Monday, July 07, 2008

Excerpts from a Zoo Intern's Journal, Pt. I

Names and details fudged to protect the innocent and influential.

Day one. Although we corresponded beforehand about my sizes, the supervisor didn’t have time to look for a uniform for me, so we spend the first 15-20 minutes searching. What are the odds they have other fat zookeepers? Aren't they usually outdoorsy, willowy people with ponytails? Surprise! None in my size. Fortunately, I brought scrubs.

A call comes over the radio that one of the ferrets has crashed and needs to be taken to the clinic stat. A senior zookeeper rushes out with the limp critter in a carrying case and we all run over to the clinic. (I learn here that my boots are going to be too stiff.) Heloise has collapsed before, but not this badly. She was flat out in the middle of her cage, which is a sorry sight when you know that ferrets are usually hidden in their bedding or zipping around like they are on fast forward.

W., the vet tech, administers dextrose and fluids both SQ and PO for hypoglycemic shock. Heloise slowly revives, but is still blinking and stumbling a bit when Karen OKs her to go back to her cage. Pitiful! One of the veterinarians is coming in today, so they will run bloods and consult on her problem.


Later, W. walks me through the clinic. She shows me how to run the radiograph processing machine, which is pretty straightforward. The smell of the chemicals brings me back to my darkroom and retouching years in high school and college. Next thing you know I'll be putting on a black beret. W. says their budget isn’t huge, and they just got the machine about a year ago. All rads were hand-developed before that. It’s quite a difference from the digital set-up at my job. Fancy emergency hospital group, meet small, non-profit zoo.

All animals are kept in quarantine 30 days, more if they end up housed with later arrivals. In quarantine right now are a green-winged king parrot, 2 monkey frogs and, in the back room, 2 mata mata turtles and a nervous fruit dove. There’s also a tragopan –a type of pheasant- elsewhere in the clinic that was scalped by another bird. I can’t get into her area, nor am I allowed in with the macaques, for liability reasons. I’m a little sorry about the macaques, but not at all about being banned from being near the Hamadryas baboons. Those guys are one of the few animals I am actively frightened by. They're all aggression, muscle and teeth.


Karen shows me basic husbandry – hosing down enclosures, feeding, etc. I have to be extra careful to watch the drains if I have the covers up, so animals don’t go down them. The parrot, “Holly” according to W., is an escape artist, too. I am do a head count on everyone – especially the tiny, jumpy mantella frogs – and to note feedings on and the animals' health on cards. The mantellas are poison dart frogs I've never seen before, ebony black with outlines in yellow, green and orange. "It's okay, I've been to your cloud forest and respect you," I silently tell them. Hop, hop, suspiciously hop, the mantellas say.

The mata matas get around 10-12 minnows every couple days and have an optimal water temperature of 80-85 °F - similar to my red-eared slider turtles. The mata matas are so COOL! They look like lumps of leaves with triangular heads. The shells are covered in pointed peaks, and their skin is covered in irregular nodules and flaps, to make them look all the more like plant litter at the bottom of a creek. Their tiny snouts just poke up out of the water. Just when you think they're ugly, you look closely enough at their alien faces, and their mouths turn up like a happy-face smile...


Doug said...

This was great! It's like you're treating all my favorite animals :)

Poor ferret. Let us know how it goes.

I've never seen a mantella like that. The common one for hobbyists is a solid orange.

Heather said...

Woo! This sounds like a fantabulous internship! Can't wait to read further chroniclings...

(BTW, this small, nonprofit zoo wouldn't happen to be in northern NJ, would it? I wonder if it's the same one my nephews and nieces frequent...........)

Good to see you blogging again! xo