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“Off-season” for the Program Animals Team

As a member of the Program Animals Department, it is easy to say we are extremely busy all summer long. We put on three wildlife presentations a day when school is out to educate all those who enjoy the Zoo during the summer breaks. But what happens the rest of the year? I have heard that some assume that this is our break. They assume this is our time to relax and unwind until we gear up for the next show season. While we are not doing three presentations a day, I can assure you, this is not a time of relaxation. In some cases, we are busier during the off months than the summer months.

One of the largest time commitments we make is actually an investment in ourselves. Zoo Atlanta graciously funds many of us to continue our own education in our field. Almost our entire department attends at least one professional development function per year. These are workshops, conferences, courses and visits to other zoos that help spread innovation and progressive ideas and methods across our profession. We take this time to learn how we can improve our craft and ultimately the care for the amazing animals at Zoo Atlanta.

Did you know that we actually teach our own course here? The Birds and Program Animals Department hosts The Working Bird Husbandry Workshop. This is a multiple-day, hands-on workshop where we teach them our techniques, our improvements, and our wisdom in what makes our bird presentations and positive reinforcement training programs so wonderful. Zoos from all over the country send their animal care professionals to us to learn how we take care of our amazing birds in our presentations. And even though it’s only a couple of days, it takes months of planning and preparation.

And what comes after all of this learning and getting through the winter? Well, time to prep for next season. It’s never a dull moment in Program Animals, but we wouldn’t trade it for the world!
Justin Eckelberry
Keeper II, Birds and Program Animals

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