Category — Birds
Guest blogger: Sarah Lang, Zoo Intern
You can’t get a job without experience, but you can’t get experience without a job. It’s the classic conundrum everyone is facing as they emerge from college dorm cocoons and are stretching their new adult wings. As if that isn’t hard enough, the animal field is incredibly challenging to break into. Don’t worry; there is a way it can be done. It’s a hard, long road. There will be lots of obstacles that look unsurpassable. You may need to take detours to get where you want to go. Don’t be discouraged. If this is what you love, then it will be worth it. The first path I took was the path of internships.
I did my undergraduate at Berea College, majoring in Ethology (animal behavior) and Theater, minoring in Film and Philosophy – an interesting spectrum of hodgepodge skills. The dream job is to educate through entertainment–that means animal shows, documentaries, or even a traveling circus to let my mother know the classical education she got me has not gone to waste. During my last semester at Berea, I started my first internship here at the Zoo. That introduced me to the Advanced Inquiry Program through Miami University’s Project Dragonfly, which is a graduate program based at certain institutions accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums such as Cincinnati Zoo. I was accepted and only have one year left in the program at this point. Hopefully after my Masters, I can get my Ph.D. in Neuroethology of Metatherian Cognition, but you can imagine how large the market is for that. The internships are like stepping stones: get your foot in the door, the basics of how to educate within a zoo, the basics for visitor engagement and outreach, the basics for animal husbandry, the basics for animal showmanship, get a seasonal/temporary keeper position in an animal show, get a full-time benefitted position, develop own animal show, inspire and change the world. That’s not too hard, right?
I’ve done three internships at the Cincinnati Zoo so far, and there has been a distinct evolution in just a short time. Internships that were once seen as full-time free labor have transformed into what internships were intended to be–immersion with education. I’ve done an internship where I worked 24 hours a week, commuted between the Zoo and school at Berea College two hours away each week, and worked with supervisors to help me meet up with certain people to talk about certain topics for my capstone. I’ve done an internship where I was working 40 hours a week, and if you wanted to do anything special like a behind-the-scenes tour, you set it up yourself by talking to other interns or boldly asking a keeper in a different department. And then they reworked the internship program. Now there is a new lesson to be learned every week. You may be working the 40-hour week, but lectures have been set up to let you meet and hear about what goes on throughout the entire Zoo.
We had lectures with Lyn Lutz about browse. We heard from Deb Zureick about the history of the Zoo. We learned about operant conditioning with Amanda Chambers. Dr. Greg Levens showed us tidbits about veterinary medicine in zoos. Cecil Jackson showed us about elephant foot care and introduced us to the elephants themselves. We talked about nutrition with Barbara Henry. We listened to how keepers came to be here at the Zoo with us, and what they did and still do that allows them to bring special perspectives. Not only that, but we did things that they didn’t even warn you about in school. Molly Szabo showed us things like resume building and what zoos look for in your representational piece of paper. We even had mock interviews with our curators.
It isn’t just a work horse gig anymore. It’s an introduction into the field. A taste of what is to come, or what will discourage. I can’t say it was all sunshine and giggles though. It is working 40 hours a week in Cincinnati weather–heat, humidity, freezing ice storms, all of it. It’s working with the public, even if you are behind the scenes; they will ask you anything and everything. It’s working for love and not pay, and trying to figure out how you will pay for school and bills. It’s smiling and being kind even when you are sick and exhausted because you never know who you are talking to. It’s trying to learn procedures, time management, and skills as quickly as possible and being corrected. It’s being happy for someone who started with you in the same place and who might be further ahead. It’s being okay with sitting in rush hour traffic, sweaty and covered in fecal matter at the end of the day after your deodorant has worn off, and people still expect you to go out and have a social life. But it’s also working in a field you love. It’s getting your foot in the door. It’s getting a taste of what you want to do with the rest of your life. It’s making connections with people, hearing their stories, learning from their journey, and making incredible and memorable friendships. It’s making memories and having experiences you would never imagine having done before. It’s creating an adventure for yourself and those around every day you step on grounds. It’s conveying knowledge to peers and to guests, sharing facts and information to understand the way things are and why they are that way. It’s inspiring a call to conserving nature and appreciation of the world around us through respect and thoughtfulness, because this planet, this life is a truly beautiful one. It’s serving those around you because we are all connected through our numerous communities.
What a long strange trip it’s been.
I have to admit it is hard, and it might take a while. But this is the path I have chosen and it is going to be worth it. If it wasn’t worth it, I wouldn’t have done it so many times, and I would keep doing it. As I continue my journey through life, it is a path worth remembering and that will make all the difference. So I’m letting my wings dry, because I look forward to the greener pastures that lie ahead.
August 31, 2015 2 Comments
Co-written by: Jenny Gainer, Cody Sowers, Aimee Owen, & Wendy Rice (All keepers at the Zoo)
Our third honoree for National Zoo Keeper Week is Rickey Kinley! Rickey works as a keeper in the Aviculture (bird) department. Of all the nominations we received this year for National Zoo Keeper Week, only one keeper, Rickey, was unanimously selected by the committee as well. Rickey serves as an excellent role model for so many keepers in so many different ways, it’s no wonder he was an easy selection!
As a former student with the Zoo’s high school, the Zoo Academy, Rickey naturally connects with the current Zoo Academy students and he absolutely sets the bar in terms of mentorship. Rickey always takes the time to get to know each student and he uses what he learns about them to relate to and inspire that student. Ricky goes out of his way to include the students and make them feel like they have an important role in the bird department, and he consistently challenges them to try new things, even if they are unsure of themselves.
Head Keeper Jenny Gainer says of Rickey, “He was a mentor of mine as a student, so I’ve experienced it first-hand. And I’ve witnessed even 15 years later he still goes the extra mile to work with these kids and support the program.”
Outside of his stellar involvement with Zoo Academy students, Rickey clearly connects with every keeper he works with as well, and the fun and playful relationship he shares with most colleagues was evident in their praise and recognition for him. According to his coworkers, Rickey likes to laugh at penguins, and he likes to laugh in general. He has an international fan club that spans many generations and in the past, he may or may not have been known to rock a sweet flat-top hairstyle (a la “Kid N’Play”). Additionally, some reports suggest that the “Morgan Freeman of the Birdhouse” has been known to eat multiple cans of spinach a day (in spite of not having a Popeye-style anchor tattoo), and owns one of the most musically diverse iPods currently in existence (although this fact has not yet been confirmed by Apple Inc. or Guinness World Records).
But in all seriousness, this experienced keeper, who trained under Andrew Erkenbrecker himself, possesses vast avian knowledge and has published many different papers on training (including one of the first papers ever published on penguin training!). Rickey is well versed in critical and logical thinking and he performs well when pushed outside of the box. His contributions to the bird department have been innumerable over the years, and he is absolutely a shining example of zoo keeping. Thanks for all that you do Rickey!
July 22, 2015 2 Comments
Modified from an article written by Jackie Bray, Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, and Tamsin Orr-Walker, Chairperson, Kea Conservation Trust
The Zoo supports the conservation of kea, the world’s only alpine parrot species, in New Zealand through the efforts of the Kea Conservation Trust (KCT). Fewer than 5,000 kea remain and face threats such as conflict with people, loss of habitat, lead poisoning, predation by introduced invasive species such as stoats, brush-tailed possums, cats and rats, and unintentional by-kill by poisons used to control these invasive species.
One strategy of the KCT to conserve kea in their natural environment involves the protection of nesting sites. During the past breeding season (July 2014 to January 2015), video trail cameras were used to monitor nest sites and document breeding activity and conflict events.
A total of 33 female keas were monitored over five research sites, resulting in five successful nests producing 12 chicks, which is more than were documented in previous years.
Once active nest sites were identified, cameras were placed at the entrance to monitor breeding activity, predator visitation and chick development. A series of predator control traps were also deployed around the nesting areas to help protect the birds until the chicks fledged. The cameras documented several nests being visited by predators. KCT used this information to extend trapping systems, resulting in decreased predator visitation.
The cameras also provided valuable information on kea survivorship and repellent effectiveness during the New Zealand Department of Conservation’s (NZ DOC) scheduled 1080 poison drops in the Kahurangi National Park. In 2014, New Zealand experienced an intensive mast (seeding) event which resulted in a significant increase in numbers of mice, rats and stoats. A previous major mast in 2002-2003 appears to have been the cause of an 80% decline in kea numbers at Nelson Lakes. Current population numbers could not sustain another such event, making the widespread use of 1080 poison necessary. The kea’s inquisitive nature makes them more likely than other native avian species to investigate the poison baits, so the use of chemical kea repellents in the 1080 baits is being studied to reduce unintentional by-kill. Unfortunately Ceejay, one of the most productive females in the area, was found dead after ingesting 1080 poison.
The cameras also proved useful in March 2015, when keas were blamed for damaging bicycles and other property in a residential area. Cameras set up in the area were able to capture noisy nighttime activity (which was attributed to kea) generated by at least two possums and three cats on multiple occasions. One possum was actually caught on camera damaging property. The cameras helped defuse conflict between community members and the kea by allowing the KCT to accurately document conflict events.
Video trail cameras have provided the KCT with an incredible amount of valuable data which has been used to protect kea nesting sites and mitigate several human-kea conflict situations. The cameras also significantly reduced the amount of hours necessary for personnel to spend in the field collecting data, allowing the saved resources to be used in other conservation projects.
June 26, 2015 1 Comment