Winter Camp 2010

Papagayo demonstrates her nut-cracking ability.

Despite the downpour of rain on San Diego this week, Winter Camp at the San Diego Zoo is off to a GREAT start! Campers can come to the Zoo for one day or more, and each day brings something exciting and new. Camp is open to kids in grades K–5. This year’s theme—The Winter Express—takes us to stops throughout the Zoo.

My name is Kim, and I am the teacher for the kindergarten class this year. We have had quite a good time so far. On Monday we learned all about how animals eat. We met a scarlet macaw named Papagayo that uses her strong beak to crack open nuts and rip apart fruits and played games with Roberta, a digital puppet that looks like a cartoon but can see you, talk to you, and answer your questions, too. We made a snowman snaft (snack-craft) using powdered donuts, a licorice scarf, and chocolate chip eyes before visiting the reindeer that live at Polar Bear Plunge. Keeper Tammy even coaxed Boris, the baby reindeer, out into the open for us to see.

On Tuesday, we boarded our own private bus to the Zoo’s Elephant Odyssey. On the way, campers spotted the locomotion of creatures all over the Zoo: we saw swinging, jumping, running, huddling, stretching, flying, catching, and snuggling. Our destination was the Elephant Care Center, where zookeeper Nora talked to us about Tembo, the African elephant. We got to see Tembo do a training session; boy, is she BIG! In the afternoon we met an armadillo named Cocoa, a snake, and a hedgehog named Thula. We also made a sock snake to take home using a sock, recycled paper, googly eyes, and a red paper tongue.

Wednesday was “Expert Eyes.” We took another bus (our taxi in the rain) to see Jama, the north Chinese leopard. Zookeeper Karen talked to us about his eyesight and all of his other amazing adaptations. We got to see him munch on his meat. We then met a screech owl named Ohos, saw a Dr. Zoolittle magic show, and took a stroll through Discovery Outpost. Our favorite sights were the otter cave and the naked mole-rat exhibit. Campers went home with a lot of goodies today: a reindeer game, 101 Things to Do at the San Diego Zoo booklet, and a homemade frame with a camp picture from our trip to the big cats.

Today’s theme is “Hanging Around.” We are heading to the koala exhibit to go behind the scenes. I bet we’ll meet a koala up close! I can’t wait.

Come join in on the fun! There are still spots available for next week’s Winter Camp.

Kimberly Carroll is an educator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Behind the Scenes with Birds.


Baby Camel Care

Laura enjoys time with her newest charge.

Being a zookeeper is always an interesting job. But sometimes an opportunity comes along that you never expected. In March of this year, a female Bactrian camel was born. Sadly, despite heroic efforts on the part of our veterinary and animal care staff, her mother (Heidi) died shortly after birth from complications resulting from the birth, and it was necessary to hand raise the newborn camel. Just as they say it takes a village to raise a child…it takes a great team of keepers and veterinary staff to raise a camel calf.  I was thrilled to be an integral part of that team. Being the five-day keeper on the rhino string (a string is a group of animals a keeper takes care of), the Bactrian camels were under my care.

The first week, our little female calf was quite a handful. She weighed in at 77 pounds (35 kilograms) and was extremely fuzzy. I think the parts that we enjoyed the most were her humps. I had never seen a camel calf that young, so I did not know what to expect. Her humps were two little bags of skin, each flopped over to the opposite side. Completely empty. Now, of course, we all know camels’ humps are filled with fat, not water as most people assume. Camels need time to fill those humps and make them stand up straight. We had a lot of work on our hands to fatten her up!

Getting any animal to take milk from a bottle is always a challenge. Our nursery staff tirelessly worked with her to get her to drink her milk. She was quite weak in the beginning and would not come close to finishing her bottles. Each feeding (five per day) took at least an hour, and she spent half of the time laying down. We were all concerned, and the vet staff had to do IV fluid treatments to make sure she was properly hydrated and getting enough nutrients. Thankfully, as time went on she started drinking more, and the fluids were slowly phased out. We all breathed a sigh of relief, camel and keepers.

During this time I was also preparing her to be a camel at the San Diego Zoo. This means that she walks on a halter and is accustomed to meeting guests as an animal ambassador. I began placing a very tiny halter on her nose so she would become used to the feeling. When you start them out this young, the halter is like second nature, and they don’t mind it at all. She started with a small pink one and has since grown and graduated to a larger green one. She did quite well with her halter, and I started the process of teaching her how to walk out of the exhibit.

And of course, most importantly, I gave her a name. I wanted to find a name that would emphasize how special she is to us all. Her name is Tuya, which means “ray of sunshine” in Mongolian. And she is exactly that.

Laura Weiner is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, How Do You Weigh a Rhino?


Fleeting Youth

Jabari, as a piglet, with his doting parents.

Well, the salad days have come to an end for some of last year’s San Diego Zoo babies (see previous post, Hogs, Okapis, Hippos, and More!).

Red river hog Jabari recently celebrated his first birthday. He’s currently tipping the scales at 70 pounds, and while he is still well away from full maturity, he is hardly the tiny little piglet that could fit in one hand.

Jabari today, with the older C.T.

Jabari is very independent; a few months ago, as part of our ongoing pig management, he was separated from his parents (Tarzan and Asali), and left to share an exhibit with C.T. (an unrelated older female). Jabari took the move in stride, making no fuss. He is also incredibly bright (as most pigs are). In order to get accurate weights on him, we needed to train him to enter and stay in a crate, stress free. The process of introducing him to the crate, getting him to go in, and closing him in for the weigh-in took all of a week.

Sekele as a baby

Sekele, our 11-month-old okapi, is doing very well. He’s been fully weaned for some time and is now separated from his mother, Safarani. Sekele’s training has been a little more challenging, especially now that he is entering the okapi equivalent of the “terrible twos.”

Sekele today

He still allows keepers up-close interaction with him and enjoys a good rubdown, but we have to be a little more careful to avoid getting injured. In another seven months or so, Sekele’s ossicones (horns) should start coming in, and then he’ll look just like a smaller version of his father, Biscotti, who is having a great time with the keepers at the Wild Animal Park.

Little Tembi left us too soon.

Unfortunately, as is life, not all the news is good. Sadly, Tembikai, the three-month-old Malayan tapir, recently passed away (see post New Tapir, New Year). This is a huge loss for our staff as well as the captive tapir population. The cause of Tembikai’s death is as yet undetermined. Tembi will be sorely missed.

Nate Schierman is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.


Hogs, Okapis, Hippos, and More!

To coincide with a recent video interview for the San Diego Zoo’s Web site, I was asked to write an update on what’s been going on with my “string” (what we call the area/animals in our charge).

swine_rrhogsRed River Hogs:
Everyone is doing well (see One Pig, Happy Family). Jabari is now nearly nine months old and continues to flourish. He hardly resembles the tiny, striped little creature that could barely crawl into my lap. Our construction team is currently working tirelessly on building a permanent pool for the hogs to enjoy wallowing in during the hot summer months.

Baby Sekele, now seven months old, is doing very well, weighing in at a respectable 350 pounds or 159 kilograms (see New Okapi: Shh…It’s a Secret). His training is coming along slowly but surely. Sekele is already way ahead of the bar set by his older sister, Sukari. She has a big trip coming up; she will be moving to San Antonio in early February. The okapis’ exhibit-mates, duikers Luke and Mae, are doing very well.

River Hippos:
Funani and Otis continue to get along famously (see Hippos: Big Love). Ever since their reintroduction, they have been inseparable. We have witnessed them breeding many times, but so far they have not been successful in conceiving. We will continue to monitor Funani’s fecal hormone levels so that we can be certain if and when Funani does get pregnant.

Red Panda:
Julong is easy to miss—he lives right across the road from his more popular cousins, the giant pandas (see Little Red Panda). He spends most of the day sleeping, and is often hard to spot. If you happen to catch him during a moment of activity, it is well worth it. He is absolutely adorable, and if you see his face, it’s easy to tell that he is actually more closely related to the raccoon than to the giant panda. Julong is getting on in years. The average lifespan for red pandas in zoos is roughly 14 years (8 to 10 years in the wild), and Julong is about 11 years old. He has had some health problems, but we continue to watch him closely and adapt his enclosure to his changing needs. Most recently, in response to Julong’s poor eyesight and difficulty balancing, we put up some flat wooden planks (as opposed to rounded tree branches) to help him get from platform to platform.

Malayan Tapir:
The most recent addition to the area I work in is Chantek, a 26-year-old Malayan tapir (see Tapir Tales). She wasn’t getting along with her cohabitants in Tiger River, so she is currently residing in the hippo barn until a more suitable enclosure can be constructed for her. Chantek is doing very well and pays little heed to her large, boisterous neighbors. Otis, however, is rather intrigued by his new neighbor.

Well, that’s all the news for now. As you can tell, things at the San Diego Zoo are always changing, and the life of a keeper is never dull!

Nate Schierman is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

Watch Nate’s video…


The Best of Both Worlds

Rick and Rio meet some Zoo visitors.

Rick and Rio meet some Zoo visitors.

As many of you know, I have been working at the San Diego Zoo for nearly nine years now. Prior to stepping into the Elephant Odyssey Ambassador position (see post, What is an Elephant Odyssey Ambassador), I had worked as a keeper in the Children’s Zoo at the San Diego Zoo. Being a keeper is a dream job: working hands on with very unique animals from around the world and being able to share my experiences with our guests is more enjoyable than you can imagine.

Of course, the job of Elephant Odyssey Ambassador has been an amazing adventure and very enjoyable, too. It has kept me very busy, as you may remember from my previous posts. But not so busy that I could not stop in at the Children’s Zoo to work a little with the animals, from the high-energy fossa named Isa to the laid-back binturong named Bandar or even the silly and vocal Amazon parrot Rio. There are so many different animals, I couldn’t possibly name them all here, if for no other reason that there’s just not enough room in this post!

Now that Elephant Odyssey is open at the Zoo, I am doing less traveling around the country to tell people about the new exhibit. However, I am giving talks and more tours of the exhibit to show people this amazing experience at the Zoo. Although giving tours and talks keeps me busy, I am also finding I have more time to spend in the Children’s Zoo!

The last few weeks I have been able to balance my time pretty well between both jobs, working as a keeper and as an ambassador. You might think both jobs are quite different, and in many ways they are; however, in some ways they are alike. For example, both jobs allow me the opportunity to share my passion for wildlife and conservation to anyone and everyone I cross paths with!

If by chance you happen to find yourself over in the Children’s Zoo, feel free to say “hello.” Of course, the same goes for when you see me over at Elephant Odyssey: if I am giving a tour, doing an interview, or just walking through, make sure you say “hello.”

Rick Schwartz is a senior keeper and the Elephant Odyssey Ambassador for the San Diego Zoo.


Koalapalooza: Vets Share, Too!

I hope you were able to visit the San Diego Zoo January 16 through 19. If not, boy did you miss a good time! It was the Zoo’s first Discovery Days celebrating koalas with Koalapalooza (see blog, Koalapalooza: A Joey Is Named). Discovery Days events are a great new way for people to learn more about a targeted species.

During these times, keepers and researchers will share information about the species being featured and show some of the things we are doing to help save them and their habitats. And keepers from all around the Zoo share information about some of the animals they work with during an extended All About Enrichment weekend. Discovery Days are also a great time for the public to learn what they can do to help wildlife.

Horticulture staff explained the differences between eucalyptus species, the mainstay of a koala's diet.

Horticulture staff explained the differences between eucalyptus species, the mainstay of a koala's diet.

During these four days, it really isn’t just keepers and researchers sharing information, it’s a variety of departments; there are booths from horticulture, the Wild Animal Park, education, development, and of course my favorite, collection health.

During Koalapalooza, the Collection Health Department, which consists of veterinary services, nutrition, and wildlife disease laboratories, participated by having a booth where guests could speak with veterinarians, vet technicians, hospital keepers, nutritionists, and hospital administration. We had posters and information describing what we do, medical procedures playing on the computer and TV, digital images of some of the medical cases from the Zoo, plush animal bandaging, a vet truck demo, and remote drug delivery presentations.

A Zoo vet shows some of the equipment found on the specially equipped vet truck to Zoo visitors during Koalapalooza.

A Zoo vet shows some of the equipment found on the specially equipped vet truck to Zoo visitors during Koalapalooza.

Yvette Kemp is a senior hospital keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

Read Yvette’s previous blog, Deiriai the Swamp Monkey


An Aussie in San Diego

Brent with a lesser kudu

Brent with a lesser kudu

G’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 dik

Adult dik dik

The 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 gazelle

Speke's gazelle

Another 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.


Hopping along the Exchange

Adam Ruble, a keeper with the San Diego Zoo, is currently on a keeper exchange with the Melbourne Zoo in Australia. Read his previous blog,
Keeping Down Under.

With my keeper exchange two-thirds complete, I must confess this experience has been nothing short of amazing. Since my first blog I have been working with kangaroos, emus, and a few bird aviaries.

Life has certainly not been quiet during the past month in the kangaroo yard. One male kangaroo had a grass seed stuck in his eye and was “knocked-out” under anesthesia to remove it and treat the eye. This is also a very lucky time to be working with the roos since there are currently two nine-month-old joeys hopping around.

Generally a kangaroo joey will spend its first nine months in the mother’s pouch. Every day the joey gains more confidence exploring until a final day in which it will not go back in the pouch at all. It will continue to hang around mom and nurse by sticking its head in the pouch, but it will not actually go back in the pouch completely. This event is noted in the records as “permanently out of pouch” or “pop.” Both joeys have popped this month and to watch this transition was fantastic. The joeys at this stage are quite large and still trying to fit in the pouch made for a questionable sight for some visitors. With legs and arms sticking out every which way and a heavy sagging pouch dragging on the ground as mom walked about, it mostly mirrored the experience of overstaying your welcome after college at your parent’s house. The veterinary staff processed the joeys in order to ensure healthy roos. This includes giving them a microchip (like they do in dogs/cats), de-worm meds, identification, and a physical exam.

Other highlights of the Australian Bush team include watching Jon, our supervisor, grab up a 25-kilogram (about 55-pound) southern hairy-nosed wombat for an injection. In order to pick one up you must, in one scooping motion, pick them up from under their tiny front legs and pull them up in the air to one’s chest so they are facing vertical and outward. Let’s just say that to pick up over 50 pounds in one swift motion does wonders for one’s back! I also got to witness two Australian Bush keepers, Ditar and Chandi, doing some “legendary” tail grabbing with a tree kangaroo for a procedure.

I must also admit that the mammals are not the only exciting animals in town. The pelican feed is a wild feat that keeper Karen demonstrated for me. You would think tossing some fish to a few pelicans would be easy, but with several other local “freeloader” birds that have all learned the flight pattern of the fish and have learned to intercept them mid-air, it is a whole new ball game. This is where Karen out-played them all with psych-outs, decoys, Hail Mary’s, and some fastball pitches to ensure the fish made it to their proper home. Deb, another keeper with the team, has taken in an abandoned baby ring-tail possum and is raising her to become an encounter animal for the zoo. With feedings around the clock, it is a tough job, but the results in my professional opinion are…very cute. That’s me with little Rosey.

Along with the animal work, the adjustment to Australian life has been a smooth process. The team has been patient and has done its best to keep me up to speed with any words I don’t know. A few examples: Smoke-O means a break; pram means stroller; buggy means cart (golf cart); crook means sick; and punter means guest. Of course I didn’t have this list and I had to learn the hard way, but now I at least know if I hit a pram with the buggy I will have to deal with some angry punters and make sure to call in crook the next day.

Working in the zoo business is very dynamic, and even on the other side of the world one thing doesn’t change, and this is the motivation that drives people to work in the zoo business. Whatever job someone is doing, odds are there are more directing motivations than money. There is a passion for the animals and a passion for our mission. Don’t get me wrong, as a keeper there are plenty of arguments, like who can rake better or hose faster, and of course every department’s struggle for a larger budget; but all that aside, it is still a wonderful place to work every day. The Melbourne Zoo staff members realize this and are able to laugh at those workplace dramas together. On Halloween, the zoo holds an annual review, which is a sit-down dinner with entertainment provided by different departments. Now in Australia, Halloween is not celebrated as big as it is in the States, but that doesn’t stop everyone from showing up in full costume. Participating departments would show a video, skit, slide show, dance–any creative parody to laugh together at the nuisances of the zoo business. This not only makes light of the work place, but allows everyone to share the attitude that we are all motivated by good intentions in the end. It is a pleasure to be surrounded by that every day, and I am excited to get back to San Diego where that attitude is equally shared, and where my counter-clockwise swivel pattern rake motion reigns above all…Until next time.