Working with animals

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 adventures here on the Zoo’s website!

For the fourth week of InternQuest, interns were lucky to not only meet up with the people who work behind the scenes to fulfill the many different needs that the animals at the Zoo require, but also were able to meet some of the many animals that trainers work with daily. We were lucky enough to be introduced to some of the people involved in training animals for the Animals in Action program at the Zoo, Kelly Elkins, Maureen, Kristina and Craig. Animal trainers such as Ms. Elkins, went through an exotic animal training and management program, not only to gain experience but also to build credibility in order to land their dream job. Interns were also lucky enough to a get a brief demonstration at the sorts of activities that animal trainers do on a daily basis.

On Thursday, Ms. Elkins, Kristina, Maureen and Craig, some of the many animal trainers that work at Zoo, gave the interns a glance at some of the activities they perform on daily basis. One of these activities consisted of feeding flamingos, specialized pellets that help them turn pink. The reason they feed flamingos pellets instead of shrimp is because shrimp would simply be too expensive.  Despite their being plenty of pellets for all of the flamingoes they were bumping each other away from the plastic cups we held and competing over the food.
This is a young flamingo that was transferred to the Animals in Action team, due to it facing issues of being targeted by other flamingos living at the Zoo in the much larger flock by the entrance. At first the faculty at that Zoo tried rehabilitating it back into its original group, but after multiple failures a transfer was set. One of the trainers, Ms. Nelson explained that young flamingos are not completely pink as they have not eaten enough shrimp, or in the Zoo’s case pellets in order to absorb the color into their feathers. The young flamingo’s feathers will be the same color as an adult in about a year’s time, seems pretty far away for this young bird!
This is Zari the Grant’s zebra, who was introduced to us by Lead Animal Trainer, Kelly Elkins as well as Ms. Nelson, who is one of Zari’s newer trainers. Ms. Elkins explained to us how the process to being extremely comfortable with an animal can sometimes be extremely long, especially with big animals such as zebras. As such, trainers may spend years building a bond between themselves and the animals they are working with.
This is one of the several dogs that are paired with some of the cheetahs at the Zoo, this one happens to be paired up with Ayana a 4-year-old female cheetah. Although you can’t tell from the image, this dog was full of energy, wagging her tail like crazy! As Ms. Elkins explained dogs are not always paired up with cheetahs, sometimes cheetahs are paired with other cheetahs, or even sometimes are alone. The choice of what to pair a cheetah is decided based upon several analyses, conducted by trainers over time. Cheetahs and dogs are paired together in order to not only give them a companion, but also as a method of easing their training process.
This is Bola, a three-banded armadillo who we met on Wednesday while learning about how animal exhibits are designed and built, and the many different factors that go into their making. These factors include trying to promote activates that they would do in the wild, as well as designing a habitat that is both mentally and physically stimulating for the animals of the Zoo.
This is Ayana, a 4-year-old cheetah that works as an ambassador at the Zoo and in the back her dog companion, Honey. Ms. Elkins discussed how each individual cheetah has to be trained to learn how to avoid stress caused by all the noise that visitors cause, as well as how she has been trained to take voluntary blood draws!
This is Ayana, a 4-year-old cheetah that works as an ambassador at the Zoo and in the back her dog companion, Honey. Ms. Elkins discussed how each individual cheetah has to be trained to learn how to avoid stress caused by all the noise that visitors cause, as well as how she has been trained to take voluntary blood draws!
Ms. Elkins went into great detail on the necessity of being able to read animal behavior, not just for the safety of the animal, but also that of the trainers. As Ms. Elkins explained, when dealing with large animals such as cheetahs, safety is a big concern and being able to react in time to changes in an animal’s body language is often vital.

Mael, Photo team
Week Four, Winter Session 2019

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