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El Zoologico Experiencia (The Zoo Experience in a Zoo Academy Student’s Words)

Guest blogger: Zoo Academy student, Keri Cross

Hello everyone! My name is Keri Cross, and I am a Zoo Academy senior!!!!!! I started attending the Zoo Academy last year, and the experience has been absolutely AMAZING!!!!!! I have evolved a lot since I first started attending the Zoo Academy, and the journey has been very impactful for me. I have met so many nice people here at the Zoo, and the keepers are the funniest people I have ever been around. They are always in good high spirits, and they keep me wanting to come back and help them the best I can.

As far as picking which department is my favorite, I really don’t have a favorite area. Every area I have worked in has something great about it, and it makes it hard to pick which one would be my absolute favorite. I have picked up skills from each lab, which I carry throughout not only the future labs, but also in my personal life as well.

My favorite animal that I have worked with has actually been the screaming hairy armadillo. They are one of the cutest animals I have seen since I’ve been at the Zoo. Bonnie, which is one of the screaming hairy armadillos, is actually my favorite. She lets me pick her up and hold her. She has made working with the screaming hairy armadillos a real pleasure. The screaming hairy armadillos are used to educate the public about the species. The Zoo usually socializes them, so they are use to human contact, but they really wouldn’t make good pets in someone’s home. The reason is mainly because they are pretty messy, and they are wild animals. The screaming hairy armadillo usually lives in desert, grassland, scrubland, and forest areas. Their diet includes plants and tasty bugs. They have an excellent sense of smell, and they are amazing diggers, too. Usually when it’s very hot, the screaming hairy armadillos dig burrows, which measure up to several meters in length, so that they can be protected from those hot, sunny days. Surprisingly, in the winter, they are very active during the day. Want to know an interesting fact???? Baby armadillos are called “pups”. A female is called a “zed” and the male is a “lister”.

Bonnie, the screaming hairy armadillo

Bonnie, the screaming hairy armadillo

My favorite animal overall would have to be the cheetah. The cheetah is one of the most beautiful animals I have ever seen. They have interesting patterns on their back, and they have big, beautiful brown eyes. Cheetahs usually come from the plains of Africa, wandering the savannas. Cheetahs are the fastest land animals on the planet!!!!!!!! With their extremely fast speed and good eyesight, they are able to spot their prey and immediately catch it. They are actually a species that is endangered right now. At this point, dedicated people are working hard to try to restore these beautiful creatures in the wild.

My favorite animal is the cheetah. (Photo: Dave Jenike)

My favorite animal is the cheetah. (Photo: Dave Jenike)

One experience from the Zoo so far that has been my absolute favorite has been actually being able to work with the reptiles. Reptiles are some of my absolute favorite animals, and I have been able to handle different types of reptiles. Crystal, a ball python, has actually been my favorite snake to handle. She comes from Africa. Her scientific name is Python regius, and she belongs to the python family. Ball pythons are also called royal pythons, and they are actually the calmest snakes that I have ever worked with.

Crystal, the ball python

Crystal, the ball python

Crystal is talking to me.

Crystal is talking to me.

With my experience so far this year, I’ve realized that this journey has been absolutely amazing. I take classes actually at the Zoo, which is pretty amazing, so I get to come to the Zoo every day, and work with the different types of animals. I’ve met a lot of great people who want to see me do great things in the future, especially with helping animals. My desire in life is to help animals, and I feel like I’m doing that every day I come to the different areas in the Zoo. My job right now may not be that much, but it all goes a long way in the end. I’m glad that I chose the Zoo Academy because I feel like I’m doing something that will stick with me forever. This experience will help lead me to bigger and better things in the future.

October 10, 2013   10 Comments

Fishy Business at the Base Camp Café

Written by guest blogger, Dan Divelbiss, one of the masterminds behind the Zoo’s aquaponics system.

“Waste” does not exist in nature.  All our furred, feathered, and finned friends don’t take a trash can out to the curb each week to watch their undesirables go “away”.  Instead nature has a plan for every scrap and left-over.  As we learn from nature, we too can begin to apply this concept to our lives.  If you were recently walking past the Base Camp Café on your way to Africa, you may have noticed a greenhouse filled with water, fish, and plants.  This is the Zoo’s newest effort synergize with nature’s design ethic: Aquaponics!

The aquaponics system in the Zoo's Greenhouse made possible by the Woodward Family Charitable Foundation.

The aquaponics system in the Zoo’s Greenhouse made possible by the Woodward Family Charitable Foundation.

Simply stated, aquaponics is growing fish to eat (aquaculture) and vegetables (hydroponics) together, where wastes from the fish are food for the plants, and the plants clean the water for the fish. In this controlled environment, yields are high and reliable. Aquaponics systems range from simple, tabletop systems consisting of little more than goldfish and a few sprigs of basil to elaborate, commercial scale systems which employ many people and produce tons of food annually.  This particular aquaponics system in the Greenhouse was designed to show how folks can build their own family-scale, aquaponic garden from materials available at local hardware/landscaping stores.

This system consists of a fish tank, two grow beds for vegetables, a pump, an aerator, solids filter, and a biofilter.  Water flows through the system continuously in a closed-loop allowing nutrients and water to be cycled and recycled.  If this system were meant to accommodate a higher fish density (aka more “waste” producers in the same space), it would require a few more components.  However, this system with a low fish population and extensive biofiltration doesn’t require them.

Fish are housed in a tank. Water from the fish tank is pumped through solids removal and into a biofilter, where the fish waste is converted by bacteria from ammonia (possibly toxic to fish) into nitrates (non-toxic to fish) that can be used by plants. The water flows downhill from the biofilter into growing trays. Plants grow in beds of gravel or expanded clay (which also acts as an additional biofilter), or they are floated on the water in a floating raft.  After the water passes through a network of plant roots, it is returned, cleansed, to the fish tank. All through the process, air is pumped into the system to ensure plenty of oxygen for the fish, beneficial bacteria, and plants.  Each day the fish are fed and their excrement supplies the nutrients necessary for plant growth.

The current plants growing in the aquaponics system include basil, cucumber, and tomato. Each day, our SSA chefs harvest what they need for catering and restaurant meals, staying true to their commitment to providing our guests food that is as fresh and as local possible. For example, your caprese salad features basil grown in the Greenhouse, and picked just before it is tossed in your salad.

SSA Chef Brian harvests basil from the greenhouse for the first time.

SSA Chef Brian harvests basil from the greenhouse for the first time.

If you’d like to learn more about aquaponics, stop by the Zoo and check out this new exhibit next to the Base Camp Café. The Greenhouse was made possible by the Woodward Family Charitable Foundation.

Clockwise from bottom: Kevin Savage, Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy; Adam Wyman, Elements Pro; Scott Beuerlein, Zoo Horticulture; Dan Divelbiss, Waterfields LLC.

Clockwise from bottom: Kevin Savage, Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy; Adam Wyman, Elements Pro; Scott Beuerlein, Zoo Horticulture; Dan Divelbiss, Waterfields LLC.

Dan Divelbiss, MS is the managing member of Waterfields, LLC, an urban agriculture development company focusing on bringing commercial aquaponics to the urban core to create living wage jobs, revitalize communities, and sell to Cincinnati’s local food market.  Learn more at www.waterfieldsllc.com

August 28, 2013   4 Comments

Saving Tigers

Today is Global Tiger Day. What would the world be like without tigers? The Zoo partners with other zoos on a Tiger Species Survival Plan (SSP) so we never have to find out.  In addition to maintaining a healthy tiger population in zoos, the Tiger SSP supports field research and conservation of tigers in the wild through the Tiger Conservation Campaign.

Malayan Tiger (Photo: Crissi Lanier)

Malayan Tiger (Photo: Crissi Lanier)

As consumers, we all have the power to protect wildlife by using the Sustainable Shopper app to choose products made with Certified Sustainable Palm Oil.  Palm oil is used in many of the foods and products we consume every day from frozen vegetables to shampoo. Oil palm plantations are spreading across Indonesia, which produces 85% of the world’s supply of palm oil, often to the detriment of its rainforests and wildlife. As consumers, we can choose to buy products made with sustainable palm oil as certified by the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). The Sustainable Shopper app connects you with more than 500 products manufactured by RSPO-certified companies.

To get the Sustainable Shopper app:

From your web-enabled phone, go to cincinnatizoo.org/sustainable-shopper OR scan this QR code with your preferred QR code reader.

 To use the Sustainable Shopper app:
  • Select “Go Shopping” from the main menu.
  • Select “Edible” or “Non-edible” from the main products menu.
  • Select the appropriate sub-category until you locate your product.

 

 

July 29, 2013   1 Comment