Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Volunteer "Chalks it Up!"

By Valorie Schneider, Volunteer Coordinator

Karyn Ruth Cheng, a long time Sacramento Zoo volunteer, participated in this years “Chalk It Up” in downtown Sacramento over the Labor Day weekend. She has been sharing her love of the Zoo for many years at this event which raises funds for children’s art education in the Sacramento region.

Karyn chose the Sacramento Zoo mascot, Gus the Green tree frog as her chalk square. The Zoo sponsored Karyn this year and we thank her for her dedication to the Zoo. Gus also Thanks her as he is a very important part of the Zoo and just loves it when people talk about him!

Thanks Karyn, for all your support and bringing the Zoo to Chalk It Up 2009!

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Other Side of the Moat - Part 3

By Scott Johnston, Keeper-Aide Volunteer

August 28, 2009

8 a.m.
No matter how bulky the bars or how sturdy the locks; stepping inside the Sacramento Zoo’s super-sized kitty-house is still a check-the-heart-rate moment.

Accompanied by keeper Kate, I made a brief stop in the proverbial “lions den”, home to the zoo’s Sumatran tigers, African lions, and Jaguars and small cats – Geoffroy and Margays. Needless to say it was a very humbling way to kick off my third day of participating in the Zoo’s Keeper Aide program.

Paying careful attention to my distance from each cat’s den I made my way past each enclosure, stepping along on the safe side of a white line painted down the middle of the floor. The fluidity of each animal’s movement was mesmerizing and I couldn’t help but meet their gaze as I slipped past on my way to a small room where their special diets are prepared.

A “small” female Sumatran tiger watched curiously as I moved by.
House cats they are not, they don’t drink milk from saucers and they don’t play patty cake with balls of yarn. These incredibly powerful, yet highly endangered, creatures hale from the Island of Sumatra in Indonesia. Females weigh between 165 and 240 pounds fully grown. These cats and their keepers are all business and after a brief look at how their breakfasts are prepared, Kate and I move on to another of my personal favorites – the Giant anteaters.

This couple reminds me of two rather large, yet laid-back dogs, standing three feet tall and weighing around 120 pounds. At night they sleep curled up head to tail inside their own personal kennels. In the wild Giant anteaters sleep in hollowed out depressions in the ground for upwards of 15 hours each day, covering their bodies with their long tails. Grey in color with thick, shaggy fur and a bold black and white shoulder stripe, the Giant anteater possesses a long, tubular snout set on a narrow head and short, stout legs.

While the two slurp down large helpings of a tasty, milk shake-like concoction of 2 kinds of blendered chow, water and orange juice, I work on their outer enclosure, hosing out the inside of their swimming hole and polishing the large window pane that fronts the exhibit.

As their name suggests, in the wild ants make a large portion of the anteater’s diet. In captivity, however, the anteaters evidently didn’t get the memo. As I move along the front of the enclosure I can’t help but notice a long trail of ants marching along unhindered – enrichment!.

Of the four species of anteater, the Giant anteater is the most vulnerable.
Their fairly nonchalant personality makes them targets for being hunted throughout their range for meat, skins and as trophies. Some indigenous people still mistakenly believe anteaters kill cattle and dogs. When they finish their meals we move them back outside where the female quickly finds a sunny patch of dirt for a nap and the male heads out to patrol the perimeter.

Giant anteaters are solitary animals except for breeding pairs or mothers with offspring. If an encounter between two individuals does occur, they will usually ignore one another, that seems to be the case with these two as well.
Although they can be active both day and night, they prefer a more nocturnal existence near people and civilization.

Their long, sharp claws are excellent for ripping open termite mounds discovered with their keen sense of smell. They force their snout inside and use their two-foot long, sticky tongue to lick up the insects inside, carefully avoiding any soldier ants. While these two appear unassuming and approachable, they, just like all exotic animals, are very unpredictable.

Their sense of hearing compensates for their poor eyesight and alerts the anteater to predators in the area. Their claws are so sharp they are even able to kill a jaguar in defense. Because these claws do not retract, they have evolved to walk on the outer sides of their feet with the claws curled upward and inward.

Next up is one of the Sacramento Zoo’s matriarchs, the female the Spotted Hyena. She watches us intently as we move into her den. At 25 years old, standing nearly three feet tall and weighing close to 130 pounds she has been at the zoo for 14 years.

The Spotted hyena is the most numerous of the three hyena species though it is far from abundant. They have been exterminated in most of South Africa and greatly reduced in many areas of their savanna range. Primarily threatened by loss of habitat and reduction of large hoof stock prey to poachers, they are also hunted for fear they will hurt livestock.

After a yummy meat treat from Kate, the hyena waits patently while I clean one side of her den before assuming my next job as her personal pool man, draining, scrubbing and refilling her water hole.

After Kate moves her from her primary sleeping quarters I give it a once over with the hose and disinfectant before adding fresh straw to her bed and leaving a nice helping of feline diet biscuits as a treat. All the while, just feet away, she keeps a close, silent vigil on my progress. This is one boss I don’t want to cross.

While viewing the animals from the public perspective is great, my time backstage with the carnivores once again gave me a perspective on some of nature’s most powerful predators that I could never get anywhere else.
I can’t wait to see what happens next week on The Other Side of the Moat.

Stay tuned…

Friday, September 11, 2009

Gus & Dinger at the River Cats

By Gus the Green tree frog

Hi Everyone! You probably remember my last blog about the fun time I had at Dinger's birthday party - he's the mascot for the River Cats here in Sacramento. A bunch of us mascots got together and played a great game of kickball. Well, here are some more pictures of the fun!

Hanging out before the game.

Chatting between runs.

Hoping he doesn't throw that ball to me!

Waiting for the next kick.

Running to the outfield.

My slide into home base!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Summer Camp "Game" Show

By Jaime Wilson, Zoo Blog Keeper

One of the coolest Summer Camp classes, in my opinion, is where the kids actually put on a show for the public! Every year our Interpretive Center staff spends a lot of time coming up with a theme for their show. They write the storyline and script, incorporate educational facts and animals. Then they practice, practice, practice!

Well, the Zoo Camp kids get to do all of that in one week! This year they choose "I survived that animal game show, game show." And they did all the work then performed it for a packed amphitheater on the last day of camp.

Take a look at all their hard work!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Other Side of the Moat - Part 2

By Scott Johnston, Keeper-Aide Volunteer

August 21, 2009

8 a.m.
Staggering out of bed at sunrise and driving for a half an hour across town to clean bird droppings and sort frozen mice probably would not be most people’s idea of a great start to a birthday celebration. I, on the other hand, can’t think of a better way to kick off my 38th year on earth.

My second day in the Keeper Aide program at the Sacramento Zoo got off to a raucous start when I was assigned to assist with the feeding and cleaning of the many birds on exhibit at the zoo.

Now it’s well documented that I’ve always been an animal buff. However, birds have never been high on my personal favorite list. It’s nothing personal; I’ve just always been more interested in other types of creatures.

After hooking up with keepers Amanda and Scott, it didn’t take long for me to realize our beak-baring, feathered friends have a lot to offer in the personality department too.

First up was cleaning and feeding the zoo’s male and female Abyssinian Ground Hornbills.

In the wild these large, black birds can be found in the Sub-Saharan Africa, north of the equator including southern Sudan, Ethiopia, northern Kenya and northern Uganda. They prefer open-country, sparse woodlands; savannas and forest edges and can grow up to 39 inches tall, weigh nearly nine pounds and live 35 to 40 years.

The mischievous male hornbill, greets us at the gate to get first dibs on his meal of mice, vegetables and mealworms. Yum!

A trusting sort, he quickly attempts to employ me as his personal safe deposit box, repeatedly trying to guide his black seven-inch long dagger-like beak into the top of my boot. His mission being, I’m told, to stow his mouse meal in a safe spot.

Thankfully, the keeper proves to be quite skilled at deflecting Mark’s friendly advances, cleverly thwarting Mr. Persistent with a rake and a smile. I exit my new BFF’s house mouse-free Next we moved on to the Buton and Great Hornbill.

A hard plastic construction helmet and protective eye ware hanging outside the Great Hornbill enclosure catches my eye.

Not wanting to seem overly anxious I casually inquire about the items. Amanda points out that the gear is merely a safety precaution that keepers must wear when inside the Great hornbill exhibits due to the fact that the birds powerful beak (they’re called Hornbills for a reason) could easily cause damage.

Next I’m told that this is one enclosure I will enjoy from the outside due to large male’s rambunctious, rough and tumble nature.

The Buton Hornbills are a happy couple and prove too be more my speed, quietly watching from above as I move about cleaning their comfortable home.

The male of the house indulges me with his super cool beak-to-eye coordination, deftly snatching grapes I toss up to him and then carefully passing every other one off to his mate, a wonderful display of pair harmony.

Burrowing Owls and Yellow-billed Magpies are our next stop. Yellow-billed Magpies may seem like an odd choice to keep in a zoo, but they in fact can only be found in California’s central valley.
A slightly morbid scavenger hunt is next on the list as I move about the Burrowing Owl aviary. Searching high and low, I must find, remove and replace tattered mice carcasses. I swear I could hear the four tiny owls hooting with laughter as I wrinkled my nose and gingerly swapped out their meal.

After returning to the kitchen Scott asked if I had any interest in helping him sort dead mice. Would I?! “Gloves or no gloves?” he asked with a wry smile. “Even though they’re dead, they can still scratch you.”

Seeing he was going bare handed, I opted to go commando-style as well. Not knowing what to expect next, I watched as Scott produced a large trash bag chock-full of frozen mice in a plethora of colors, shapes and sizes.

The task was simple; break them apart and sort them into small, medium and large piles. Hey, birds have to eat too!

While this proved to be an “interesting” task, I nearly dislocated my right shoulder raising my hand when Amanda asked for assistances with the Thick-billed Parrot enclosure.

Hanging with this entertaining bunch proved to be a great way to finish out day two. Green with splash of red on their heads, this endangered Mexico native is curious and fun loving. They wasted no time introducing themselves, buzzing me with flybys and even taking a special interest in trying to untie my bootlaces.

Overall my day with the birds turned out to be equal parts enjoyable and educational.

I can’t wait to see what happens next week on The Other Side of the Moat.

Stay tuned…

Find out more about the birds at the Zoo with fact sheets, pictures and videos on our birds of the Zoo webpage.