Friday, May 28, 2010

Hello from Delmarva

Hello all,

My name is Heather McGahagin and I am going to be a junior in the Captive Wildlife Care and Education program. Right now I am working on my first internship taking place at the Salisbury Zoo in the middle of Salisbury, Maryland. It's a small zoo of only 13 acres dealing with a theme of new world animals, or animals from North and South America. I am working in the education department dealing mostly with running programs and providing care and enrichment to the education animals.

I have already been working at the zoo for two weeks now, the first week was before my internship was officially ok'd. Right now I have just been getting observations done of all the daily tasks and programs I will be taking part in at the zoo, ranging from Enrichment and Handling to Wildlife Encounters and Guide Tours.

I have on a few occasions now taken part in implementing enrichment to the education animals. We do this by looking in the notebook housed in the Visitors center and seeing which animals are on the schedule and what enrichment have been tried in the past. Exercise is one of the bigger and more entertaining tasks we can give the animals. For the guinea pigs and hedgehog we set up a little fence and let them run around for a bit. The chinchillas have huge balls that they run around in, being the visitor center has too many holes that the chins could escape through.

Handling has to be the most exciting part of my internship so far!!! I have to go through three handling sessions with Leonora, Lara or Brandon and give a 10 minute presentation to the three before I can be signed off on an animal. The education animals are divided into 5 levels varying on animal and the temperament of the animal. At the moment I have been rushed through the level 1 and 2 animals and am almost ready to give my presentations, I just have to study the animals a little more. Level one and two animals consist of the Screech owls, Broad winged hawk, Chinchillas, Hedgehog, Guinea Pigs, Ferret, Sun Conure, Corn snake, Bearded Dragon, Boa Constrictors, Ball Pythons, Hissing Cockroaches, Diamondback Terrapin, Painted turtle, Box turtle, and Spotted turtle. My favorite animals to handle so far have to be the owls and the hawk. It’s not everyday that you can just hold a bird like those on a glove and not have to worry too much about it getting away or trying to attack you.

Wildlife Encounters are where we take out three animals; a bird, mammal, and reptile, and give a short 30 minute presentation on them. The task is to distinguish between the three classes the differences and what puts that animal into that category. So I could take the Screech owl out and talk about how it has hollow bones, feathers, lays eggs, flies, and even talk about the differences in feathers. If the groups of students are small enough then they might gain the opportunity to touch the animals, depending on behavior of the group and the animal. Thursday I had the opportunity to observe a guided tour with a middle school in my town. The tour was led by one of the zoos more reliable docents, Lea, who was introduced to me as one of the better tour guides at the zoo. Needless to say it was a good experience to see how a tour should not go.

More recently I have been participating in cleaning out some of the animal exhibits. I helped out one of the other interns clean out the mammal cages, which took us no time. Then I have also cleaned out the Diamondback Terrapin and Grey Tree Frog tanks. Tree Frog took me maybe 15 minutes, where the Terrapin took me about two hours!!! Not only is it a large tank to clean out but you have to make sure the salinity is correct being Terrapins live in brackish water.

I have also taken on a small project of redoing the Chinchilla cages. I went out and made wooden shelves for both of the cages, one needed shelves and the other needed it's plastic ones taken out. I was lucky enough to make one set of shelves fit correctly, but the set I made for the larger Chinchilla we a weee bit too short. I hope to remake them and bring them in next week.

Right now things are going smoothly, though my biggest challenge would be learning all of the information on all of the animals. There are so many!!! Another smaller challenge would be handling the birds. The task in itself is fairly easy for the lower level birds. You grab their jesses, pull up gently and say “Step up”, then clip your glove to the jesses with the lead. It’s just clipping the lead to their jesses is the challenge, especially when you’re trying to keep an eye on the bird in front of you too.

I’ve learned so much this week, there is just too much to list! I have learned all about the basics of the zoos rules and programs, for example the two finger rule when letting people touch the animals. Also just the bare bones basics of the animal care and handling routine, like where things are located and briefly what is going on. But everything I am learning is probably standard in most zoos, so I am creating a platform for me to build upon when I go to get a job in the zoo field.

That's all for my first two weeks, hopefully next week will be just as exciting.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Back to the zoo!

Well it's great to be back in the swing of things at Zoo Atlanta. Now doing this for "official internship credit." The guys in the reptile dept. are giving me a hard time about working hard if I want a good grade haha but it's all in good fun. Right off the bat, I'm back to performing normal husbandry routines: live check in the mornings, prepping salads for the savannah yard tortoises, thawing out various rodents (and a rabbit for our reticulated python), getting ready for the "3:30 feeding" show with several of our snakes, among other things. Sometimes it feels like there's not enough time in the day but at the end of it I think.. man do I love it all! :) On my lunch break I'll look up more information on a certain species (just this Saturday I was fairly curious about our Aruba Island Rattlesnakes that we're trying to breed (one of the rarest species of rattlesnake, Crotalus unicolor) just because we'll get asked so much about the species we exhibit. We're participating in the Indigo Project with other facilities, which entails the capture of gravid Indigo snakes (the longest nonvenomous species of snake in the US), which are federally threatened here in Georgia as well as in Florida, and raising the offspring. Once the offspring are sexually mature, we release them into state parks across the state. As of right now we have 37 offspring and we have to weigh, measure, and be precise in everything we do with them. Like I said.. I love it!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

pest control and trail clearing

First project this morning was to remove some adelgid infested hemlocks, this short project of a small clump of 3 trees turned into about 100 when simple trimming showed a high load of them on more trees, all had to go and be chipped as of right now them are slated to be replaced with white pine to some extent. lunch time brought about a report of a large tree across the red trail at west rock, we all headed over to check out the potential downed tree it turned out to actually be a big one. This oak was broken in multiple places and made a mess of the creek, fence trail and laurel thicket the creek, fence and trail wind through, but the tree had to go so the saws get fuel, chaps go on and pockets filled with the needed tools.

Often these reports of a large tree are nothing more than a 4-6 inch top leaning into the road or a dead limb fallen from an old oak, so we were not jumping up seeing this as an emergency. while doing this job more downed limb reports came in so tomorrow will be another busy one.

On a different note, i have been moved up to crew leader which means 2 things, more money and i get to strike out on my own with a small crew and my own park this summer. Great way to lift my spirits and drive from the everyday toilet cleaning, litter picking and grass cutting.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

preparing for the burn and AAR

In preparation for the a controlled burn either this summer or next spring the brush clearing at Wharton Brook preserve has been completed. The brush consisted of small birch and oak saplings along with some huckleberry patches. All was chipped and dangerous snags along the edges were removed. More discussion about the fire will come later depending on if and when it happens.

On friday the 30th we had the AAR (after action review) for the hancock lake fire, final acres from gps were 137. Mistakes were gone over, as well as other issues related to a long fire day and it being the first of the season. The big issues brought up were, who was the IC(incident commander) for this fire, lack of personel response that day, equiptment choice made by the crew members and bosses that day, one safety issue was the lack of radio quality and battery life. These issues were addressed and we all learned from them for the future.

The season is beginning so i will be posting more often as we do more to keep the parks maintained and dead for the public to come visit.