An Ambassador Animals Keeper adapts
Hi everyone! It’s Megan from the Ambassador Animals Team. It has been great to see so many smiling faces (uh, eyes? fun masks?) back at the Zoo! But let’s face it … for most of us, our schedules are still far from what we considered “normal” prior to COVID-19. This is true for many of our daily routines within the Zoo as well. I am primarily a member of the care team known as Outback Station. We care for several groups of animals, but one that we spend a considerable amount of time with during the day is our petting zoo herd. If you have visited the Zoo since our reopening, you may have noticed that our petting zoo is still closed for now, although our guests can still see the animals who live there. With such a large part of our routine being altered, it has given me the opportunity to assist other areas of our team.
To give you some background, the Ambassador Animals Team is made up of three areas: my primary area (Outback); the Wieland Wildlife Home (the home of many of the animals that you may meet during our educational programs and encounters); and our World of Wild Theater (the home of our ambassador birds that you can see in our wildlife presentations). Since “everything that has been going on” (I know, I’m sure you’re tired of hearing that phrase), all three of our areas have had some major adjustments. Most of our programs and encounters have moved to virtual platforms. We also previously had two separate live presentations: one at the World of Wild Theater and one at our Amy’s Tree Theater. To provide better social distancing during shows for our guests, we are now doing more of a combined show in our larger World of Wild Theater that still lets us present some of the animals that would previously have been in both.
As I mentioned, my day has changed a bit, so I have been very busy training to assist in both animal handling for programs participating in live presentations. Neither of these are something that you can quite jump right into. Most of the animals that are involved in programs have slightly different requirements for how they can be handled in order to ensure the best and least stressful experience for both the animal and the handler. Our birds that participate in live presentations all have a different repertoire of behaviors that they know, and I have been learning (and being very impressed by) the different things each of them can do. However, these birds don’t know me, and they don’t necessarily want to work with just anyone. A big part in working with some of the birds is relationship-building. Before I could even learn any of the behaviors with them, I had to simply spend time getting to know them and building trust (which, of course, does mean lots of tasty snacks for them).
I certainly have a lot still to learn, but it has been very exciting for me to be able to pick up something new in this season of so much change. Next time you visit the Zoo, see if you can catch a live presentation. Or, if you are not able to visit the Zoo, maybe consider participating in one of our virtual programs. I might even see you there!
Keeper I, Ambassador Animals