Category — Keeper’s Komments
Each and every day at the Cincinnati Zoo we ask ourselves “How do we inspire our guests to truly care about wild animals and wild places?” What we have determined is this caring starts with a personal connection between a guest and one of our wonderful animals. We call this getting our visitors “close enough to care.” The Zoo’s goal is to bring guests up close and personal with as many animals as possible. This could mean standing within inches of a Malayan tiger, racing against chickens in the Blakely’s Barnyard Bonanza, or touching a flamingo while walking through the Zoo.
And, the Zoo’s Interpretive Collection is critical to the success of this goal. Also known as the Zoo’s outreach collection, more than 200 animals are used exclusively for educational programming and intimate encounters with guests. Bringing animals out on Zoo grounds and into classrooms allows guests and students to get close enough to care. Once someone can make a physical connection, phobias are broken down and a new understanding emerges. Adults and children alike make a personal connection with the animals as individuals. Our hope is that this will translate into caring for the species as a whole.
Every animal in the Interpretive Collection can be handled in one way or another by specially trained staff and volunteers. The animals are cared for by seven full-time keepers that are fully devoted to supporting the mission of the Zoo through close-encounter experiences. The Interpretive Collection’s mission is to provide unique opportunities and experiences, positive relationships, and greater knowledge to the people and animals we encounter each day.
The Interpretive animals are often found running in and out of a circle of children, flying over-head in a classroom, coiling around an arm, flapping down a path, creeping over a hand, burrowing under an arm, or rooting through a garden. We aim to let each animal showcase its natural skills and abilities. Every animal is given the choice to participate in a program or encounter, which keeps the animal, visitor, and keeper happy.
Many of our animals are trained through operant conditioning, using only positive reinforcement. Some are simply trained to crate themselves while others are trained to exhibit said natural behaviors for guests. Relaxed animals make for great encounters and that is an important rule that the Interpretive Collection staff lives by.
As the Zoo’s attendance continues to increase and more educational programming is added, the need to grow the Interpretive Collection also increases. We already have the distinction as one of the largest (if not THE largest!) interpretive collection in the United States. So the next time you are at the Zoo or the Zoo is visiting you – get up close with the animals. Ask questions, touch them, take your time and study them. Whatever you do, please get close enough to care!
September 4, 2014 1 Comment
By Renee Carpenter, Rhino and Hoofed Stock Keeper
Seven years ago, I had an amazing opportunity to represent the Zoo at an International Rhino Keeper Conference hosted in Australia. During the week-long conference, I met a man named Henry Opio from the Uganda Wildlife Education Center (UWEC). Henry impressed me with his passion for conservation. He had a dream that black and white rhinos would someday return to the wild in Uganda where they had been eliminated through poaching in the 1980s. Wildlife and people alike had experienced tragic hardships and loss during that time of tremendous political and civil unrest. With the region now recovering, facilities like UWEC, with the full support of the current government, are working hard to save what was lost and foster a “pride of heritage” in the people for their wildlife.
As I spoke more with Henry, I fell in love with the idea of returning rhinos to Uganda, too. Henry presented on the possibility of reintroducing rhinos into Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda and how UWEC would reach out to each and every village surrounding the park before animals would be released (wow, what a huge task!). They would focus on the children and reach the parents and others in the community through them. I, along with a colleague, was there to present on a fundraising project called “Rhino Rembrandts” with proceeds going to field conservation…a possible aid to this Ugandan rhino project, I thought to myself.
After the excitement of the week, I was sitting in the plane for the twenty-plus hour flight home and I couldn’t help but wonder…how could I help Henry and Uganda’s lost rhinos with more than just what my little fundraiser would do? Coincidentally, when I returned to work I read an email about an internal grant opportunity with a fast approaching deadline. So, many emails and anxious waiting later… I have, just this past week, submitted the report for the seventh straight year of successful funding from the Zoo!
Back over in Uganda, my friend Henry and UWEC are working hard at conservation education on many fronts. However, the return of the rhino to a people re-learning the importance of safeguarding it is closest to my heart.
The human effect of any conservation initiative is what makes it successful. UWEC reaches out to the communities (person to person) through education about the importance of rhinos to their community as well as helps to improve daily life tasks such as farming and waste management practices and identification/use of medicinal plants. Through this process, the communities become invested in the idea of bringing rhinos back and the positive impact it will have on them if the rhinos are protected.
For me personally, last year’s successful grant application brought the whole process very close to home. At the conclusion of last year’s work, Henry contacted me about a 14-year-old girl named Vivian. She showed great interest and passion for rhino conservation. She also expressed to him concern about her father who was a poacher back in their village. She felt she could convince him to stop, even though that would mean ending the income that enabled her to attend school. Vivian’s father was convinced and, in an attempt to still fund her education, he carved two beautiful wooden rhino statues and presented them to Henry for help. As you can see, they now have a new home here in Cincinnati. Henry was also able to help Vivian’s father gain employment as a ranger protecting wildlife. It’s fascinating how a person’s actions can change when given a better option. This is what I love about this project – protecting wildlife while improving people’s lives – a recipe for success! This has only been made possible by the Zoo’s internal grant program and dedication to field conservation.
Although much more work needs to be done before rhinos once again roam in the wild in Uganda, the rhinos themselves are doing their part. At Ziwa Ranch in Uganda, they are busy making babies to support the release. UWEC’s rhinos serve as ambassadors for any and all visitors and the dedicated staff there will continue to work with the communities surrounding Murchison Falls National Park until they have all been reached (fingers crossed for future success in partnering).
As a rhino and hoofed stock keeper here at the Zoo, I have been blessed, alongside my friends and colleagues, with the opportunity to work with these awesome animals, be involved in efforts to safeguard them in the wild, and to share my experiences and love of rhinos with the people I meet.
So I invite you to come visit us here at the Zoo and be part of the human effect of conservation, too! There are so many more people like Vivian out there just waiting for that connection to become stewards of their own land and wildlife.
Also, don’t miss World Rhino Day on September 21st here at the Zoo when we celebrate these marvels of nature and the work being done to safeguard them. Come out and have some family fun while making a difference!
September 2, 2014 2 Comments
The Cincinnati Zoo Primate Department provides excellent care for our extended family of about 25 primate species, which includes approximately 70 individuals. A lot of effort goes into their care and proper management. In addition to the basic nutritionally balanced diet, exemplary husbandry, and dynamic environmental enrichment, a comprehensive operant conditioning (OC) program has been in place for more than ten years. Operant conditioning with positive reinforcement refers to a method of training that incorporates building a trusting relationship with the animals along with a systemic communication technique that allows keepers to cooperatively shape desired behaviors needed from them to make the animals’ lives better.
For instance through OC training, the Zoo’s Western-lowland gorillas have numerous behaviors that they will offer to aid in evaluating health. The gorillas will present their hands, feet, ears, bellies, backs, knees, shoulders, open their mouths, and stick out their tongues, all on cue followed by a positive reinforcement, which is usually a favorite food item like grapes. OC is engaging and mentally stimulating for the gorillas and allows keepers and vets the opportunity to do some important work with them. The Zoo’s gorillas will also allow cardiac ultrasound imaging work to be done, all voluntarily, while awake, through a protective mesh safely separating the keepers and gorillas. Training techniques are also used to encourage natural behaviors and help form a cohesive social dynamic within the family group.
Recently, we initiated some maternal management behavior training with an expecting gorilla named “Asha”. One of our primary goals was to do regular fetal ultrasounds throughout the pregnancy. Early on in the pregnancy, primate keeper Ashley Ashcraft worked as the primary trainer for this. As with most of the OC work, the zoo’s wonderful vet techs, Jenny Kroll and Amy Long, were also included to assist with the monitoring, along with additional help from the Zoo’s Lindner Center for Conservation & Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) scientists. Throughout Asha’s gestation we have been able to follow along with fetal development and are still doing ultrasounds once or twice a week as we come down to parturition. At this point, the fetus is a little too big to see fully on ultrasound but we clearly see a good heartbeat and movement. Asha, understandably, rests a lot and eats like a horse. She is still well within the predicted birth period so all is looking good. Gorillas have a gestation period of 250 to 280 days.
Asha will be a first-time mom but has great history with younger siblings, from growing up in Brownsville, Texas. She has also had the chance to watch little Gladys, with her surrogate mother “Mlinzi”, for additional lessons. The Zoo’s team of volunteer observers are also watching Asha overnight, by remote monitor, just to be extra safe. The family group Asha currently lives with is very cohesive and lead by the great silverback, named “Jomo,” who is also very good with little ones.
Jomo (formally of the Toronto Zoo) and Asha, along with approximately 360 other gorillas in about 50 zoos, are managed cooperatively through something called a Species Survival Plan(SSP) under the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). The SSP carefully tracks the genetics of each gorilla, gorilla personalities and facilities, and with critical input from each zoo, develops a comprehensive Masterplan every two years that outlines recommended transfers for breeding, or to help social situations. Zoos are very altruistic in how they view gorillas and work hard together for the betterment of the overall big picture management.
So, thanks to great team work on the national level, as well as right here at the Cincinnati Zoo, we are prepared and patiently awaiting the birth of Asha’s baby. Everyone is excited and very hopeful all will continue to go smoothly as we come down to the end. Stay tuned……
July 31, 2014 1 Comment