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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

I Don't Have a Thing to Wear...

It's a quiet night in, ideal for doing laundry.  As I sort through a hamper that could only... and generously... be defined as "malodorous," it strikes me that 95% of the clothes in it are work-related.  The shirts are work shirts, the pants are work pants, and the socks are ones carefully selected with a mind on how they will hold up in work boots that are covering 10 miles a day in wet conditions.

So far, no work-specific underwear options exist, so at least I have some freedom of choice there.

Outside of my few and far-between days off, I only have two outfits - work clothes, and pajamas.  I go to work, I come home and shower, and then I go to bed.  That's the result of being physically exhausted at the end of a long day, and not having a tremendous amount of disposable income for going out afterwards.  No real complaints on the later - at the end of a long day, there is nowhere that I want to be more than home anyway.

A standard zoo uniform consists of a T-shirt (long-sleeved in the winter, sometimes coupled with a sweatshirt or fleece), khaki shorts (long-pants in the winter, or when I foresee a job that's going to be rough on my legs, like working in thick brush), and socks with sturdy boots.  It's essential that the pants have lots of pockets... Lots of them, for keys and treats and fecal cups and bits of litter picked up along the ground.  I've been told that we zookeepers are pretty much the only thing keeping cargo pants in production.  A belt, of course, is essential, seeing as one's pants are constantly being forced down by the combined weight of a semi-functional radio and 86 pounds of miscellaneous keys.  I keep a small number of shirts in reserve, saved for special occasions like tours or press conferences as which I may be expected to do something in front of a camera.  My hamper aside, I think it's safe to say that three-fourths of my clothing has the name of my institution on it somewhere.

My parents, on the infrequent occasions when I make the trip to see them straight from work and in uniform, occasionally scold me for the state of my clothes.  They'll insist that I go shopping in the near future to replace the khakis with the inconvenient rip near the crotch with a new set.  What I have so far failed to convince them is that, on the day that those pants received that tear, they were "the new set."  Clothing does not have a long shelf-life in a pristine state in my wardrobe.

As it were, my uniform is a rather benign one.  The color of our shirts is one that doesn't make your eyes ache, and if I untuck my shirt and have my back to you (with no radio or keys visible), it would closely enough resemble street clothes.  I'm grateful that my zoo never felt the need to adopt the ridiculous safari-chic garb, complete with phony pith-helmet.  Likewise, I am glad that we've changed since the dawn of the last century, when zookeepers wore shirts and ties, with formal jackets and peaked caps.  That strikes me as a horrible thing to have to wear under a summer sun when knee-deep in muck.

The one drawback of zoo uniforms is that they tend to have the zoo logo on them.  This makes perfect sense at the zoo, but can be a headache after work, when you're stopping at the grocery store and intend for it to be a lightning raid, only to be stopped constantly by visitors who want to tell you about their last visit or ask about the newest baby, or a cashier who wants to start a lengthy philosophical debate on the ethics of zoos.  Also - no drinking in zoo uniform, on or off of grounds - a logical if slightly irksome rule which has resulted in most of my friends keeping a spare non-zoo shirt squirreled away at all times.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

From the News: A 50-year effort to raise endangered whooping cranes comes to an end

Animal care technician Kathryn Nassar wears a costume and holds a crane puppet as she interacts with a 2-month-old whooping crane at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)
For 50 years, Maryland's Patuxent Wildlife Refuge, located outside of Washington DC, has been the central hub of the effort to save one of America's most endangered and extraordinary birds.  Now, recent budget cuts have forced the closure of its legendary whooping crane program, long heralded as one of the key tools in efforts to breed this bird back from the edge of extinction.

Thankfully, in recent years Patuxent had begun to spread its cranes out among zoological facilities.  When I was young, only one or two zoos exhibited whooping cranes.  Now, they are increasingly common in our collections as more zoos join this breeding program.  Hopefully, the new recruits will be enough to replace Patuxent's lost crane production. 

All the same, I find this worrying.  So many endangered species breeding and reintroduction programs in this country - California condor, black-footed ferret, red wolf - have seen a tremendous leadership role from the US Federal Government.  It looks like those days may be over now.

In other words... we're on our own.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Species Fact Profile: Blue-Faced Honeyeater (Entomyzon cyanotis)

Blue-Faced Honeyeater
Entomyzon cyanotis (Latham, 1801)

Range: Southern New Guinea, Northern and Eastern Australia
Habitat: Open Woodland, Rainforest, Mangroves, Plantations
Diet: Insects, Nectar, Fruit
Social Grouping: Pairs, Small Flocks Up to 7 Birds
Reproduction: Round cup nests made of twigs and grass, often built atop the nests of other birds.  Two (sometimes three) pink eggs with red-brown splotches.  Both parents tend to the eggs.  Incubation 16 days.  Chicks born blind and almost completely featherless.  Chicks remain with their parents to assist in rearing the next year's clutch of chicks.
Lifespan: 8 Years (Wild)
Conservation Status: IUCN Least Concern

  • Body length 26-32 centimeters, weight 105 grams
  • Largely white with black breast and head with olive green wings and a bare patch of blue skin around the eyes (this patch of skin is pale yellow in juveniles).
  • Important pollinators of many Australian plants - forage using long tongue with brush-like tips to obtain nectar from flowers
  • Sedentary in some parts of its range, migratory in others
  • Sometimes form mixed-species flocks with yellow-throated miner birds; will work together to mob goshawks, owls, and other birds of prey
  • Three subspecies - the nominate in eastern Australia, E. c. griseigularis in New Guinea (smallest of the subspecies), and E. c. albipennis in northern Australia (long bill, shorter tails, white wing patch)
  • Some other birds - Pacific koels, pallid cuckoos - will lay their eggs in the nests of honeyeaters for the honeyeaters to hatch and care for
  • Inquisitive and friendly, will enter campsites and gardens in search of food, will eat honey and jelly out of jars

Friday, September 15, 2017

One Last Word About HSUS

It seems that the entire zookeeping community has spent the last week online, doing little except post about the appearance of Humane Society of the United States CEO Wayne Pacelle's recent appearance at the AZA annual conference.  There has been a lot of hand-wringing and a lot of accusations fired back and forth about who is or isn't in the right, and what this potential alliance means for the future of our profession.  Some of the comments, to be blunt, have gotten a little nasty and personal, especially those directed towards animal care professionals who have any involvement with HSUS or *gulp* PETA.

Something that we're all going to have to confront one of these days is how do we interact with the people and organizations that are opposed to us? Do we ignore them - but that just leaves them an open field to work against us. Do we fight them tooth and nail - because sometimes that makes us look overly defensive, or look like we have something to hide. Do we try to work with them and find common ground - or is that just appeasement and inviting them to cause damage from within? 

I will say, sometimes I feel like the posts online are one-part cute animal video, one-part zookeeping questions, and one-part anger over anti-zoo and aquarium sentiments we find online. Sometimes the same cheesy anti-zoo meme gets posted over and over and over again on the same day. I worry that we may be getting to the point where we are becoming more defined by what and who we oppose than we are about what we do and what we believe.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Sporcle Quiz: Sporcle at the Zoo - Ostrich

This month's Sporcle at the Zoo features the world's largest bird - and a regular feature of many zoos - the ostrich.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

A Word for Wayne Pacelle

Well, yesterday we get our first listen as to what Human Society of the United States leader Wayne Pacelle had to say to the assembled ranks of the AZA annual conference.  Among many rank and file keepers and aquarists, the message was... not especially well received.  Instead, there is the sense that the fox has been invited into the hen house, and that Mr. Pacelle and his organization will work to chip away at the zoo and aquarium community, remaking it in their image.

Just by virtue of being there, Mr. Pacelle was guaranteed to offend a fair number of his audience members.  His speech, seen by many animal care professionals as an attempt to pit AZA and non-AZA facilities against one another, has let many of the later feeling bitter.  The result is likely to be a hardening of feelings and a deepening of mistrust between AZA and other zoological facilities.

Here is what I wish Mr. Pacelle had chosen to say.  It's a much shorter speech than the one that he gave, but I feel like it would have had the potential to have made a more positive impact.

"I'd like to thank the Association of Zoos and Aquariums for having me here today to speak with all of you.  I know that in the past my organization has not always been a friend to the zoo and aquarium community.  Too often, we've been fueding as two opposing sides, with neither of us winning and the animals that we all say that we care about being the losers.  Today, I would like to end that feud.  From now on, it is the policy of the Human Society of the United States to work in support of any organization that works towards better animal welfare.  Whether you are a zoo or an aquarium or a sanctuary, accredited by the AZA or the ZAA, or by no one at all, as long as you provide for the physical and mental well-being of the animals under your care, constantly striving to raise your standards, you have our support.  It's time to stop fighting against one another and start fighting for improved animal welfare, treating each other as partners, not adversaries."

Or something to that effect.  Who knows?  Maybe he'll have a chance to make a better speech later.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Wayne Pacelle at the AZA Conference

Today, during the AZA Annual Conference in Indianapolis, a somewhat... unwelcome... guest speaker made a guest appearance.  Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Human Society of the United States, addressed the general session of the AZA.  HSUS has a rather complicated history with the zoo community.  While they have been known to speak positively about the AZA, an organization which it has formed a rough partnership in recent years, they have likewise been known to attack, sometimes quite severely, other zoos and aquariums.  Needless to say, their inclusion in this event has proven controversial.  

A lot has been said about where AZA and HSUS stand with regards to each other and their missions.  I thought it might be best if everyone heard it straight from the horse's mouth.