Learning from our peers at other AZA zoos
It’s summertime! Everyone is heading out to their favorite destinations for a little rest and relaxation. Some people head to the mountains and some head towards the beach. A few of you may even go towards your favorite zoo. Of course, we all know you mean Zoo Atlanta, but we are happy for you to visit other accredited zoos and aquariums around the world. Believe it or not, we also try to make time to visit other institutions as well during our summer travels.
I recently had the chance to visit another zoo during a scheduled vacation. It’s a practice many zoo people try to fit into their vacation. Sometimes, this is to the chagrin of their co-travelers. You can only see so many zoos, they say. For zoo professionals, its more than just sightseeing or getting to see animals that are not part of our population in Atlanta. It’s more about learning and broadening our horizons in this field, so for us, there’s no such thing as too many zoos.
During my recent visit to a zoo in Washington state, I was able to set up a behind-scenes visit in that zoo and was taken around by one of their keepers. Typically, you spend most of your visit in the area to which you lean in your own position back home. For me, that means our feathered friends. I was able to see a wide variety of birds, including ones we did and did not have back home.
Overall there are three main reasons animal care professionals take zoo visits as part of their vacations:
- Networking with other animal care professionals.
- The exchange of information for like species at both institutions.
- Learning about species you have not had the chance to care for yet.
It is important for staff, even in other zoos, to get to know each other. It builds strong personal and institutional bonds for future communication. Often, there are several facilities which will care for the same or similar species as at Zoo Atlanta. Visiting them in person allows us to see their methods, animal housing, etc., to learn how we might improve. You would be surprised how often you see a great new idea to enrich your own birds that you’d never thought of!
Many animal care professionals specialize in a certain group of animals. Even further, some zoos may never get the chance to work with a particular species for whatever reason. As an example, we do not care for a lot of duck species at Zoo Atlanta. This is not from a lack of trying or desire to, but because we do not necessarily have the facilities for some duck species. We’d much rather do a great job with the small but very beloved group of ducks we here. During my visit to a zoo, I was able to see and learn about many species of ducks because they were better set up to house a considerable variety of them. Sometimes we even learn that less is more for some animals.
Next time you are visiting Zoo Atlanta, you may see a keeper from another institution walking around with the Zoo Atlanta team. Yes, they are there to vacation and enjoy a day at the Zoo just like you. Still like many of you in your careers, sometimes even we are not working, we are still working. We do it because we love our jobs and the animals. They deserve for us as animal care professionals to be at the top of our game, and we work hard to keep it that way. Happy summer vacation everyone! Get out there and enjoy your AZA zoos and aquariums, just like we do.
Keeper II, Birds