Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Rosamond Gifford Zoo

         On April 21, 2014, I had a phone conversation with an employee in the education department at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo, about the care of the animals there. It was very nice of him to take time out of his day to tell me about the zoo and the responsibilities that come with maintaining the integrity of an AZA accredited zoo. We went over the questions asked by the public to Wild Thangz and whatever other questions that came up. Thank you very much for answering our questions!

Are the feedings for the animals in the zoo the same or similar to their natural diet in the wild?
         Their diets are very similar to that of in the wild, though not exactly because of the lack of availability to, say, zebra for the lions. Despite this setback, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and their accredited zoos work together to do research on the best possible food to give the animals that will give them the same nutritional value as in the wild.
Where do the animals come from?
         All of the animals in the zoo are from other zoos. There is a comprehensive network of zoos that share animals for their exhibits. They work together to manage each population in each zoo. For example, the Rosamond Gifford Zoo penguin exhibit got their initial population from four or five different zoos. They were each carefully planned and genetically picked for perfect breeding pairs.
Do zoos feel like they do not want to give up a certain species for a new exhibit at another zoo, in hesitation that they are competition?
         Most communities only have one accredited zoo so there isn’t much competition between them. The AZA has very high standards for their accredited zoos, so the Rosamond Gifford Zoo’s closest competitor would be the Zoo in Rochester about an hour away. It is mutually beneficial to share animals along zoos because of the conservation efforts of the AZA Zoos. If one zoo has a better genetic match for a species in another zoo, they will send that animal there. The AZA and their zoos look at the big picture of conserving the species of the planet and keeping each one alive.
What kind of degree do you need to work at the zoo?         
         Typically a four year degree, in some sort of biological science such as Zoology, Environmental Biology, Wildlife Science, etc.
How does the life span differ from that in the wild?
         In captivity, the life spans are usually longer since veterinary care is available, there is constant health monitoring, and with prey animals, they have no predator out there to hunt them. The Rosamond Gifford Zoo has a very close relationship with Cornell, so their veterinary program really comes in handy.
Are any of the animals released back into the wild?
         Releasing them back isn’t really an option since they are usually from other zoos. They are breed and raised in zoos so they don’t really know how to be wild. Many are, also, not native to the united states so it would be quite difficult to bring them all the way back to their natural habitats. Usually, the only times animals are released is with licensed wildlife rehabilitators and with the SSP reintroduction plan.
How often do animal moves happen and what kind of planning goes into them?
The planning is a very involved month long process. This will happen when new exhibits are being prepared to be opened and for breeding.
How do you decide to open a new exhibit?
         This also includes a lot of planning. The zoo usually has an over all collection plan, for the amount of land they have and for the types of animals that they think their community and audience would like to see and learn about. They have to think about which exhibits are maintained and created, what is happening nationally, if the zoo has the expertise to provide the best possible care for that specific species. They have to think about what the suitability for that animal is and if the AZA has preferences for a particular species and the overall conservation of that type of animal.
Does each animal have their own inside holding space other than their outdoor one? –mostly considering storms, or other times when the animals cant be outside.
         The AZA animal care guidelines require zoos to have these, yes.
How many times do you clean their holding areas? And does that change with the species?
         The enclosures are usually cleaned daily but it does depend on the species. For example, elephants produce 125lbs per day so their enclosures need to be cleaned more than once a day, while snakes might not excrete even once in a day so they can be cleaned less often.
Do the zookeepers get to choose the animals that they work with when they start working there?
         Usually the zoo tries to give the keepers the animal they want to work with. It depends on their area of expertise, and their animal of interest since this will ensure top-notch care to be provided for each animal. Though each keeper gets cross-trained in case of emergencies such as a keeper calls in sick or changes positions at the zoo.
How are food regiments planned at the zoo? How are species with very specific diets cared for?
         For this, veterinarians are involved, and research is done to find out the best possible meals and diets for each species. The AZA has guidelines for this.
Is there a governing body that protects zoo animals?
         In the US, there are 2500 zoos, but among those, only about 216 are accredited by the AZA, the Association for Zoos and Aquariums. The AZA is the highest bar for a zoo to hit and only about 10% of zoos are accredited. This Association tried to ensure the best care for the animals. There are also other groups that have animal welfare comities such as Taxon Advisory Group and TAG. And lastly, there are also exotic veterinarians are work towards providing the best care for animals in all zoological institutions.
How do you acquire your animals? Like the sloths, where did you get them?
         Again, all animals come from other zoos; when babies are born, the zoos share.
Do the zookeepers form emotional and personal relationships with the animals?
         They definitely do, they spend lots of time with them, and of course that will produce attachment.
Does the zoo have animals for conservation purposes?
         Yes, the SSP and the AZA have this as a requirement to be an accredited zoo. Zoos must contribute to conservation efforts of species. The AZA actually donates A LOT of money to conservation organizations.
Are animals denied for keeping captive for ethical reasons?

         Yes, an example of this is blue whales, and other species like this that require lots of space to be happy and institutions just cannot provide for those animals and thus, they are not kept in captivity at AZA accredited zoos.

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