Keeper Stories – Thursday, April 20
Hey everyone, this is Char from the Herpetology Department. I just got back from an Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) professional development course. AZA is the largest accrediting body for zoos and aquariums in North America. This year I was able to attend the Crocodilian Behavior and Management course offered by AZA and hosted at St. Augustine’s Alligator Farm in St. Augustine, Florida. The Alligator Farm is no longer a “farm,” but is actually a zoological facility that specializes in crocodilians. In fact, they have all the different species of crocodilians and breed many of them. So it is not surprising that they host and help teach the course.
While I was at the course, I learned everything there is to know about crocodilians all squeezed into nine days of lecture and labs. I even got to train a baby alligator with my group. We trained him to target. Targeting is when an animal touches a body part (usually its nose) to an object. My group’s alligator was trained to touch the red painted end of a length of PVC pipe with its nose. This allows us to ask the animal to move about his space for any number of reasons without having to be physically moved or restrained. Training zoo animals is important because it allows the animals to take part in their own care and helps make things like visual health exams with the vet a lot less stressful on the animal (and the keepers).
I must say that my favorite part of the course was when we went over field research methods and then went to Payne’s Prairie in Gainesville, Florida, to take a census on the alligator population. My partner and I spotted 72 alligators from our spot on the boardwalk.
All in all, it was an amazing opportunity, I was able to meet so many other zoo professionals, and I can’t wait to use what I’ve learned in the daily care of our four alligators here at Zoo Atlanta.
Keeper I, Herpetology