Vol. 51, No. 3, Fall 2012
The Tie that Binds
Foster, the Laughing Kookaburra, is a funny bird. He lives in the Interpretive Center at the Sacramento Zoo as an ambassador for his species, participating in stage shows and visiting school children as a feathered educator. Chris, an animal caretaker, describes one of Foster’s quirks as really liking Sam, another member of the animal care staff. During his free-flight training exercises, Foster often lands on Sam’s head and tries to share his tasty worms and crickets. As much as he likes Sam, he does not like anyone who wears a hat or when female keepers wear their hair differently or change the color. As Chris says, “Foster likes his women the way they are and that’s that!”
At the Sacramento Zoo, there are 30 full-time animal care staff who spend countless hours caring for more than 500 animals. Daily tasks can range from cleaning a sticky mess of undetermined origin, to creating new puzzles or coaxing medicine into an unwilling mouth. Mundane or unusual, these tasks always include interaction with the animals, even those animals that zookeepers never touch. The relationship between a keeper and an animal is often an intimate one but with well-defined boundaries.
“Caring for zoo animals provides unique opportunities to work closely with some of the world’s most incredible animals,” adds keeper Kat. “It’s the time spent with specific individuals that always leaves a lasting impression on staff. From raptors to chimpanzees, I have learned that each animal has his or her own unique personality and forming a special bond is quite inevitable.”
The bond between a caretaker and an animal helps a zookeeper to know when there is an injury and calm an animal when it is scared or feels threatened, thus creating an environment where the animal feels secure.
While caring for zoo animals is often filled with fun and rewarding experiences, it can also bring worry and heartache. “Unlike doctors and nurses working in hospitals, our patients can’t talk. When becoming a zookeeper, I think we all silently promise to do whatever it takes to keep the animals healthy and comfortable. It goes without saying that when one of our own is sick, we come in early, stay late, and try creative ways to get them to eat, drink or take oral medications,” said Kat.
Although animal care staff often cannot touch Zoo animals in order to maintain clear and safe boundaries, that does not weaken their strong bond. Keepers will often sing to sooth an upset animal, build a nest in a particularly favorite way to its resident, or spend their days thinking of new activities to engage curious minds. There are approximately 6,000 animal care professionals in zoos across the United States. For most visitors, an opportunity to meet a zookeeper far surpasses a chance to meet the zoo director, the zoo curator or the zoo veterinarian. “Meet the Keeper” presentations are often as popular as up close and personal encounters with the animals themselves. But don’t tell Foster… he still thinks he’s running the show!
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Reflecting on the bond between keepers and animals reminds me why I became engaged in this amazing world of zoos and aquariums; it was one of my earliest experiences as a keeper and it changed my life.
I started in the zoo profession as a bird keeper at Riverbanks Park in South Carolina. Early in my career, I was given the responsibility of caring for a colony of Black-footed Penguins. (At first, I was disappointed to not be working with the “real” animals, but I soon learned it was much better to be inside the exhibit with animals without the fear of being consumed.)
The penguins started nesting and soon we had the first eggs. During this time, the bird curator decided we should candle the eggs. This is a simple process where you take the egg into a dark room and shine a light through it to see if there is a developing embryo. The plan was that the curator would hold the incubating bird back while I reached underneath to remove the egg. All was going as planned … but as I removed the egg, I could feel it move and the egg was making sounds! I looked at my boss and exclaimed, “The egg is hatching!” He replied, “Well, put it back!” We both quickly left the exhibit and ran around to the front, standing there speechless like a couple kids with our hands caught in the cookie jar.
To this day I can still remember the feeling of that egg moving in my hand. I was hooked!
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Kids (and Adults!) Say the Darndest Things
As you spend time at the Sacramento Zoo, you will undoubtedly encounter many of the 153 yellow-shirted docents sharing animal information and answering visitor questions. Recently, we asked the docents about their favorite memories working at the Sacramento Zoo. They gave us some great responses:
At a Family Overnight, a zookeeper at the giraffe deck received what I thought was a challenging question – a little voice asked what we do when the giraffe is sad. The keeper didn’t miss a beat. He said something like: “Well, we hope that she isn’t sad, but if she is, we give her a special treat to eat and that usually makes her feel better!”
My favorite memory was when I came to the Zoo to drop off my wife for docent training. I ended up staying and becoming a docent, too!
We have two tenrecs as ambassador animals. One morning, I was talking to a small group of people and showing them the tenrec when the Zoo’s train went by. Just then, a small boy came up, looked at the little animal in awe, heard part of the conversation and ran back to his mother loudly exclaiming, “Mommy! Come quick! See the train wreck!”
For more information on becoming a docent, visit the Volunteer Docent page or call 916-808-5889.
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The Sacramento Zoo welcomed a new species of monkey this season: a pair of Wolf’s Guenons! These small primates are native to central Africa, where they inhabit open forests and forage for fruits, seeds, and an occasional insect. Forming loose family groups in the wild, Wolf’s Guenons are even known to spend time with other primate
species including Bonobos, Colobus Monkeys and other guenons. A larger mixed-species group may mean that there are more eyes on the lookout for predators, and many guenons have learned to recognize other monkeys’ alarm calls so that they know how to respond correctly if a neighbor spots a leopard! We hope that our new pair of guenons (which includes a 17-year-old male and a 5-year-old female) will form the nucleus of a new troop.
The guenons are temporarily on exhibit at the Zoo’s Lower Monkey House (across from the lemurs), but eventually they will inhabit a new home at Small Wonders, a soon-to-be renovated habitat across from the giraffe deck. Plans are currently being finalized and will include significant upgrades to this older, outdated exhibit. Small Wonders will encompass three distinct animal living areas in one building and will house exciting new species to the Sacramento Zoo. In addition to the Wolf’s Guenons, the Zoo will welcome Straw-colored Fruit Bats, Aardvarks, Banded Mongooses and several African birds, including Red-billed Hornbills and Plumed Guineafowl. Visit the Small Wonders page to stay updated or to donate to this exciting new project!
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A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down
What do jam, yogurt, peanut butter, pasta, pitted prunes and powdered mashed potatoes have in common? No, it’s not a new diet craze! Special food items are often used by Zookeepers to help furred and feathered residents take their medicine and fulfill their nutrition needs.
Quality care for the animals at the Sacramento Zoo is always top priority. Each individual’s diet is based on recommendations from the Zoo’s veterinarians. Sometimes animals have special dietary needs or require an extra incentive to take their medicine; sometimes they just deserve a treat. Staff is often able to find helpful tools at the local grocery store.
People who have dogs or cats know that getting an animal to take its medicine can be very challenging. At the Zoo, orangutans can take a cup of yogurt that has a crushed pill in it and magically sift through the yogurt as they eat, holding the tiny medicine fragments in their lower lip while swallowing the yogurt – then spit out the medicine!
The Zoo’s primates get multi-vitamins daily as part of their normal care (Centrum Silver and Flintstone Vitamins). In addition, each morning the apes receive juice to get them accustomed to taking liquids in a cup. For others, a tasty pudding treat can often hide the bitter taste of medicine.
As for the never-ending shopping list, every year the Zoo goes through 5,400 bathroom-sized Dixie cups, 575 containers of yogurt and 300 pudding cups – and many other items found in your very own kitchen!
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Estate Planning Safari
Protect Your Nest Egg
Wednesday, October 10
1 – 2:30 pm
This free informative seminar will navigate through a jungle of estate planning topics presented by local attorney Mark S. Drobny, California State Bar Certified Legal Specialist in Estate Planning, Trust and Probate Law. Mr. Drobny is widely regarded as one of the top experts on estate planning, providing information on a variety of topics in an entertaining manner that will help you design a plan that fits your needs.
Topics will include, but are not limited to:
- Living Trusts vs. Wills
- Probate – How Can it be Avoided?
- Who Needs Durable Powers of Attorney for Financial Management and Advance Health Care Directives?
- Charitable Gift Annuities
Seating is limited. Email Pam Williams or call 916-808-3713 by Friday, October 5, to guarantee your seat.
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Attention Zoo Members!
Recruit your friends with the Sacramento Zoo Member-Get-a-Member promotion* and receive three free months of membership!
Simply tell your friends to mention this offer AND your name. If they are a new member**, they will automatically receive $5.00 off their membership purchase – and you will receive an extra three months of membership at no charge. You can receive three free months of membership for every new Sacramento Zoo member you recruit, so take advantage of this special offer and tell all your friends!
Ask your friends to call the Membership Office at (916) 808-5888 today!
*Offer expires September 31, 2012.
**A new member is defined as someone who has not had their name on a Sacramento Zoo membership in the last two years.
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