urbpan: (dandelion)
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Where were we? Oh yes, the 98 meter pyramid on the bank of the Mississippi in the city of Memphis Tennessee. It's a sporting goods store.

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urbpan: (dandelion)
1. Because movies and tv have misled you on “tranquilizer guns.”

The term is “chemical immobilization,” and the tool for this procedure is a dart gun that shoots a syringe-like dart that carries some quantity of a drug. How much? Well it depends on what the target animal is--the darts start out empty, and some poor vet tech does math based on what drug the vet says to use (different drugs are differently effective on different animals). There is no phaser that you can set on “Stun.” You can’t knock an animal out without the possibility of accidentally killing the it with the dart..

2. Gotta get the dose right.

An overdose or an insufficient dose is not an uncommon outcome. Especially since the animals in these situations tend to have ELEVATED ADRENALINE LEVELS which makes delivering a precise drug dose very tricky.

3. Gotta be a pretty good shot to do it right.

The person firing the dart has to hit the target: usually the ass of the animal. What if you miss the ass? You could hit a bone and break it, puncture a vital organ or put out an eye. Sometimes the dart hits the target and the stopper doesn’t slip, so the drug stays in the dart. This results in a slightly more terrified and pissed off animal.

4. Once you hit the target, the animal falls gently to sleep in a few seconds, right?

No, the animal might jump from the pain (these are big fucking darts), or turn and bite, or do whatever else an animal in sudden pain might do. If the situation is a person in an animal enclosure with a dangerous animal, pissing the animal off is not necessarily the right choice. Depending on--well, everything: the drug, the dose, the location of the shot, the kind of animal, the size of the animal, the animal’s agitation level, etc etc--depending on these, it may take several minutes for the animal to lose consciousness. In the meanwhile, you may have an enraged, drunken gorilla staggering about.

5. You gotta protect the people.

There are 7 billion humans crawling around on the planet like aphids on a doomed plant, and only about 3500 tigers left in the wild. But if a human falls into the tiger exhibit--even a shitty drunk asshole of a human--you better believe there are no plans to “tranquilize” anything. The tiger count goes down by a significant percentage, and another dumb human survives to fall into something else another day. The job is always to protect human life, no matter how precious and rare the animal life is.
urbpan: (dandelion)
Our last winter season Zookeeper movie night was a very special occasion, because we watched Zoombies (2016), a zombie movie set in a zoo, made by the studio culpable for Sharknado. Because this movie was set within a zoo, we the assembled animal care professionals devoted our exacting scrutiny to it.

First, Eden Wildlife Zoo—built as a "rehabilitation retreat for endangered animals”—appears to cover several square miles of gorgeously landscaped grounds. Pretty impressive for a place that hasn’t yet opened to the public, and with a keeper staff of four full timers and seven interns. No expense is spared, from incorporating GPS enabled microchips into all the mammals, to giving the security team a full complement of firearms, to putting the Eden logo on every piece of property in the zoo. To be fair, the realism of Zoombies easily beats out Kevin James’ Zookeeper.

The unfortunate event of a disease outbreak in the palatial zoo hospital (which in size and technology looks like a for-profit research lab) sets the movie in motion. The unknown pathogen can infect all mammals and birds except for two species that will be left unnamed in this review. Since animal care professionals are known to rush blindly into danger, it isn’t much of a spoiler to say that the full time keeper staff is doomed. That leaves our more naive and idealistic interns to cope with zombie lions and such.

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I just know the hospital keeper is going to have to clean up this mess

It would be unfair deprive you of the joy of watching the staff dwindle one by one, so let’s concentrate on the zookeepers, since we know they are all toast. Each one provides a very bad example on welcoming interns to the job. Primate keeper Daxton barks at AJ " I’m guessing you’re the kid they stuck me with?” before thrusting a poop shovel into the student’s hands. Aviary keeper Chelsea begs the zoo director, “Are you firing me and replacing me with this kid?” And after relieving himself behind a tree, zookeeper Gus is skeptical of his eager intern: "You don’t look like the kind of girl who that wants to get dirty.” Not cool, Gus, I’m setting up a meeting with HR.

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Oh yeah, then there's keeper Monte--he doesn't last long either

We can learn from Eden’s staff in other ways. Daxton ignores the flimsy wire fence protecting him from the cross river gorilla (the last in the world we are told—I guess things have gone poorly for the 300 that were still living in Africa), and instead hops right in with the great ape. Chelsea is so at home in her aviary, that she wears open-toed shoes while she works. You may get the feeling something bad might happen to her, but the chances are you won’t guess exactly what it is.

The gore effects in Zoombies are pretty fun, if you are into that sort of thing. The CGI animals on the other hand—well, there’s a reason that this movie studio brags that it’s never lost money on a release, they keep their computer animation budget pretty close to the bone. See the weightless elephants! Marvel at the police teams taken from clips from other movies and stock footage! Enjoy the hurried script, and yeoman’s work by unknown actors! Sure it’s all on the cheap, but once you see what the giraffes do to one intern, you’ll be glad you watched it.

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Birkenstocks, Chelsea? Really?
urbpan: (dandelion)
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This black rat snake was showing off its extraordinary climbing ability.

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urbpan: (dandelion)
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This odd-looking but handsome creature is a takin, a relative of goats and sheep that is native to the Himalayas.

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When I passed through the nicely refrigerated penguin building, one of my zookeeper conference colleagues was getting an up close and personal encounter!
urbpan: (dandelion)
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The St Louis Zoo's insectarium was very impressive. Check out this climbing structure for the leafcutter ants!

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Plants were provided for the ants to cut up and bring to their fungus farm.

for the unsqueamish )
urbpan: (dandelion)
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One of the most exciting things that happened when we zookeepers visited the St Louis Zoo (as part of our conference activities) was celebrity baby orangutan Ginger came close to the window!

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She really hammed it up.

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It's amusing to see people who work with animals for a living get all squealy and excited to see yet another animal. (I was squealing right along with everyone)
urbpan: (dandelion)
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My friend Siobhan is a zookeeper at the Capron Park Zoo, and offered to give Fiona and I a behind-the-scenes tour. Here's the beautiful eye of one of the Visayan warty hogs.

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urbpan: (dandelion)
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urbpan: (dandelion)
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Camel ride area.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Australian swans. According to Wikipedia they have a 25% homosexuality rate and a 6% divorce rate.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Sloth exhibit, sloth keeper.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Zookeeper Sarah at her post in the Aussie Aviary.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Get all your ducks in a row they said. Well, all the peacocks are in a row, that should count for something.

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All the ducks are in a small amount of unfrozen water--impossible to get in a row.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Here's the updated view out my office window.

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urbpan: (dandelion)
Zoos have a unique role in society: for most people it is the only place they will ever see an exotic animal. The hope is that zoo guests will be energized by the experience to want to protect the animals that they have come to love. Elephants and rhinos are on the fast track to extinction, mainly because certain humans will pay a high price for some of the hard pointy stuff that grows out of their heads.

Zoo New England is spearheading an effort to make the sale of elephant ivory and rhino horn illegal in Massachusetts. That's right, it's not currently illegal by state law. We will join New York and New Jersey who already have a law on the books, and a host of other states also working on it.

If you live in the Bay State, please contact your local lawmaker this weekend to get them to cosponsor the bill and ensure it's passage go here for convenient links.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Little ice floes tumbling and circling on the surface of the flamingo pool, tossed by the water circulating pump.
urbpan: (monarch)
This time of year usually includes lots of giving. It might be motivated by religion or generosity, or by the last chance to get a break on your taxes. Whatever the reason, if you are reading this, you are probably someone who likes and supports charities that are kind to animals and helpful to the environment. Here are my five favorites, all very local to where I live. If you live somewhere else, I bet there are similar organizations that need your support.


My five favorite animal charities for the end of the year

Animal Rescue League of Boston
Founded in 1899, the Animal Rescue League of Boston is dedicated to rescuing domesticated animals and wildlife from suffering, cruelty, abandonment, and neglect.
The League carries out its mission through an emergency rescue team, anti-cruelty law enforcement, adoption and veterinary services, community outreach, and burial services.
(I have seen first hand how this organization will act on behalf of animals when state and local agencies are unable or unwilling to.)

Mass Audubon
Mass Audubon works to protect the nature of Massachusetts for people and wildlife. Together with more than 100,000 members, we care for 35,000 acres of conservation land, provide school, camp, and other educational programs for 225,000 children and adults annually, and advocate for sound environmental policies at local, state, and federal levels. Founded in 1896 by two inspirational women who were committed to the protection of birds, Mass Audubon is now one of the largest and most prominent conservation organizations in New England. Today we are respected for our sound science, successful advocacy, and innovative approaches to connecting people and nature. Each year, our statewide network of wildlife sanctuaries welcomes nearly half a million visitors of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds and serves as the base for our work. (I worked for this organization for 7 years. It is the largest Massachusetts-based environmental group, and makes a real difference in the world.)

MSPCA-Angell
The mission of the MSPCA-Angell is to protect animals, relieve their suffering, advance their health and welfare, prevent cruelty, and work for a just and compassionate society.
The MSPCA-Angell is a national and international leader in animal protection and veterinary medicine and provides direct hands-on care for thousands of animals each year. Founded in 1868, we are the second-oldest humane society in the United States. Our services include animal protection and adoption, advocacy, humane education, law enforcement, and world-class veterinary care. The MSPCA-Angell is a private, nonprofit organization. We do not receive any government funding nor are we funded or operated by any national humane organization. The MSPCA-Angell relies solely on the support and contributions of individuals who care about animals. (I deal with this organization regularly, and am always awed by the compassion and dedication of its people.)

PittieLove Rescue.
PittieLove Rescue Inc. is an all-volunteer, foster home-based rescue devoted exclusively to the care, understanding and adoption of the American Pit Bull Terrier. As one of the most abused and misunderstood breeds of all time PittieLove’s number one goal is for our rescued dogs to never suffer from neglect or abuse again, carefully placing them into loving homes where they will be Ambassadors for the breed. (Foster homes for dogs like ours don't get paid--your donation pays for vaccinations and vet visits. If you have donated to PLR you have helped both Turtle and Pocket through their difficult starts and to their happy new lives as family pets.)

Zoo New England
Zoo New England's mission is to inspire people to protect and sustain the natural world for future generations by creating fun and engaging experiences that integrate wildlife and conservation programs, research, and education. (Obviously I benefit directly from donations to this organization: more than 60% of our funding comes from donations, membership, and admissions—a dwindling fraction is supplied by the State. Behind the animal exhibits are great programs like animal care and veterinary internships, research on wildlife diseases, and wildlife conservation efforts. Everyone who works at the zoo is passionate and underpaid, and motivated by love of the natural world.)
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Schoolkids fascinated by a peacock in the prairie dog exhibit.
urbpan: (dandelion)
dead animal warning )

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