Monthly Archives: June 2013

Training Day

Today was what is rapidly becoming a rarity at the safari, a quiet day. No massive tour groups wandering around behind the scenes or clogging up space in front of the exhibits. No family gatherings, weddings, or corporate events in the gardens by the giraffes. Just peace and quiet, which was really nice and something that I think we all needed. I worked with the cats most of the morning cleaning out their enclosures and prepping food for the second round walk through when one of our keepers, Gallia, asked if I wanted to see an elephant training session. Gallia is one of two animal trainers at the safari and works with nearly all of the animals in the collection.

Gallia and I talk extensively about training methods, tips, suggestions, processes, and development. I learned everything I know about training animals from Professor Sarah Cunningham’s Animal Training class which I took as a sophomore at Unity College. Of course I jumped at the chance to see training of the largest land animal on the planet!

Gallia led me over to the elephant enclosures and spent the next hour training each of our elephants, individually, to perform a variety of behaviors. These behaviors include: open mouth, present each foot for cleaning, target, touch, hold, and station. It was really amazing to see the methods that I learned in school and practiced on dogs while in class, applied to elephants.

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After the session was over, Gallia asked for my feedback and if I had any suggestions to make the training better. I was stunned that she wanted my opinion and told her the areas and behaviors that I thought needed work or improvement. My internship just keeps getting better and better.

Next week should be even better. We have to do an ultrasound on one of our female tapirs to see if she is pregnant. We are keeping our fingers crossed.

Until next time.

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Did Someone Call For a Doctor?

Today was truly a one of a kind experience. Our 14 year old male Sumatran tiger Pedang had to undergo a medical examination. This means the veterinarian had to come in and administer drugs to knock Pedang out and then we, the keepers, had to move Pedang to the table where he would be examined. I was the only intern, or volunteer, at the Safari today so they let me help move the big guy and take part in the procedure. It was amazing! Not only did I get to move Pedang but I also got to touch him and take tons of amazing pictures.

derrickmaltmantigerexamWhat made this exam unique, compared to past ones, was that in addition to taking the tiger’s weight and assessing his overall health, we also administered acupuncture to him. This is a first for the zoological community and gave the safari worldwide recognition. There are news articles online at the Huffington Post and videos on Youtube about the procedure. Click here to watch one of the videos.

Be sure to look for me in the video, I’m the one wearing the awesome black hat carrying the big guy. The reason Pedang needed acupuncture is because of chronic ear infections which lower his ability to hear. The safari has tried every medical procedure they can think of to stop these ear infections but so far, nothing has worked. Here’s hoping that this time the ear infections don’t come back.

Until next time.

The Future of the Safari

Recently on a quiet day at the Safari we had four volunteers show up to help out, bringing the total number of people working in the predator department for the day up to twelve! That is a lot of people for our department, considering we usually have around six or seven people, so we got a lot of work done that day and still had plenty of down time. On one of our breaks, Shelly asked me if I had seen the new tiger enclosure that was being built. I told her that I had not and so she took me to have a look. After seeing this enclosure I was very excited about the future of the Safari.

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The enclosure is massive, includes a training area, and can be divided in half if the Safari gets a new tiger to do introductions. Additionally the Safari will also be getting two or three Komodo Dragons in the next three months, which is when that enclosure should be completed as well. Shelly also took me to an area that will one day be the site of the new couati enclosures, which are slated to begin construction in 2016.

It was really cool to see the Safari’s plans for the future and hear that many of their outdated enclosures were being replaced to follow more modern practices. I hope the new tiger enclosure is finished while I’m here and that I can assist in the transfer of the tigers to their new space. Fingers crossed.

Until next time.

Monkeying Around

While riding down to feed the African wild dogs, wolves, and hyena I saw a lovely collection of fire hoses behind one of the primate houses.

These woven fire hoses will become a bed used in the primate department of the Safari. The result will be an extremely durable and easy to clean bed for primates of all sizes.

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The mountain of fire hoses in the background of this photo was donated by local fire departments after the hoses were no longer usable to put out fires.

These contraptions are incredibly hard to make which I can tell you after having made one only half this size—a special shout out to my Enrichment and Exhibit Design class at Unity College!

As you can see we have plenty of fire hoses to make tons of enrichment and beds for the primates.

Even though I don’t work in the primate department it is really cool to see something I made in school being made at the Safari.

Until next time.

Into the Trenches

Driving into the Safari for my first day of work, my heart was in my throat and my palms were sweating. I was excited, nervous, anxious and thrilled. This is what I’ve been studying to do; this is the dream that I had hoped to achieve for years now.

I got out of the car and met the woman that will be my boss and coworker for the next three months. She introduced herself as Shelly. “Welcome,” she said, “let’s get to work.” With that I began my first week of work at the Safari in the predator department.

I did it. My first week as an intern at the Safari Park is complete, and I have just three words: dream come true!

As some of you may know, working in the zoo field has been a dream of mine since I was 9 years old, and to finally be able to step over those fences and walk past those signs that say “Keepers Only” is something that I have been waiting to do for a long time. Sure the work is hard, but to me it is the best job in the world.

Below is a list of the three sections of the predator department and some of the animals that I have worked with so far:

  • Cats: Tigers, sand cats, leopard and jungle cat
  • Bears: Syrian brown bear and Himalayan bear
  • Dogs/Wolves: Hyena, African wild dog and Israeli wolf

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Because the safari is so small and the South American section is very close to the predator department, I am also working with Bard’s tapir, couati, and rhea. During the first week of my internship, I worked in every section of the predator department, and did my best to prove to my boss that I wanted to be here and that I was willing to work.

Several times this week I realized how much my education at Unity College has put me ahead of the curve, and how the things I have learned in my classes are helping me with this internship. I’ll give you an example. On Tuesday, my boss Shelly told me to clean out the tigers’ and leopards’ indoor enclosure spaces and wash them down. She said she would be back in twenty minutes. I automatically grabbed the industrial soap and broom to wash out each individual space—we have two tigers and two leopards and each holding area is pretty big. I’m scrubbing the floors and rinsing them out, and about half way done when Shelly comes back and says, “Wow you actually used the soap. Most of our interns just hose down each space and call it quits. I’m impressed.” I thanked her for the compliment but thought, of course I used the soap—do you know how many diseases could be floating around in here that could transfer between the cats or to humans?

Diseases that can transfer from one animal to another or from animal to human or vice versa are called zoonotic diseases and students learn about them in the Introduction to Captive Wildlife Care and Education class at Unity, and are also talked about in other classes. I always think about the potential for disease transfer when working with animals, but I realize now that it’s something most people don’t tend to think about, and thanks to my Intro class I had the heads up.

Until next time.