Tuesday, November 1
Many of the zookeepers here at Zoo Atlanta belong to an association called the American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK) which is a professional association for animal caretakers. The Georgia Chapter of AAZK offers funding for keepers to take advantage of professional development opportunities. Recently, my coworker, Monica, and I were fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel to the Pinola Conservancy—a privately owned bird breeding center in Shreveport, LA—to work as interns for a week. Visiting other animal facilities is a great way to expand one’s husbandry knowledge and to gain perspective into new ways of providing the best possible care for the animals in our care.
The Pinola Conservancy is home to roughly 318 species of birds, comprising of 1500-1600 individuals, most of them waterfowl. To put the enormity of this number in perspective, Zoo Atlanta is home to roughly 65 species of bird, comprised of 210 individuals—plus budgies, of course! We learned a lot about what it takes to care for such a large collection of birds. For example, keeping track of how many individuals of each species and where they are housed is no small feat. Also, without the help of a full time registrar, it’s really tricky to keep up!
The personal relationship with individual birds that we are able to cultivate here at Zoo Atlanta just isn’t possible with that number of animals, which makes keeping tabs on everyone even more difficult. So how does one place house so many birds and care for them? As mentioned, Pinola specializes in waterfowl, and as most species of ducks and geese are fairly social, relatively large numbers of birds can be kept together in social/flock groupings. Additionally, waterfowl generally play nicely with non-waterfowl, so a single large habitat can house a lot of birds.
During the internship, Monica and I gained a lot of hands-on experience working with bird species that were new to us. We were able to assist with medical procedures such as tube-feeding a long-tailed duck and a western plantain-eater, which at Zoo Atlanta, would be done by our vet staff. We were also given the task of caring for five hartlaub ducklings and a baby cassowary. In addition to hands on experience, it was enlightening just to spend time walking around Pinola with our handy waterfowl guidebook and identifying all the species we saw. Birds are such a diverse class of animal that it’s easy to find a species about which you know nothing. Almost all of the birds living at Pinola live in mixed-species enclosures so there were many opportunities to observe how birds interact with their conspecifics as well as with individuals of other species.
I feel really fortunate to have had such a great opportunity, and we are very grateful to the staff at Pinola for sharing their time and expertise. I’m excited to implement some of the skills I learned at Pinola with our birds at Zoo Atlanta. I’m also excited to pester our Curator, James, about new species of birds to bring in to our population. I’m sure he’ll be thrilled.
Keeper I, Birds
(Photo by Monica Halpin)