Thursday, May 26
I have been a part of the Birds and Program Animals Team for the entirety of my three-year tenure at Zoo Atlanta. More specifically, the majority of my time has been devoted to care of our bird collection. This has given me the opportunity to work with birds of all types, from Chilean flamingos to superb starlings, and kori bustards to white-faced whistling ducks. Dating back to my days as an intern, volunteer, and even into my college education, my whole world has been filled with feathers. That all changed about six months ago.
Unexpectedly, an opportunity arose for me to gain a more diverse animal care experience. Instead of just caring for our birds, I now get to help on the other side of our department, program animals. Our program animal collection is made up of not only birds, but many other species including small mammals, reptiles, invertebrates and even an amphibian. You can imagine for someone who has spent so much time in specifically an avian world, how much of a “culture” shock this would be.
When working with the program animal staff, I am stationed at Wieland Wildlife Home. This is the location in the Zoo where the majority of the education animal collection is housed. These are the animals that go with our education staff to schools and do programs here on grounds, like field trips and NightCrawlers. At Wieland Wildlife Home, I am responsible for the diet preparation, stocking, and keeping our diet records book up to date. Staying on top of the diets for these animals is a necessity. For example, our chinchillas voluntarily shift into a kennel for their food. Although they have access to as much timothy hay as they want, the part of their diet they like best, the chinchilla chow, is what they get if they go into the kennel. If we did not monitor their weights closely and make diet adjustments accordingly, we would have chinchillas who would be overweight! If they aren’t at a healthy weight, then sometimes they just want to lounge around all day instead of getting into the kennel so they can help teach kids. Once my diet responsibilities are complete, I move to aiding our Wieland Wildlife Home keepers in the husbandry of all the animals in the building. This is where the real value of working both sides of our department comes for me. Each day I learn something new about the management of a species I have never had chance to work with before. When working with birds you look for certain things to assess their health. For example, with a program ball python who moves very little, it can be more challenging. Obviously, watching their food consumption can tell you a lot, but ball pythons can go months without eating in the winter and that’s perfectly normal. We regularly perform extensive health checks on all our snakes by slowly feeling along their bodies for anything out of the ordinary.
There seems to be no end to the new information and skills I can acquire by working these animals. Every day presents a new challenge or a new goal to achieve. Not to mention I get to educate guests more frequently by sharing how great these animals are through encounters out in the Zoo. I look forward to many more days learning, growing, and being inspired by our program animals.
Keeper II, Birds and Program Animals