Is That My Blood?

So it finally happened, I joked about it for so long while skinning rats and gutting chickens and cutting up bunnies and deer and such. I was like I’m always covered in blood but I mean as long as it’s not mine we’re good. But then I sliced my finger open. And then I bled through the band aid. Oops.

But anyway, yesterday we had our trip to the Greensboro Science Center and it was actually so much cooler than I anticipated. We went behind the scenes in their aquarium section and got to see their holding areas their food prep their filters and such. We got to see some of their otters back in the holding area, they were pretty excited to show off for us. Then we also saw some of their penguins that have courted each other and are being kept off exhibit in hopes that they will mate and we saw the top view of their 90,000 gallon tank with their big sharks. It was really interesting to see the difference between the AZA facility and ours. I don’t think it’s necessarily better just different. I was really excited to go through and see all their animals but that’s just because they were different then ours. I felt the same way walking through the center for the first time. They have a bigger range of species than we have and they explained a lot of things to us about these species. They also have the two tigers that are owned by the center, so we went to see them and they do look very similar to their siblings that I was tempted to call the female Freya. One of the coolest things probably was a 2 head turtle. Basically this happened in the egg and this is essentially the Siamese twin of turtles. So I actually have a picture of this that you can see below.

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And in their reptile amphibian section they had a plastic snake (that in my defense looked very real) in an open section that made a rattling noise when you walked past. It definitely startled me.

We also got to see behind the scenes in some of their other areas including their on site hospital and some of their other food prep areas. I saw a sign that I absolutely loved there. On the fridge it just said “Your quality of work is their quality of life” which is just so true an I think is something everyone from animal keepers to pet owners should consider. I also met their part time on site vet who owns his own mobile exotics practice. I had a moment where I just had to sit there and be like Dream Job Dream Job. Also very exciting was we got to go inside the building part of their gibbon enclosure where they feed them and they had their female come right up to the fence for us. This was completely amazing because she actually had a baby on July 11th and he is still holding on to her chest. (“He” I guess they don’t actually know the gender yet) and he was awake when we saw him. So precious with cute little ears and huge eyes, I’m sad I couldn’t take a picture in the feeding area. She did some outside later after it stopped raining but I still couldn’t get a good picture. Truly was adorable. This is the best I could do.

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I also think I may have a new (almost) favorite species of cat -I honestly don’t think anything can replace tigers at #1. Sos it’s called the fishing cat and it’s a pretty inter they eat things other than fish like small mammals and such, but they hunt fish by lightly tapping the water to mimic insects and draw the fish to the surface. They are classified as an endangered species, and I was fortunate enough to get a pretty good picture of one. They are truly beautiful, I think they look like a combination of an ocelot and a jungle cat but they move like a serval. I know the one is a bit blurry but I was trying to capture her markings on her back.

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The main difference I saw between our facility and theirs is the breeding of SSP species. So the SSP is a program, the Species Survival Plan. It’s an AZA program that is aimed at maintaining captive assurance populations of species that will soon no longer existence in the wild (for anyone familiar with the Pittsburgh Zoo an example of this is the clouded leopard that recently came on display). I’m not going to sit here and try to explain the breeding program or the species on it so here is a link to their program guidelines and such. https://www.aza.org/species-survival-plan-program/

So I am officially into my last week and hopefully will have the opportunity to take photos in the animal park soon.

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Is That My Blood?

Forever Needing More Tigers In My Life

So it’s been a hot minute or so since I’ve had the chance to update this, but in awesome news my laptop is working at a time that coincides with me having wifi. For the win.
This past week I had my class on the animal care industry. I have had the absolute privilege of working along side and getting to listen to a woman named Julia Wagner. I found out about two weeks ago she is being brought forth as one of the world’s leading experts on the animal industry (she is also coincidentally the Center’s assistant director). I’ve learned a lot of new information that I think is so incredibly pertinent to anyone going in to any sort of animal care field. Things like information on captive assurance species seeing as the wild is no longer an option for most of these animals. Looking at it in the big picture it may seem greedy or selfish for humans to want to keep these animals in zoos or commercial animal centers, but I think its great. The human race is 20 years too late on trying to prevent a mass extinction, and I want my kids to be able to see a rhino. I would love for there to still be wild rhinos and elephants and such 20 to 40 years from now, but in most likeliness I will never be somewhere where I can see them. I would like to still be able to view them in a zoo. I’d hate to see them uncomfortable or cramped in the “wild” that is left. I know for a fact that  a lot of animals living in captivity are spoiled rotten and get pampered all the time.
I also have to say I’ve had my eyes opened to the “zoo” industry. As it is now, there is no set definition of a zoo in the United States. There are roughly 2,800 business that commercially show animals (this actually includes stores with petting zoos) and the AZA accredited branch only accounts for about 300 of them. The Center I am currently at is not an AZA accredited place. I also learned to not automatically assume that AZA accreditation makes a place more upscale or better in anyway than another animal park. The AZA is a business model for the most part. It means that a certain percentage of the admissions earnings in a zoo go to the organization. It means gift shops have to be stocked a certain way and the parking lot has to be a certain size and there has to be a certain number of bathrooms per square feet. It does mean that some places have easier access to certain species and it does guarantee taxpayer funds to provide space for certain species, but it does not necessarily equate to better.
I’m pretty excited too because on Tuesday we get to go on a behind the scenes tour of the Greensboro Science Center. I’ve never been there but I asked about it and I’ve heard some good things. They have the brother and sister tigers of two of the tigers that I work with so I’m excited to meet them. I’ve also been investigating their website and it seems they have a broader range of animals than the center does including some birds and amphibians. It definitely seems more zoology directed than the Pittsburgh science center.
It has also recently come to the attention of the Center that the canine virus (H3N2) has been running around in North Carolina. So we’ve been taking extra precautions around or canid species. Anyone with a dog at home has to take clothes from the dryer and bag them up. Before going in to the enclosures, everyone has to either disinfect their shoes or cover them with surgical type booties. These have to be changed between each enclosure, and anything done in these enclosures (feeding and cleaning) must be done first thing and whoever is doing it shouldn’t have contact with our roaming friendly neighbor Saint Bernard  Domino that morning. It’s actually pretty scary and I’ll definitely be looking for cases when I return home. I wouldn’t want my dog getting exposed to anything like that.
On a lighter note I still believe watching tigers play in their pools is absolutely the cutest thing in the world. It is still so unbelievably beyond annoying when they decide to drown their (already dead) food before they eat it and then the water gets bloody and disgusting. Good thing I love them and I’m willing to climb in and scrub around the bloody water so they can have a clean pool.
I also had an embarrassing moment where I was attempting to throw a (actually pretty heavy chicken) over a USDA height approved fence and I missed, in front of a tour group. My bad. I’ve been getting better at it however; and I was present (but fortunately it was not I who threw it) when a chicken got stuck on the top of the fence. And then 5 minutes late when a chicken ripped in half mid air.
As I head into my last 10 days here I am starting to actually get really sad about leaving this place. I’m still not a fan of the South (it really is ridiculously hot) but these animals are just great. All of them, even the chubby little genet LG. LG cannot wait for you to set his food down in the morning and quite often stands in front of the door and waits. Every time I walk in I have to sit and explain that he really needs to move if he wants me to open the door. Then before I even get the bowl all the way down he jumps and grapes something from it and runs off to start eating.
The lions all also have such distinct and great personalities. Yesterday we were on the roof of an enclosure (Hannah and Enoch), hanging shade cloth up so they  wouldn’t overheat. The lions where in the shift next to us and Hannah decided to sit on top of her den box so she could be close to level with us. She then just watched and stalked us the whole time, ready to pounce at any minute. It would have been terrifying if we didn’t know there was no way for her to reach us.
That pretty much describes how I spend my days though. Oh just walking around on what is essentially a cain link fence over top of a lion or tiger enclosure, NBD. I was sitting cross legged on the ground next to a beautiful lioness named Kira today after rearranging some platforms for her in her enclosure. I would be scared to fall in with most of the animals, but honestly it’s the leopards that are truly terrifying. I never turn my back to them if I’m near their fence. Ever. And come of the smaller animals you really have to watch out for. They will reach right through the sense to take a “playful” swat at you. I spent a while yesterday getting screamed at by a binturong.
So pretty much I’m planning on attempting to treasure every hot sweaty dirty bloody moment for the next week and a half. Whether that means digging in dirt for three hours, watching the tigers play with their toys, cleaning enclosures all day, getting covered in some form of prey species blood or just hours of physical labor in the hot sun I’m ready for it, and I’ll honestly just miss it when I have to go.
Forever Needing More Tigers In My Life

You’re Useless If You Faint

Any words to describe this job: hot, lots of sun, physical labor. Yesterday I shoveled rocks for hours, but I did get to drive a sketchy pick up truck so that was cool. It has a golf cart motor I wasn’t sure it would make it up a hill.

Today I actually got to see the ocelot on site. The keeper picked up the top of the den box and showed her to me, she doesn’t often come out. She is amazingly beautiful, I knew they were pretty animals but she is definitely something else. I also made chicken popsicles for some of the smaller animals, they actually weren’t too impressed but I tried.

The past couple days here have been pretty much what I’ve been doing all along, gutting chickens and giving them to lions. I’ve been learning a lot more about the animal care industry. It actually really upsets me to learn how screwy it truly is. So the Center I am at is very concerned with animal welfare. This is what I support. Now while I don’t agree that all wild sanctuaries should be destroyed and all animals kept in captivity, I will agree that some animals will thrive in captivity. However this doesn’t mean I am against animal rights. I’m not. I just think if someone were to come in and release all of these animals we wouldn’t end up with a rise in wild tiger or lion population, we’ll have a lot of dead lions and tigers.

I’m not very impressed by a lot of peoples attitudes about this, but this isn’t going to be an anti media or down with PETA or HSUS rant. I just think raising a little more awareness could be beneficial (education actually is the TOP ranked method of wildlife conservation).

On a different note, I have absolutely decided that the cutest thing in the world is tigers playing in their pools. I will never get over how completely precious it is. However since they are ridiculously bratty, today we had a nice surprise. Freya decided to take her deer meat into her pool with her last night. Meaning today I found a metal pool full of bloody water, heavy enough that the water must be bailed out of it before it can be lifted and emptied (thankfully I didn’t do that).

And as luck would have it, a lot of the animals have been going into heat this past week. But any male who lives with an intact female must be fixed, no cute baby tigers in the making. However the cats have been -as it was put to me- “educational” for the tour groups.

Today was also very interesting because I had my socialization class, so we talked about the importance of socializing animals, the best way to approach certain ones, and then even about specific animals and their behaviors and such. This is the part I found really interesting because a lot of this is done so keepers can share space with the animal. This is so incredibly important when it comes to things like veterinary procedures. The bigger animals are trained in a way that the keepers can work with them through the fence. These animals are actually quite smart and I have seen first hand the vital importance socializing and training. However just because the keepers CAN do these procedures, doesn’t mean the animals will like it. The cats (and dogs I guess) can hold a grudge like none other. And believe me, it is pretty scary to be standing next to the person that the lion on the other side of the chain link fence is mad at.

I also learned some about Geoffroy’s cats today, their physiology and how they differ from domestic cats. I can see for myself they are a bit smaller, their ears slightly different and their markings would not be common to a house cat. What I can’t see though is their higher rate of metabolism, South American Origin, and back paws more similar to a binturong than a house cat. I was pretty pumped about this because this is the centers goal- education. They wanted to inform the public of these species not so well known, their main focus was not the big cats or the dogs. So I’ve been learning a lot about some species I had no clue even existed.

I am still so incredibly happy about the amount of knowledge and insight to this industry I am gaining from being here, but there are definitely a lot of harsh truths. I guess that’s true in most work places though. I just truly do not enjoy when it involves creatures that cannot stand up for themselves. However if anything it’s nothing more than a big motivation to remain true to my ambitions and continue working for animal welfare. I’d rather see 1 tiger living spoiled rotten in captivity than 10 dead tigers in the wild.

You’re Useless If You Faint

Southern Hospitality

By all means, southern hospitality is a real thing. Not that northerns can’t be kind, but people here just seem to go above and beyond. For example, the house I am living in while down here does not have wifi. So whenever I am in a wifi needing mood, I travel down the road to the local McDonalds. Here I must look super stingy because I only ever order a plain iced coffee (the cheapest thing I’ve discovered on the menu I’m willing to ingest) and sit down with my laptop. An older gentleman saw me doing this today and inquired about it. I explained about the wifi and how actually it’s one of the only ways I can use my phone right now because I’ve run out of data from mappsing my way everywhere and such. As he was leaving he offered me a business card and said if I was ever dirt broke and needed wifi I could come to the Ford dealership down the road and use his. Maybe I just look more lost and alone than originally thought, but it was still one of the nicest gestures I’ve received in a while.

Theses past few days have been pretty neat. It rained for a bit but now it’s getting incredibly hot again. I haven’t been doing too much as my supervisor has asked me to scan all the old keeper logs to the Google drive. So that’s what my past few afternoons have been, me fighting with the scanner which enjoys nothing more than to jam when I am almost done, forcing me to start over. I have had the opportunity to look at a few cool papers about socializing wolf pups and serval kittens. So the experience has still been valuable in a way.

I also had the chance to talk with one of the keepers today who was using the computer while I was scanning. I had a question posed to me the other day and it was bothering me so I had to get an answer. Some of my family members inquired to me why we have to skin some of the food for the animals. For some of the older lions, they need the skinned chicken as it’s easier for them to eat. For the smaller cats, some always get either skinned rats mice of bunnies, but some of them only get skinned animals every other day. So I inquired about it, and what I was told was, you have to consider where the animal is coming from. The servals originate from Africa, so their gut and whole digestive system has not evolved to digest fur. They are better suited to eating lean prey with feathers of scales. Trying to digest really fatty or furry prey can cause them to get blocked. A lot of the animals are species from not around here, so are not used to eating the animals available for us to provide to them.

I’m having a lot of fun here with the animals but I’m also learning more about non-profit organizations. A lot about what goes in to running them. There are so many expenses and it requires a lot of management. Its crazy, I have so much respect for people who are able to do it. We’ve been doing a lot of maintenance and construction ourselves but today some professionals came in to do some welding.

I’ve also been really enjoying getting to go into the compounds and interact with the animals. They’re so great. I’ve been in larges the past few days so I’ve been feeding and cleaning the tiger, lion and leopard enclosures. So pretty much my day begins with the leopards. They’re a little overweight and usually each get a half of a rabbit. The girl Savannah, has been refusing to eat her half the past few days, so she’s been getting some store meat instead. Their food is put into two separate little spots with a gate we can close in order to enter their large enclosure and clean. Ramsey (the boy) is very food motivated so he always comes running first and knows exactly where to go. But today he decided he wanted Savannah’s food as well so he stood by her gate and just waited for that door to be opened. Eventually he realized that he was only getting the bunny so if he wanted to eat that was it.

It was also interesting today in the lion enclosure today because one of the females is in heat. She  lives with her sister, her brother, and their tiger friend. So it’s been very difficult to get the male lion to focus with her in there. He attempted to put on a show for a tour group yesterday but she was just not having it. It’s interesting to see the dynamics of the group who live together. Who’s dominant over who, which groups are more relaxed and such.

There is also currently on site, a rescued coyote pup named Sullivan. He is still pretty young and is adjusting to humans. The other day one of the staff members took me down to say hi to him. So I was letting him sniff me through the fence and he is very much like a dog. He went nuts and then collapsed down and rolled over on his back to try and entice me to rub his tummy. This internship is definitely skewing my view of wild animals.

So lions in the wild will do this thing called “oofing” (here’s a link to a video of it actually at the Center https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cO5TxX2rjV0 ), it’s a form of communication for them in the wild. It’s really awesome and amazing overtime I here it. The staff is able to entice them to do it, because if just one lion does it, the rest will join in as it is their instinct. So the keepers started one today and down from his little enclosure off to the side, little Sully decided to join in. It was pretty adorable.

Southern Hospitality

Northerners Are Bad Drivers

Or at least this is what I’m told. I like to think I’m getting better now that I’m adjusting to everyone going highway speeds on back roads.

I like to think I’m adjusting to southern life in general. I think I may still stick out a bit though. A bit, like a sore thumb.

So some interesting things have happened in the center the past few days. I absolutely love going, it’s so eye opening. Every day is just so incredibly interesting and there are so many new things to learn. Like today I went around putting calcium supplement into animals food who didn’t get whole prey in their diet. If they have whole prey and the bones then they don’t need the supplemental calcium. I also learned a new thing. I kind of knew this. I know that cats are really bad at chewing their food. Even house cats will just bite of a piece sizable enough for them to swallow or swallow a piece whole. This is actually really bad for their teeth. That’s why, as anyone with a housecoat would know, they need to get their teeth cleaned as they get older and even sometimes have them removed. This is another reason the bones in the meat they get are so good. So anyway, one of the species, the binturongs get extra serving of dry dog food because they receive meat without bones in it. The hard food helps keep their teeth clean.

Also I cannot reiterate enough the amount of personalities these animals have. It’s honestly crazy just how much like people some of them are. Today I was cleaning one of the binturong enclosures. Cole seemed pretty ok with it, she was just sitting in her extra shift eating the food I had delivered, but then she decided to just climb up the side of the fence and start hissing at me. The big joke is that she thinks she intimidating and likes to try and scare people. So I just talked to her while I cleaned. Then I went to get some buckets of water to fill the pool in the enclosure (–> buckets of water, someone actually questioned what heavy lifting I could Possibly have to do at this job) and cole decided to take a run at the fence and scream at me. Have you ever heard a binturong scream? Probably not, it’s a little terrifying. She’s a big goof. Then as I was walking away from her enclosure to return my bucket the little caracal Naja had something to say about that.

Apparently Naja used to be just the sweetest cutest little thing. As a baby the keepers could go in and just pick her up and snuggle her and she didn’t care. Now apparently she’s in her “teenager” phase. She is now just too cool for everything and goes threw some serious mood swings. Normally she’s pretty happy to see me and runs over and purrs. Today I think I annoyed her because I took everyone else their food and not her (I didn’t have it the keeper did). I walked past and she just straight up hissed at me. The lions were a little sassy today too. I was coming past with a wheelbarrow and making noise on the rocks. Every single lion I walked past just slightly picked up their head from each ones nap and glared at me. Not going to lie, slightly intimidating.

I think my favorite thing today though was Wic. Wic is a tiger who live with two female lions and a male lion. So side note, today it poured rain for about two hours. I would know, I was doing work in it. So anyone, as anyone with cats would know, cats hate water and getting wet. Lions are no different. Lions do not appreciate being wet at all. Tigers however love it. So much, it’s slightly comical. So while all of the lions in the enclosure were hiding in their den box from the rain, Wic was stretched out in one of the hammocks probably 25 or 30 feet about the ground. Then when I walked by him he just rolled over and yawned at me, completely unfazed by the steady cold rain drenching both of us. He’s a hoot. I think his mates think he’s crazy.

Spending such a long amount of time outside has also opened up doors to a lot of other wildlife. I’m constantly trying to rescue frogs from the small cat enclosures and I’ve tripped over a few snakes while in the compound. Today was a lot more upsetting then this though. Today while trimming vine off the outside of a lion enclosure, we saw a birds nest with a little baby bird in it. Cute right? We decided to leave that foliage on the fence. Then whilst picking up some off the vines we pulled off, I found the sibling of this bird 6 feet below the nest on the cold ground getting rained on. The poor thing was just rolling around and kept opening its mouth at me like I was supposed to feed it. I was so upset. But the thing is, when you find a baby bird on the ground, you’re supposed to leave it lie. However it was laying there for so long that eventually we put it back in the nest and out of the rain.

So that was todays conclusion. Lots of sassy wet animals, but they’ll make it. They’re a lot of fun, and definitely more spunky when it’s not 90 degrees out.

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Northerners Are Bad Drivers