Category Archives: zoo keeper

Living Institutions or Zoos?

Is it a Zoo or a Living Collection? This is what happens to you if you spend too much time in school as I did. Everything becomes an “institution” and eventually so do you. Actually, I prefer Living Institution which I believe was coined by the  top-notch folks at the Bronx Zoo-based Wildlife Conservation Society.  The reason I like the term is because zoos are deserving of the same respect that academics tend to reserve for Museums of Natural History. I’d much prefer to call a zoo a zoo, but in an effort to better market these wildlife holding facilities to a more sophisticated patron or consumer, I think it’s worth considering a slight upgrade.

I don’t know that the Popcorn Park Zoo will be as well- served by the name change. In fact, the Popcorn Park Living Institution sounds kind of scary. It doesn’t quite roll of the tongue, rather it  falls out of the skull, for lack of a less artfully sadistic expression. With that said, it’s also all-encompassing terminology. A living institution can refer to a collective group of marine parks, aquariums,  zoological parks and other captive wildlife facilities.  Some may think that my thought process alone, warrants sending me to another kind of institution, but I think that facilities can be well-served with multiple names.  Zoo Miami has just adopted two. One name is official and the other is used as a working title. The “Living Institution of Miami” might conjure up some kind of convalescent home in your mind, but once people get used to it, the name may very well catch on.

I remember when one of my parents friends asked me what I thought of the tittle  “Zoo Keeper.” I didn’t initially pick up on her condescension. I replied that technically I’m an “Animal Keeper” who happens to work at a zoo. I was very proud that I came up with the distinction so promptly and on my own. And then I realized  she was hoping I would come up with a more sophisticated name like “Scatological Disposal Technician” or my favorite, “Special Species Collection Husbandry Science Specialist.”  In school you are often taught big words and faculty often carry  big titles. Again, I see potential for multiple titles. This goes back to my post about my friend who is a self-proclaimed “aquatic biologist “even though his official title is animal keeper. He may be an aquatic biologist, but his colleagues refer to him as fish geek or fish keeper. I think that the longer and more confusing the name, the more we create intrigue. Some of you will continue to disagree vehemently, but it’s just my new opinion on the matter after I started to become fond of the name  “Living Institution.”

Dr. Jordan Schaul, Zoo Keeper Emeritus (AKA Special Species Collection Husbandry Science Specialist Emeritus)

RP- ‘Timely Tales/Tails’

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…..


http://www.blogtalkradio.com/zoo-peeps

seeking co-host

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

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…..


http://www.blogtalkradio.com/zoo-peeps

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

“Vice President of Fish”

This title grabbed the attention of an all-time low number of  subscribers 30 minutes post-publication (lunch).  I’m re-posting with a new title and a challenge for you to name that fish in the pic below.

As you can see I’m alternating between field conservation topics and discussions more directly relevant to collections husbandry science at living institutions.

This is a short one, but I wanted to offer some fish flakes for thought. A friend of mine who works in an aquatics/aquarium department of a large zoo asked my opinion about appropriate titles for fish and aquatic invertebrate husbandry specialists. My first thought was that the person who signs his pay check is the only person whose opinion matters. My second thought was that it depends on where you work.  At a public aquarium the title of aquarist is popular, but so is biologist.  This friend preferred the term “biologist” because the title is used in some commercial aquaculture circles, and he also felt that such a distinction more aptly described his job responsibilities. He is responsible for life support systems and the maintenance of aquatic ecosystems from reef tanks to brackish water exhibits to pelagic ocean fish tanks.

Aquariology is the study of both the fauna and flora of aqauria. Hence, aquariologist may be the most appropriate title for professional fish husbandry personnel working in public aquaria whereas “fish keeper” may be reserved for the tropical fish hobbyists or private fish breeders.

Fisheries biologists study commercial and wild fisheries, but also must have a working knowledge of fish keeping as well as the design and maintenance of life support systems for commercial fish breeding.

This topic really begs the question of whether or not all husbandry positions deserve specialist titles.   I personally think that “wild animal keeper” is fitting because it has persisted for so long and emphatically coveys the role of working with wildlife.  The Bronx Zoo- based Wildlife Conservation Society and many EAZA members refer to their zoo animal husbandry specialists as such.  Animal Care Specialist or Husbandry Technician are also quite fitting.

I understand that some institutions may refrain from designating husbandry and training staff as “biologists” because those titles have historically been reserved for those personnel conducting research as primary part of their occupation description. I understand this.  The questioned that followed was whether or not an animal husbandry specialist or animal keeper in theory, is deserving of the title “biologist.”   A biologist studies some aspect of life, but does not necessarily conduct research. In academia some faculty are hired exclusively as research scientists (biologists) and do nothing, but conduct research. Hence, it is fair to distinguish a research scientist/biologist from other scientists/biologists who endeavor to do more than conduct research studies.  They may teach, they may curate collections, and they might write science articles for more popular publications among other things.  It is also fair to consider an animal keeper who caters to the environmental and physiological requirements of an animal as a biologist. Through formal education or experience one must have learned enough about organismal biology to sustain life. Fish keepers not only sustain life through managing aquatic life support systems, but they also sustain the aquatic ecosystem that mimics natural environments derived from surface water. Other ectotherm biologists (e.g. herpetologists/herp keepers) also cater to both the organism and the artificial environment. Both these specialist vocational categories require a comprehensive understanding of physiological ecology and ecosystem health on a micro-scale.

Dr. Jordan Schaul, Zoo Keeper Emeritus

DNRM (Name This Fish)

The Bear That Could Pace

I recently visited the Large Animal Clinical Science’s web page hosted by the  Western College of Veterinary Medicine (Canada). While scrolling down the page, a link to an applied ethology resource caught my attention.  Behavioral science resources are now more commonly made available for veterinary faculty and students, but often these resources are limited to the discussion of domesticated species. Applied behavior as it relates to exotic, zoo animal, and alternative livestock may be neglected to some degree.  If anything, animal health programs may dedicate more educational resources to the emerging field of behavioral genomics.

As I perused the topics I came across some information concerning the  manifestation of stereotypic behavior in zoo carnivores and primates.  The topic was was addressed in some detail and the information was relatively current.  Nothing  I read would surprise the zoo professional. In general, stereotypies in these taxa have received much attention in zoo science and applied animal welfare publications.   Again, this is pretty common knowledge.  I don’t argue that efforts should be made to mitigate aberrant behavior.  Many investigators have examined the possible etiologies of stereotypic pacing.  Not everyone agrees on what causes it or how to address it.  But it may be just as important to consider how serious these aberrant behaviors are in the context of a larger picture -a more comprehensive evaluation of an individual animal’s quality of life.

At one extreme laboratory animals have exhibited self-mutilation and reduced reproductive success.  However, zoos were the first to examine captivity-induced stereotypic behavior and they were the first living institutions to address this concern.  Enrichment programs have reduced stereotypies in the species that have been the subject of intense study by more than 50%.  Most of these subjects include the intelligent charismatic species such as bears, elephants, and primates.

Zoos, aquariums and marine parks provide quite the hospitable environment for their collection animals.  If we consider the quality of life of captive born and reared animals compared to the challenges facing their wild counterparts, our perspectives and attitudes may change.

Wild animals face  increasingly compromised natural environments as a consequence of habitat encroachment and fragmentation which exacerbate the daily struggles to find food and mates, raise offspring and defend territories. Captivity starts to look pretty good.

I remember that I used to bite my nails before big exams, but no one ever called social services. I don’t dismiss that fact that some captive animals may exhibit aberrant behavior, but I also know that we don’t home school children with restless leg syndrome just because they are known to tap their feet incessantly in school.  They may be more of a distraction to others than a risk to themselves.  We can’t eliminate environmental stressors altogether.

In my opinion zoo life is a pretty good deal.  The arranged marriage issue is the only thing that I would want to negotiate, but I think that animals are much less discriminating in regards to choosing mates. In captivity the  mate selection for both the sire and dam consists of unrelated, well fed, conspecifics in good body condition, not to mention that available partners are most likely to be pathogen free.   In the wild, you’d have to sort through a lot of goldfish before you find some Koi.  In captivity the studbook keeper serves as one heck of a matchmaker.   I digress….

I’ve seen a more than a few bears pace in my time and I’m really quite impressed with the extensive amount of research that has been conducted on stereotypic behavior in an effort to improve the psychological well-being of these animals.  I also remember how often keepers inadvertently may have reinforced this behavior in an attempt to stop it.  I may have done it myself. It’s amazing how an animal may appear to be in a “zone” or stupor as it repetitively follows the same figure eight pattern as part of an apparent  appetitive behavior.  However, they may snap out of it quite readily and come to life, if you will.  They may smell their keeper or see or hear them in front of the exhibit.  I often wondered if this pacing routine was just a ploy to get the attention of a caregiver.  Polar bears may not look like they are always thinking, but I was always thinking they are.

I mentioned behavioral genomics earlier and wanted to direct your attention to the following article:  Genomics Meets Ethology I have been interested in genetic predisposition to communicable pathogen resistance in zoo animal populations, but I also have been very interested in a genetic predisposition to stress tolerance and perhaps aberrant behaviors such as stereotypies.  It may be very controversial to exclude individuals from participation in breeding programs because of pacing behavior or other unwanted behaviors, but it has been looked at with much greater frequency in domestic livestock.

Dr. Jordan Schaul, Zoo Keeper Emeritus

Photo by J.Schaul (http://www.bearkeepers.net)- view with Int. Expl.