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Category — Keeper Bios

Dog Log: Chapter 8 – A Whole New World for the Boys

Luke in crate.

Luke during crate training.

As some of you may have noticed on your recent visit to the zoo, the male painted dog puppies are no longer here. On November 11, our six males, Oswald, Riddler, Alfred, Luke, Hugo and Bruce, were moved to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park. This move was recommended by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP), which ensures healthy populations and genetic diversity among zoo animals. Typically, when you have a stable alpha pair, painted dogs stay in their family pack until they are two years old so that they can see another litter raised and learn how to be great parents or helpers in the future. Unfortunately, with the passing of our alpha male, we had to make this move before our juvenile males reached breeding age.  In their new home, the boys will be rotated with spotted hyena and viewable to visitors throughout park operating hours.

To prepare for a move like this can take weeks or months of training. The dogs have to be taught to break from their natural inclination to stay together as a pack and enter crates individually. Getting them comfortable being separate and being in a smaller space takes a lot of work and patience. The first step is to just let them see the crate, touch it, smell it and let them have access to it with both ends open so they can explore in and around it. Next, we would place the crate in a doorway that they have to walk through. Again, this just gets them used to going in and out of it. Once they are used to it as part of their holding, we put one door on the end so that we can ask them to come into it to get treats. Keepers secure the crate to the wall with the crate flush to the doorway, and then ask the dogs to come in to take snacks through the mesh in the crate door. It didn’t take long for the boys to be comfortable being in the crates. The younger dogs, especially those that have never traveled in a crate before, tend to do better since they have no prior knowledge of the experience. We only use their favorite snacks like beef heart and chunk meat to capture this behavior. Due to the time we were able to spend conditioning them, all 6 dogs were crated and loaded on the transport truck in 40 minutes on the day of their departure. The boys did such a great job!

The week before they were scheduled to go out, two keepers from Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park traveled to Cincinnati to meet the dogs and their keepers (including me). We discussed the complexity of their social structure, husbandry, personality traits and behaviors specific to the pack they would be escorting to Florida. The keepers, Melaina and Heather, also observed crate training sessions and familiarized themselves with how we get the dogs to take their monthly heart worm preventative.

After a 14-hour drive, the boys arrived safely and were unloaded into their new home. The 2 lovely Disney keepers let us know as soon as they got there and have been sending updates on them every couple of days since their arrival. Even though we were sad to see them go, we’re happy that these special animals will have the opportunity to inspire the millions of visitors that visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park. With a much larger audience, it is my hope that Alfred, Oswald, Riddler, Luke, Hugo and Bruce will excite more people to care about this species and their plight in the wild. For the time being, Selina, Ivy, Lucy and Quinn will be coming into their own here in Cincinnati under the watchful eye of their mother, Imara.

The boys were introduced to their new environment earlier this week!  See how they’re doing in the Kilimanjaro Safaris savanna.

The boys in their new exhibit.

The boys in their new exhibit.

December 9, 2015   1 Comment

Happy National Zoo Keepers Week! Meet Primate Keeper, Shelly Donohue

Co-writted by: Danielle Swopes, Susie Semler & Wendy Rice (All keepers at the Zoo)

Our fifth and final honoree for National Zoo Keeper Week is Shelly Donohue! Shelly recently moved from the Africa Interpretive Department to the Primate Department.

When you really look at the Zoo’s core values (progressive thinking, accountability, pride, passion, positivity, etc.), meeting those standards consistently, day-in and day-out, seems like an overwhelming task for some of us. For others, like Shelly, it’s just a walk in the park. 

Shelly shows off her positive attitude!

Shelly shows off her positive attitude!

Anyone who knows Shelly personally has borne witness to her strong set of personal values.  She treats everyone fairly and with kindness and she always chooses to do the right thing, even if it’s not in her best interest. The moral fiber Shelly possesses is both admirable and inspiring, and she consistently represents herself and our institution in a shining light.

As if that weren’t enough, Shelly has also found a unique balance of integrity and congeniality. Her cheery attitude and child-like humor brighten the work place, and spending time with her (even when completing undesirable tasks) is always enjoyable. She will spend hours (while cleaning of course) calling back and forth to “Harley”, the blue and gold macaw, using high-pitched squeals, squawks, whistles, and words. Her connection with the natural world is clearly evident to anyone who has seen her interact with her critters.

Shelly walks Walter the warthog

Shelly walks Walter the warthog

Shelly is also very much a “doer”.  She volunteers to do the everyday tasks that most people avoid like cleaning gutters, weed-whacking, leaf-blowing, stripping and deep cleaning animal enclosures. She never shies away from a challenging or unpleasant task, and she consistently works hard to provide a better life for the animals in her care.

Always striving to achieve more, Shelly really puts all of herself into meeting her goals. From researching future education paths to talking to field researchers and scientists to participating in Miami University’s graduate program, Shelly is always on a path of self-improvement and focused on becoming a better version of herself. With her hard-working and winning attitude, it seems the sky is the limit for this young keeper!

In a world where personal integrity seems to have a ripple effect on others, we are so proud to work alongside Shelly and call her “zoo keeper”.

Shelly and fellow keeper, Susie, with Walter the warthog

Shelly and fellow keeper, Susie, with Walter the warthog

July 24, 2015   No Comments

Happy National Zoo Keepers Week! Meet Commissary Keeper, Michael Berry

Co-written by: Lloyd Johnson and Wendy Rice

Today’s selection may surprise a few of you at first because you may not think of Michael, who works in the commissary, as a traditional keeper. But if the growth and development of our industry has taught us anything, it is that the health and well-being of our animals is highly dependent upon many people (from many departments) working cohesively and cooperatively together.

Michael delivers hay to Veldt keeper, Renee Carpenter

Michael delivers hay to Veldt keeper, Renee Carpenter

Michael is an amazing example of a keeper whose role may be hands-off when it comes to animals, but his involvement in their lives is just as important as the primary keepers’. With the growing trend towards operant conditioning training, any good keeper will tell you that the right food rewards are an absolute necessity for successful animal interactions. None of our animal departments could be successful without the hard work and dedication of the commissary staff, and Michael is a shining example of both.

When it comes to friendliness, Michael is the personification. He goes out of his way to include everyone in a conversation (from interns to seasonal staff to new staff members), and he is always considerate of others. He is more than willing to help whenever keepers need a last minute delivery or a change to their feed orders, and he does it with a kind word and a smile.

While some may chalk it up to his naturally happy personality, I would argue that Michael’s ability to maintain a positive attitude is actually the ultimate form of professionalism. It is almost impossible to interact with Michael and not walk away feeling a little bit happier. It takes a really strong person to be able to put on a happy face in any situation, and very few keepers around the Zoo have mastered the skill as well as Michael.

Michael Berry (squatting) with co-workers at Bowling for Rhinos

Michael Berry (squatting) with co-workers at Bowling for Rhinos

It is not surprising that it was difficult to find a solo picture of Michael Berry as he is the ultimate people person. He always goes out of his way to give seasonal staff and interns an incredible Zoo experience,  and he is arguably one of the most genuine people here.

Anyone who is fortunate enough to interact with Michael on a regular basis will tell you that he definitely brings a light-hearted joy with him wherever he goes. In an industry where our down days can be some of the worst of our lives, people like Michael Berry are worth their weight in gold!

July 23, 2015   14 Comments