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Zoo Academy: Experiences that Last a Lifetime

Guest blogger: Zoo Academy student, Tyler Allgeyer

Hi! My name is Tyler Allgeyer. I’m a senior attending the Zoo Academy. This is a special two-year career tech program that runs through Hughes STEM High School. Here we take all of our normal classes such as math and English, but we also take special classes related to a zoological and a botanical field of study in the form of Zoo and Aquarium Management and Environmental Science.

Besides our tech courses, we go to what are known as labs. They are two-hour intervals at the beginning of the day for juniors and at the end of the day for seniors. Here we work as zookeepers in a six-week rotation at various departments in the Zoo.

Some of my favorite labs so far have been the Cheetah Show, Reptile House, and Manatee Springs.

Some of my favorite experiences happened while I was working at the Cheetah Show. Going into enclosures in direct contact with cheetahs is a once in a lifetime experience. This is a special opportunity the keepers let us have provided that we did a good job and worked well with them.

Meeting a cheetah

Meeting a cheetah

Manatee Springs is probably one of the best departments to work in. The keepers there are very relaxed and fun to be around. Lots of positive energy flows through there, especially when Chris is around. He’s always keeping the humor level high. The best part for me while working there was when Lindsey and I would go do the animal encounter with Hermit, a three-foot American alligator. It was the first time I had held an alligator that size. He can be a bit squirmy, but we always had a great time!

My absolute favorite department here at the Zoo is the Reptile House. Reptiles are where my heart truly lies so it makes sense. Lots of jokes and funny stories were told during my time there. I even spent some time over the summer on weekends volunteering for the whole day. I got to do some fun things like taking out snakes for animal encounters and hand feeding the Komodo dragon.

Working in the Reptile House

Working in the Reptile House

Many of the departments have some awesome people that are very easy to work with. You really get to enjoy doing your work in a fun adventurous environment. My time here at the Zoo Academy may be short, but the experiences I’ve had will last a lifetime.


March 27, 2013   8 Comments

Keeper’s (Underwater) View of the Manatees

The three manatees that arrived at the Cincinnati Zoo on November 3, in a “sea cow shuffle” that involved six institutions and nine manatees, are adjusting well to their new home.

The largest and the smallest manatees.

Wooten and Betsy. The largest and the smallest!

For those of you who may not have been introduced to our new sea cow trio, here is a quick run-down of who’s who.  Betsy is our 1,800-lb female who came from Homosassa Springs State Park and is 20 years old.  Illusion and Wooten both were living at Miami Seaquarium before arriving here, and formed a friendship while there.

Illusion was rescued in March 2010 after being struck by a boat, and her injuries from the propeller are very obvious.  Wooten, our little guy, was found as an orphan in February and is just about a year old.

Illusion is very curious, especially with our divers when they are cleaning.  She loves to roll in the hoses that they use, and also seems to enjoy when the keepers are treating her wounds.  The keepers are keeping a close eye on Illusion’s injuries, making sure that they are healing properly so that she will be ready for release next year.

Illusion the manatee

Illusion came to us from the Miami Seaquarium

Wooten is our eating machine, though he would rather steal a head of lettuce from one of the girls than go get one of his own.  Like any youngster, he likes to investigate new things but will quickly swim back to his buddy, Illusion, if he is unsure of things.  If he continues to eat like he does now, he may hit the 600 lbs. mark needed to be released next year.

Betsy is a very typical manatee, laid back and timid while taking her napping and snacking very seriously.  She seems to be a magnet for the smaller two, especially at naptime when they all usually huddle together near one of the logs in the exhibit.

The trio of manatees together

Illusion, Betsy & Wooten in Manatee Springs.

We are very excited to have these three be the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth manatees to call the Cincinnati Zoo their temporary home.

I shot some underwater video of their first hours in Manatee Springs…

November 24, 2010   11 Comments

Save The Manatee!

At the Cincinnati Zoo we have two new Florida manatees that arrived early this spring, two young females sent here as a result of the record sustained cold throughout much of Florida last winter.  “Turner” is 3 years old and weighs about 430 pounds, and “CC Baby” is 4 and weighs in around 520 pounds.

Manatee with Zoo Visitor

Photo by David Jenike

Unlike most of the animals at the Zoo, our manatees don’t stick around all that long – typically just a year or two.  That’s because the Cincinnati Zoo is part of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service “Manatee Rescue & Release” program.  So the animals that are sent here are in need of rehabilitation and eventually return to the wild in Florida.  It is a complex and expensive program, so as a result, we are one of only two places outside of Florida that exhibit manatees.

“Turner” and “CC Baby” are the 7th and 8th manatees we have had in our Manatee Springs exhibit since it opened in 1999, and they will probably be flown back down to Florida to be released within the next 12 months.  The reason they were initially brought into captivity varies, though.  “Turner” was orphaned as a youngster when her mother was killed by a boat strike, so she was raised at the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa until coming here last March.  “CC Baby” was suffering from cold stress in Florida, but now seems to be doing better.

It may seem crazy that a marine mammal that looks so similar to a walrus can suffer from hypothermia.  I mean, walruses and all the other seals and sea lions really love cold water.  But that’s because they are built for it.  They are predators, can swim fast, and have a high metabolism to help keep them warm.

Manatee Swimming

Photo by David Jenike

Manatees, on the other hand, are big ole vegetarians, and pretty slow on the move most of the time.  But like all creatures, manatees are “built for what they do.”  Pretty much all a manatee needs to survive is warm water, above 76 degrees Farenheit, and green plants. They are not too picky either, and will eat everything from sea grasses to the leaves of mangrove trees hanging down to the water.  But unlike many other marine mammals, manatees never get out of the water, so from birth to death, theirs is a life aquatic.  That means they are born in the water.  And they even have to sleep in the water, which is one of the reasons they are almost always in shallow areas, since they sleep on the bottom.  To help with this manatees have an extra heavy skeleton, complete with solid ribs.  But even when sleeping they swim to the surface every 20 minutes or so.

Now, I may be the last person left who cannot believe the fame and affection that is poured upon these Sirenians.  When I was a kid fishing the waters of Florida a half-century ago, nobody made a big deal at all if we saw what was then mostly referred to as a “sea cow.”  We went completely nuts if we saw a water moccasin or a sea turtle, but in those tea-colored tannic waters of the Saint John’s River, manatees went largely unnoticed.

Manatee in Water

Photo by David Jenike

Today, of course, just yell “manatee!” and there’ll be a traffic jam on any bridge in Florida.  Some of that is due to a heightened awareness of conservation issues, but hey, you don’t see that reaction to the plight of the gopher tortoise or the Key Largo wood rat.

I think people are so wild about manatees because increasingly they are able to see them well in clear water.  Places like Crystal River near Tampa, and Blue Springs north of Orlando, are old standards, where particularly in winter you can see manatees in clear water.  But Sea World, Disney, and the half dozen zoos that exhibit manatees have most certainly played a big role in telling the story of these endangered animals and the challenges they face.

So, what actually is the problem with manatees anyway?  How come they are more endangered than, say, bottlenose dolphins, which you can also frequently see off the Florida shore?  Well, of course today we live in an increasingly fast-paced world, one which manatees are just not built for.  In 2010 there are more than 1,000,000 registered power boats in Florida.  And you may have noticed that boats have gotten crazy fast.  I have a friend with a bass boat that cost more than my Subaru and I swear it’s faster!  And, jet skis are extra tough on manatees since they are very quick and tremendously erratic in their movements, not to mention that almost everybody races their jet skis in calm, shallow waters.The good news is that manatees are not going to disappear.  They live in an incredibly wide range of Florida waters, and their needs are simple.  And the solution to our human/manatee conflict is pretty simple as well.  If boaters respect “no wake” zones and make room for manatees, as well as other aquatic wildlife, we can both thrive and be better off for it.

June 2, 2010   2 Comments