Daily Archives: April 18, 2010

RP-Timely Piece… All About Perspective

Read this account first…. I rarely re-post, but this week has been an exception, and this article (link above) puts it all into perspective…..

Random Reference Link on Zoo Keeping

I apologize immensely to my followers as I have strayed from conventional blogging by failing not to provide enough coaching as most bloggers do. My impression is that blogs are supposed to be more instructional and constructive than informative. Hence, I thought about the profession and the state of the world’s economy and I truly came to an impasse.

I remember a conversation from this century that reminded me of the state of the unions (no puns intended). Some veteran animal care personnel had casually been “talking shop” as it were, and the discourse evolved into discussion over job descriptions and corresponding compensation packages. Various contingents felt that they deserved to be paid more than others because they worked with more dangerous animals.  The one thing that was for certain that we all agreed on was that no one  agreed on anything. Keep in mind that general relief keepers/floaters, departmental relief keepers/area relief keepers, and string or unit keepers of various levels of seniority had convened for this round table discussion. I formatted the conversation below with bullets to share different perspectives in a more accessible way:

  • I must admit that the free-contact Asian (Asiatic) & African elephant trainers were most persuasive, and they often are.
  • One aquarist (A.K.A., “fish keeper“), a physically fit, robust,  and almost burly, senior marine ichthyofaunal husbandry specialist (A.K.A., fish keeper) declared that he would bid on an open elephant trainer/keeper position if he was paid handsomely (perhaps a 40% increase in pay). He also wanted to negotiate a proposal to set up an African cichlid exhibit for the display of fish spp. endemic to Lake Tanganyika. He also required that he be offered time off and reimbursement for annual fishing expeditions to coastal Burundi to visit this African Great Lake, one of the three largest freshwater lakes in the world.
  • But an ape keeper indicated that although rare, non-human primates are potential reservoirs for communicable diseases (even though it’s far more likely that they would contract something from their caregivers). The point was also made that they can be very dangerous as well.
  • But then another fish keeper (A.K.A., Captive Aquatic Fisheries Biologist & Aquaculture Specialist) declared that work with freshwater stingrays, electric eels and reef sharks, and lion fish and blue- ringed octopi, etc., etc., also required hazardous work that may warrant more compensation.  This aquarist also suggested that daily work around marine water and electrical devices made for an even more compelling argument. She indicated that as a life support technician, she was deserving of even more compensation for her vital services.  The argument was made that a mistake could devastate an entire collection of fish and inverts, but rarely would a mistake in any other department require such a great loss of life.  She also argued that vibrio or fish tuberculosis (cutaneous-localized; not systemic) was an improbable, but potential safety hazard from working with fish and shell fish. Vibrio are Gram-negative, rod shaped bacteria more commonly associated with the consumption of  contaminated seafood and fish. Fish TB (A.K.A., Fish Tank Ganuloma) is a localized cutaneous infection associated with the opportunistic free-living pathogens known as Mycobacterium spp. (e.g., Mycobacterium marinum).
  • But the carnivore keepers balked at that statement and claimed that the occupational risks of fish keeping pale in comparison to working with hard-wired large felids or ursids of any kind.  They too, had a point.  They claim that one mistake would be lethal whereas aquarists have more room for error as do elephant trainers in contact or protected contact programs. That’s one argument. And they also said that there are plenty of zoonoses to be concerned about with felids like toxoplasmosis (a parasitic protozoan). The bird keepers and herp keepers had little to say, but one herper asked if any one was interested in being bit by an inland taipan, a Philippine cobra, or a black mamba (highly venemous snakes).  Before antivenene was available no one had ever survived an evenomation by a taipan (an endemic Australian elapid snake).
  • I was thinking that having worked with all most all of the animals mentioned, except elephants at the time, that saddle- billed storks, goliath herons, ostriches, large raptors likes Steller’s sea eagles and psittacines were formidable charges. Even gulls, Canada geese, spheniscid penguins, emus and the Kosher Muscovy ducks have given me a run for my money.

Due to the radio show in ten minutes, I need to return to this post later as I have not even addressed the ways in which we can become rich at the zoo. I will finish it after the radio show and re-post and revise…..


I thought that the show would be more popular than the last. As a one-time class clown the potential is there for me.  Perhaps I need to rewrite the intro. I may not have the voice for radio, but hopefully I have the face for TV (kidding)…. I did co-host a TV show at a zoo with a local weatherman once and there is a reason why I didn’t break into the entertainment industry. But I digress…..

Dr. Jordan Schaul, Zoo Keeper Emeritus

What do you mean their dorsal spots ain’t right?


When I first embarked on doctoral research study it was clear that climate change had a great impact on amphibian decline as did disease along with pollutants (toxicants). Although I eventually transferred from a program that would allow me to investigate such issues, the topic will continue to warrants a lot of attention. I wanted to do work on a project that had interested me as a zoo keeper and one that I thought, at least at the time would be very applicable to carnivore preventive medicine.  I still found the topic of examining synergistic effects of pathogens, global warming, and toxicants on herpetile health to be really interesting, but creating a model to study these factors seemed a lot more difficult when I set out to mimic nature and modify it in a lab. In fact, this post may dissuade or encourage you to pursue an advanced degree.  In graduate school they don’t spoon feed you information and many advisors work with students on projects that are beyond their scope of expertise. This is not at all uncommon. I came in with some background studying helminth parasites in plethodontid salamanders (don’t get too excited now) and was hoping to develop a related project with ambystomatid salamanders (e.g., tiger salamanders, spotted salamanders, etc.).   The one thing about mole salamanders is that your field season is abbreviated as in a couple of days long and if you miss the mass migration to vernal pools where mole salamanders breed, you have to wait another season. Migration is triggered by several factors (i.e., ground and ambient temperatures, humidity, barometric pressure, and light/darkness).  Hence, the movement of  these explosive breeders is somewhat predictable to the seasoned herpetologist, but expect the unexpected.   The second objective was to find a model pathogen that I could use to infect a laboratory population of wild caught spotted salamanders and then introduce variations in the photoperiod through the use of artificial light. Finally, I was planning to find some pollutant that was a known toxicant. Not too long ago an interesting study had been published on the effects of toxicants on salamander spot patterns.  If you didn’t know spotted salamanders normally have two symmetrical rows of dorsal yellow spots on a dark dorsum (back), you do now.  Stress  from toxins or  lack of water due to warming temperatures are considered potential etiologies for these aberrant dorsal spot patterns. This may be a subtle anomaly compared to additional limbs or something more bizarre, but it’s a great indicator of ecosystem health.  Anyway, I established that I would select malaria, a vector-borne disease which effects non-human animals including species of mammals, and birds as well as amphibians.  I was just ready to go out and collect specimens when the opportunity to work on a zoo project was made available. As much as it sounds “insensitive” that scientists continue to conduct laboratory studies that require sacrificing wild caught specimens, it’s occasionally imperative to conduct these investigations for the benefit of the species. I must say that I certainly prefer working on projects that do not involve terminal procedures and fortunately I have had other opportunities.

Dr. Jordan Schaul, Zoo Keeper Emeritus

New Hampshire Fish & Game