pounds (18 kilograms), and they are super quick. But their most unique feature is their nose: they have folds of skin over their nostrils that inflate when they get excited. If I am working in their enclosure and they think I’m getting a bit close, they will stamp their hoof on the ground and their nose inflates like a small tennis ball! Visitors to the Zoo can see the Speke’s gazelle in our large mixed species exhibit just before you get to the polar bears. And you shouldn’t have to wait too long to see a Speke’s gazelle inflate its nose sack, because these guys don’t mind fighting out of their weight division, and you could see them trying to intimidate much larger animals like lesser kudus, and gerenuks, all with the help of an inflatable nose!

So, I hope the great people of San Diego get a chance to come into the Zoo soon, and if you see an Australian going walkabout, then come and say G’day.

Brent Clohesy is a keeper at the Melbourne Zoo.