camel

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.

4I7A5398.jpg

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.

IMG_20190305_095644.jpg

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.

IMG_0416.jpg

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.

4I7A5494-1554262992880.jpg

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.