Last week I had my final day at the safari, marking the end of my internship. It was a very sad day for everyone as we each realized we wouldn’t be seeing each other anymore. I have made some very good friends over the course of this internship and will be sad to leave them. Each of the keepers I worked with at the safari helped me grow as a person and as a member of this field, and everyone was incredible to work with. I want to thank each of them for their help and support through these past twelve weeks.
We ended the day on a happy note by having a small party in the department eating cake and talking about different things that happened over the course of my stay with them. It was nice to think about everything that has transpired at the safari and made me realize how far I’ve already come in this field, from simple book learning to practical hands-on knowledge and fieldwork. It is strange to think about going back to Unity College and not coming in to work at the Predators Department each day. After our little party I said my farewells to my friends and spent the next hour on a quiet contemplative walk around the safari, stopping at each of the enclosures where I worked, and said goodbye to the animals that I have come to know and love. It was a heart wrenching and I’m not afraid to say that a few tears were shed. I have come to love each of the animals that I cared for over the course of this internship and will miss them terribly. The silver lining in leaving is knowing that I will get to come back and visit over Christmas break.
I want to thank everyone who followed this blog and commented on each of my posts. I hope you enjoyed reading about my adventures as much as I have had living them. A big thank you goes out to the Unity College Marketing Department for helping me put this blog together and to my internship sponsor Cheryl Frederick for encouraging me to look for internship opportunities outside of the United States.
This week has seen an influx of summer camp kids across the safari. One day there were only a couple of educational tours and the next there were over a dozen! For us, the safari keepers, this means more enrichment is being put into each of the enclosures on a daily and weekly basis to ensure the animals are active when the children come to visit them.
Preparing enrichment takes a little more of our time at the safari but is a lot of fun to make. Enrichment can take almost any form, from honey spread over rocks to spices placed in burlap sacks to cardboard “deer” filled with meat, the possibilities are endless. Today one of our keepers was running a little behind and asked me to make some enrichment for our stripped hyena, Neua. This was an amazing opportunity to apply the knowledge I learned in Sarah Cunningham’s Enrichment and Exhibit Design class at Unity College last year. So I rolled up my metaphorical sleeves and got to work.
The first thing I did was go over my knowledge of hyenas related to enrichment:
- They are scavenger animals
- They eat pretty much anything
- They have a strong sense of smell
- They are curious
- They are good problem solvers
Next I accessed my options for enrichment. Our closet of enrichment items had a number of spices, honey, peanut butter, burlap sacks, cardboard boxes, perfumes, and bamboo tubes. The refrigerator next to it had some frozen yogurt and meat popsicles. Time to let the creative juices flow and create something spectacular!
In the end, the enrichment I came up with was to take a little bit of the frozen yogurt and add a dab of peanut butter and honey to it. This delectable little frozen treat was then placed inside a cardboard box which was then placed inside a burlap sack. Once this was done I filled the burlap sack with some alpaca fur, that I found buried in the closet, and lightly sprayed the box with some perfume to attract Neua’s attention. All in all I thought it was a pretty good piece of enrichment given what I had to work with. It would give Neua a small snack that would lower her body temperature in the intense heat and provided both cognitive and olfactory stimulation.
When I threw the sack into her enclosure ten minutes later she seemed to really enjoy it. Neua launched herself at the sack and began digging at the box, trying to get the enrichment out of the sack. I was able to stay and watch for ten minutes before being called away to the tiger enclosure, and she had just gotten the box out of the sack and was busy ripping it to shreds.
Until next time.
Yet again the keepers at the Safari have decided to test the knowledge and skills that I have learned over the course of this internship, and picked up from my classes at Unity College. A few days ago, I was told I would be working the bears section of the department–no big deal I’ve done that loads of times by now. Except for one detail: I will be working with the bears ALONE!!! This was definitely something new.
From eight in the morning until eleven I was in charge of everything that went on with the bears including, but is not limited to: cleaning indoor and outdoor enclosures for seven bears; shifting them; feeding them; preparing food for their lunch and their nighttime meals; and preparing food for the second round of feeding that goes out to the whole department. When it came time to shift the bears and open/close doors, the head of the department came down to make sure nothing went wrong, but then I was again left all alone.
I have to say it was both frightening and exhilarating. The level of trust and respect that the Safari is giving me is incredible and I was humbled that they trusted me enough with such a big job. It is a healthy reminder of when I showed up here, only a few months ago and only knew the things that I learned in a textbook.
However this day of wonder and excitement also gave me a shadow of fear when I learned that the evaluation paperwork from Unity College had arrived in the mail and that the department head would be filling it out after my performance with the bears.
Maybe you’re wondering how I did? Pretty well I think, but I guess like me you’ll just have to wait and see.
Until next time.
Holy heart failure Batman! Today was an amazing day at the safari! The head of the department came up to me before we started the day and told me that it was my responsibility to shift the bears from their indoor enclosures to their outdoor ones—for those of you not familiar with the process of shifting zoo animals, this is a big responsibility and something that you don’t take lightly. It may seem simple to open a door, let an animal walk outside, and close the doors behind them, but there are a thousand and one things that can go wrong. Additionally, opening the doors usually puts you in close proximity to the animals, which can be very dangerous if the animal tries to reach out and grab you.
Fortunately, shifting the bears went off without a hitch and both the department head and a keeper were watching my every move in case something should go wrong. It felt amazing to be trusted with such responsibility and I feel that I have reached a new level trust with the safari. I would like to give a big shout out to Cheryl Frederick and Sarah Cunningham, two of my professors at Unity College, for preparing me for anything the zoo field can throw at me.
Can’t wait to head back to work tomorrow.
Until next time.
It struck me today while assisting in the second round of feeding that even in the zoological world there are a number of cultural differences that many people may be unaware of. Take for instance two species of animals in our collection, a raccoon and a porcupine. To most Americans these animals are common and we see them often, the raccoons getting into garbage and causing trouble in our backyards. And because they could have rabies, most of us avoid raccoons. Porcupines, though we may see them less often, are still pretty common and it is not too unusual to spot them.
For the Israelis however, raccoons and porcupines are amazing oddities from a world away that they will never get to see, unless they visit the safari or make a trip to the United States and happen to see one of these animals. On the other hand, our herd of camels isn’t all that unusual to the people here in Tel Aviv. All you need to do is head out towards the nearby desert where there are Bedouin tribes who have camels—really a pretty common sight. However I thought the camels were amazing when I saw them for the first time. Because they are animals we don’t usually see in the United States, when I first arrived, “Awesome, we have camels!” is what I think I might have said.
Little things like this remind me how big and diverse the planet is and just how many amazing animals are out there!
Can you think of any animals that you see on a regular basis, in and around your house or work, which could be in a zoo somewhere on the other side of the world?
Until next time.
Today I truly learned what the expression “hot as hell” means. With clear blue skies overhead and not a cloud in the sky, the temperature climbed into near triple digits and the humidity was nearly unbearable. Top that off with moving lumber and supplies to the tiger exhibit that is currently under construction, and you have one heck of a day. I really miss Unity College right now, with all of its trees and shade everywhere; clouds that drift lazily across the sky promising rain; and a light breeze to brush against your face. Now that sounds like a nice day.
I asked one of the keepers, Tomell, if he thought it would rain here this summer; he looked at me and laughed. Apparently it doesn’t rain in Israel except for a couple of weeks in December! To all of those in Maine, heck even in New England, please tell me what the weather is like. I seem to have forgotten what rain is.
On a happy note, Pedang our male tiger seems to be doing much better after his acupuncture and seems much more responsive–here’s hoping those pesky ear infections stay away from the big guy.
Until next time.
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.
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.