alaska zoo

A Day in the Life of a Zoo Enrichment Coordinator

Tuesday, March 5th, 2019. My day started about the same as every other day at the Alaska Zoo.

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I checked the computer logs and then made my way through the build up of emails I received during my weekend. I earmarked some American Zoological Association emails on olfactory enrichment for later reading. That might have been a bit of foreshadowing for the day I had in store.

Once I was finished the computer work, I went to the animal commissary where I was met with a particularly pungent odor, like asparagus left in a gym bag. In one of the sinks, there were two separate bowls both with a yellow-tinged liquid with bits of dirt and debris sitting in the bottom. One was labeled “fox urine” and the other labeled “wolverine urine” and both finished with “for Angelica”. Nathaniel, the lead red fox and wolverine keeper knows that I collect yellow snow during the winter months to melt down and use as olfactory enrichment so despite the smell, my week was starting on a positive note.

Once I got the urine sorted into labeled bottles and placed on the enrichment shelves, I grabbed the diet, small scale, water and training treats for the northern flying squirrels. I checked the outside thermometer, donned my coat and headed to their habitat. I replaced the frozen water bottles with the fresh ones, set their diet in its place, turned on the scale and started calling to them. Gaston poked his head out first but deemed it too cold and popped back into his nest. Nightcrawler came all the way out and sat on my hand for a few treats, then got onto the scale so I could get his weight (126g) and then came back to my hand for more treats. We completed our training session and I left to record the session and his weight in their log.

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Our Animal Curator Shannon called me about the American mink whose new habitat had just been completed. We met over at the infirmary to kennel him and move him to his new home for a few hours so we could keep an eye on him. We drove over with him kenneled in the electric Polaris and took a last safety check around the habitat with the help of four other staff members. The habitat was deemed safe so everyone aside from myself headed back out to the trail while I opened the kennel door. The new space must have been terrifying because he didn’t venture out for about ten minutes. He would pop his head out, fluff up, hiss and then dart back into the safety of his kennel. Finally he took a stroll around and started checking out every inch of his new home with the occasional dart back to safety. I encouraged him to explore by setting familiar things in the corners of the habitat and we started playing with one of his blankets. He seemed more and more comfortable so after about thirty minutes, I left him to explore.

I headed back to the commissary to meet up with my intern for the day from King Career Center. She loaded up the diets for the moose and wolverines onto my cart while I cut up bananas for moose training. We took off to wolverines and she observed while I trained with both Olga and Jumbo. We swapped out their frozen water and opened up their shift pens so they could have access to their habitat again.

We took a short walk over to the moose feeder and Uncle Fudge came right over when we called him, so we gave him some well-deserved banana pieces and part of his diet. I always compliment him whenever I see him. I let him know how handsome he is and told him his legs looked especially long today.

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We said “so long for now” to Fudge and went to check in on the mink in his new home. He seemed to be getting more comfortable as he was running around, digging in the snow and rearranging his furniture. While we were watching the mink christen his new digs, we heard some commotion coming from the wolverine yard. Both wolverines were lying on their backs rolling around on the snow. Olga found an uncoiled cardboard tube and decided to try to wear it. She then continued to squirm around on the ground while Jumbo tried to use her as a pillow.

Next we made our way to the other side of the moose yard to the other feeder for the remainder of his grain and a training session. My intern and I each grabbed a banana bucket and a target stick and practiced dual targeting after which Uncle Fudge and I worked on his voluntary injection behavior and finished up with a nice helping of birch branches hung up on the fence line. Afterwards, we answered some visitor’s questions regarding the moose and his training before continuing on our day.

While we were walking back to the commissary we stopped off at the muskox yard to help Sam clean before we took lunch. Zoo Director Pat had treated the staff to Cranbeary Special sandwiches from Polar Dip restaurant. This sandwich was on their menu in March as a fundraiser for enrichment for the polar bears and I was eager to taste it. After lunch, I helped my intern fill out some paperwork and chase down signatures for her KCC class.

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Moving from the break room to the commissary, we started prepping enrichment for Wednesday. We began with making mint cubes for the camels, yaks and alpaca. We then moved onto herring balloon pops for the seals. We managed to make two feather pies for the tigers (AAA with feathers stuck in and frozen) before the intern had to leave for the day.

I said “hello” again to the mink for a midday training session. He seemed pretty distracted but he still did pretty well. Visitors nearby were able to see how smart he is and learn a little bit about mink. I headed back to the commissary to weigh out diet remainders and make diets for Wednesday. I was a bit late in checking the donation bin where visitors drop off food donations for the animals, so I went to the parking lot and retrieved a small bag of salmon eggs which I placed in the walk-in freezer.

Because it was his first day in his new habitat, we didn’t want to leave Ripple in his new home overnight. I took the remainder of his diet and headed back to see him. He was very excited and bouncy when I arrived, even more comfortable with his surroundings. We had a productive training session ending with him kenneling and me returning him to his den in the infirmary. I still had a few pieces of quail left from his diet so I hid the pieces in some of his toys and in the pool for him to seek out and find later. I finished my day by entering my care data in his log and the general log.

I then clocked out and headed home for the day.

This article was written by Alaska Zoo Enrichment Coordinator Angelica Evans. Learn more about how animals benefit from enrichment in a zoo environment by clicking here. Our zookeepers also help wildlife and conservation research by fundraising through the American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK). Learn more about AAZK Midnight Sun Chapter here.

Polar Bear Party Planning: The Making of an Ice Fish and Ice Cake

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This Saturday is a special day at the Alaska Zoo. Each year, we throw an honorary birthday event for the zoo’s polar bears. While it may not be their actual birthdays, many wild polar bears give birth to tiny cubs in their dens right at this time of year. It is a cause for celebration!

And no party is complete without treats and cake. We are lucky to have a new partnership for this year’s event, which will be held Saturday, January 19th at the Alaska Zoo from 11am to 1pm. Copper River Seafoods has joined forces with the zoo to make this the best Polar Bear Birthday event ever!

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In looking at pictures from past birthday party events, the staff at Copper River Seafoods noticed the snow cakes and colored ice blocks. Zookeepers, zoo educators and volunteers have always pooled efforts to prepare and unveil these creations at the party events each year. The bears always enjoy climbing on them, tearing them apart and finding the hidden treats inside.

These photos of the bears enjoying their treats inspired Copper River Seafoods staff to get involved in the 2019 party event. We sent zoo photographer John Gomes on assignment to document the artistic process and logistics behind a team at Copper River Seafoods who decided to make two items for this year’s party - an ice fish and an ice cake.

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When John arrived at Copper River Seafoods, he was asked to don the proper sanitary gear before going inside - a lab coat, hair net and even a mustache guard. He was escorted inside the processing area to document how staff were constructing these masterpieces.

There are about six people working on the ice blocks which will make up the fish and cake. In total, 48 blocks of ice will be frozen with most to be used making the ice fish. The remaining blocks will be used to build the cake. Tasty fish treats are frozen inside of each block including salmon, halibut, herring, sardines and produce provided by zoo staff. A colorful cake is a must, so layers of colored water are frozen over days. The first layer is frozen, followed by a layer of fish and produce, then another layer of water. This process is repeated until each block is complete.

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Of the 48 blocks being frozen, the ice fish will take 35 of the blocks. It will be huge, roughly 14 feet long by 5 feet tall. The cake will be smaller and made up of multiple colors, roughly 4 feet wide by 4 feet tall. And for the cake topper? A halibut tail adorning the top!

Meanwhile, back at the Alaska Zoo, we are in the process of getting Cranbeary and Lyutyik used to each other since Cranbeary’s arrival in late 2018. They are not living together in the same habitat yet, but we are working toward that goal slowly. Cranbeary was recently given access to the main outdoor yard on Tuesday, January 15th and she will alternate time outdoors with Lyutyik until the staff feel a face-to-face introduction is safe. While both bears will hopefully get to check out this event enrichment, it likely won’t be at the same time. It is up to zoo staff and the bears as to how they are doing.

We hope to have a crowd for this fun event, starting at 11am this Saturday, January 19th. The zoo opens at 10am, so we suggest arriving before 10:30am to give yourself time to go to the polar bear exhibit. The fun will commence at 11am!

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We would like to extend our deepest gratitude to the hard-working staff at Copper River Seafoods. Their inspiration to build these enrichment treats for the bears will truly make this the best Polar Bear Birthday Party ever!

To learn more about Copper River Seafoods, visit their website here.

To explore the natural history of wild polar bears, visit the Polar Bears International website.

To view Polar Bear Birthday Party event information, visit our event page.

Giant Produce Meets Ice Age Relics

Giant Produce Meets Ice Age Relics

It was their lucky day. Upon receiving the squash, Little Rock proceeded to spend about 20 minutes rubbing his face, nose, horns and forehead against it with the occasional lick for taste. He seemed fascinated by the smell more than anything. Every once in a while, he would back up and swing his head in typical muskox fashion leading to a swift charge and head butt against the 500 pound opponent. With each hit, the squash would rock and threaten to split.

That's a Wrap! Zoo Lights ends for another winter season

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Feel free to leave your comments on your visit to Zoo Lights this past season. Share your memories with us! Comments at the bottom of this page.

Did you have a chance to come to Zoo Lights this 2017/2018 season? We had a great time showing visitors our dazzling, custom light displays that lit up zoo trails during the dark, winter nights. The lights turn on each winter on the Friday after Thanksgiving Day, the so-called Black Friday. We run the lights Thursday through Sunday evenings throughout the winter up to early March (the last day for this season was March 4). We even offer nightly Zoo Lights over winter break for families to enjoy while the kids are off of school.

We would like to extend our gratitude and appreciate for our Zoo Lights sponsor, BP. Their annual support for Zoo Lights helps us to continue offering this incredible opportunity for all visitors. THANK YOU, BP!

We wanted to post a gallery of images taken by John Gomes at Zoo Lights. We hope you enjoy the image and check back for the next round in Zoo Lights in November 2018!

Zoo Lights nightly through January 7th

ENJOY ZOO LIGHTS THIS HOLIDAY BREAK

Our dazzling Zoo Lights displays will be lit up along zoo trails nightly from 5-8pm from now through January 7th, 2018. We are offering this extended schedule to allow for maximum lights viewing during the holiday break. Please note that the zoo is closed on December 25th (Christmas Day).

Tickets are $6 per zoo member (ages 3 and up) and $8 per non-member (ages 3 and up). Ages 2 and under are FREE. Entry for Zoo Lights may be purchased at the admissions gate during Zoo Lights hours or tickets may be purchased online in advance.

To purchase tickets online in advance, click here. You will receive your tickets in your confirmation email (scroll down in attachments). Simply print them and bring them with you to Zoo Lights or give them as a gift to another lucky person! Each ticket is one-time use and valid during open Zoo Lights hours.

Thank you to BP for their annual sponsorship of Zoo Lights!

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