To Coddle a Kudu: Caretaking at the NACU

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Zoo InternQuest is a seven-week career exploration program for San Diego County high school juniors and seniors. Students have the unique opportunity to meet professionals working for the San Diego Zoo, Safari Park, and Institute for Conservation Research, learn about their jobs, and then blog about their experience online. Follow their adventure here on the Zoo’s website!

Last Wednesday, the interns received their first look at the inner workings of the San Diego Zoo from Kim Weibel, one of the keepers working in the Neonatal Assisted Care Unit (NACU). After giving a brief lecture on the history of the NACU and its responsibilities within the Zoo, Ms. Weibel led us interns out to the exhibits to show us how the NACU operates.

Shown here is a collection of nipple attachments for the feeding bottles used in the NACU. Each attachment was made specifically for the mouth of a certain mammal.

Ms. Weibel shows the interns how the incubation unit operates. Specifically, this unit is set up to hold a newborn kangaroo by enveloping it in a pouch not unlike one that its mother would have. While it is currently set up to care for a baby marsupial, the NACU team uses this machine to care for a wide variety of mammals, including baby primates.

We worked in groups to create some mock lesser kudu formula using the information contained in the NACU’s archives. The lesser kudu is a large species of antelope that lives in the forests of East Africa. Pictured is fellow intern Delou’Von holding a bottle of the formula.

For hoofstock, the NACU team creates formula by combining goat’s milk with a formula made specifically for hoofstock babies. Hoofstock refers to a variety of deer, gazelle, antelope and other hooved animals. Once prepared, bottles of formula are timestamped with a label and stored in the refrigerator shown above. Being that they are only viable for a short period of time, the NACU’s stock of formula is updated regularly.

The feeding schedules for the various mammals at the Zoo are recorded on this whiteboard. The NACU is currently caring for a baby vervet monkey and lesser kudu.

After taking the Skyfari over to the other side of the Zoo, we followed Ms. Weibel to the kudu exhibit. Upon our arrival, the kudu began to stop and stare, having associated the presence of a keeper with food.

Ms. Weibel bottle-feeds a young male kudu. When this particular kudu was unable to stand on his own at birth, the Zoo staff brought him to the Zoo’s hospital and outfitted his legs with stilts. The baby kudu pictured above has since regained full movement, and we witnessed him prancing about the exhibit.

As Ms. Weibel feeds one of the younger kudu, a kudu named Mary watches from the distance. Mary was cared for by the NACU back in 2006 and has been cooperative with the Zoo staff ever since. She plays a role in the rearing of new kudu by leading them over to the keepers whenever they get scared.

A young Speke’s gazelle approaches Ms. Weibel as she feeds the young kudu. The kudu at the San Diego Zoo, like several of the Zoo’s animals, share their exhibit with another species. This particular gazelle appeared to be playing with the kudu before Ms. Weibel interrupted them.

Ms. Weibel greets Mary with a nuzzle on the cheek. Oftentimes, the young babies imprint on the NACU team. However, while this does make caretaking a little easier, Ms. Weibel and her team do everything in their power to prevent this from happening. At the end of the day, these are still wild animals that need to assimilate back to their social groups.

In the distance, the only adult male kudu in the exhibit looks over at Ms. Weibel as she conducts her business. Due to the competition that arises between male kudu, the younger male shown earlier will eventually have to be moved to another location to prevent any conflict.

Our first day as interns proved to be both exciting and informative. By observing Ms. Weibel as she worked, we got a small taste as to what it means to be responsible for many different species.

Sunwoo, Photo Journalists
Week One, Fall Session 2017

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