Archive for February, 2009

Pico: What do you do and how long have you been doing it for?

Donna: I schedule outreaches and educational programs, coordinate field trips and birthday parties, act as an administrator and parent liaison for Zoo Camp, and I’m the docent program contact person. I’ve been doing this for two years.

Pico: Have you ever mistakenly answered a radio or phone call meant for Donna the hippo?

Donna: No.

Pico: I’m surprised. Donna is famous worldwide for being the oldest hippo on record. Well, tell me about who you share an office with.

Donna: The rose-breasted cockatoo, or galah, is Chloe. This was her space before I started. She graciously agreed to share. The macaw is a hybrid named Redbird. He had a feather plucking problem and was put here for some R&R. For some reason, we really took a shine to each other. He’s become much more outgoing and is now one of our education outreach animals.

Chloe looks like she knows she is Donna's favorite.

Chloe looks like she knows she is Donna's favorite.

Pico: What do you like about working at the Zoo?

Donna: The animals of course. I love giving enrichment to Chloe and Redbird. I had “bird-enricher” added to my job description. I also enjoy the education programs we do.

Pico: You gush about Redbird and Chloe. Do you have anything nice to say about toucans?

Donna: I went to Costa Rica for three weeks. The house where we stayed, you’d be sitting on the veranda watching them [keel-billed toucans] fly past. It was beautiful, just beautiful.

Pico: That’s more like it! What do you do outside of work?

Donna: I spend a lot of time with my five grandkids, which a lot of times means coming back out to the Zoo!


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Pico previously reported on some of the migratory waterfowl that were visiting the Zoo. For the past two weeks, another type of waterfowl has been hanging out in Lake Victoria and around the Asia Valley. He’s pretty shy, but most likely this greylag goose is just visiting from a neighboring pond or farm. Greylag geese are native to the Old World and most domestic geese are descended from them.


This greylag goose thinks the Zoo is a fun place to hang out!

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As it is Valentine’s Day, Pico would like to address the subject of animal love:

 Zoos used to acquire their animals by taking them directly from the wild or from breeders whose goal was not necessarily producing a genetically healthy animal. The majority of animals in zoos are now captive born. Those individuals that are not captive born usually fall into three categories: 1)injured or orphaned wildlife that would not survive if released 2)nuisance animals that endanger people and would otherwise have to be destroyed 3)animals taken in a sustainable manner to introduce new genes to the captive population.

Gone are the days when zoos bred animals just to have cute babies to display every year. Zoos like Mesker Park that are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums now practice responsibility when it comes to managing their collection. Animals are paired up according to recommendations by the Species Survival Plans (SSP). SSPs strive to maintain the greatest genetic diversity and health in the captive population. They suggest pairings of animals and zoos cooperate by sending animals around the country and sometimes internationally.

Currently Mesker Park Zoo has breeding recommendations for a number of species including jaguars, toucans (yay Pico!), Brazilian cardinals, dart frogs, Francois langurs, red ruffed lemurs, hyancinth macaws, sitatungas, Grant’s zebras, white-mantled colobus, Przewalksi’s horses, galagos, and lorises. There are various measures taken to prevent offspring from those animals that aren’t recommended to breed. Of course, accidents happen.

Genetics may sound like an unromantic reason for animals to pair up, but in the end it’s up to the animals to decide if it really is a love match.

This Grant's zebra foal born in June 2008 (shown here at 3 days old) will soon be leaving to join her own genetically chosen mate.

This Grant's zebra foal born in June 2008 (shown here at 3 days old) will soon be leaving to join her own genetically chosen mate.

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Pico has decided to do some more interviewing. This time I cornered a zookeeper in the Kley Building. She was balancing a stack of pans that contained parrot pellets, seeds, and fruit. Her name tag said Mary Ann.

Zookeeper Mary Ann prepares some nutritous and delicious diets.

Zookeeper Mary Ann prepares some nutritious and delicious diets.

Pico: You look familiar. How long have you worked at this Zoo?

MAC: I’ve been here almost three years. Previously I was at the San Antonio Zoo for three years.

Pico: Did you work with toucans down there? Were they as handsome as Pico?

MAC: I worked with both keel-billed and toco toucans.

Pico: You didn’t answer the second question.

MAC: I also have a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Iowa and I spent a year working for Americorps.

Pico: Yes, but no degree in Toucan Studies. Perhaps you are the wrong person to judge Pico’s handsomeness. Tell me about some of the things you can do.

MAC: I’m currently working with one of the docents to train the blue and gold macaws to lower stress during vet procedures. I’m also helping to train the coati that lives in the Discovery Building. I enjoy giving out enrichment to the birds. A lot of them are suspicious of new things, so I put boxes and toys near food bowls so they’ll have to interact and learn that new things can be good.

Pico: Besides toucans, what species would you like to work with?

MAC: I would love the chance to work with Pinnipeds, which is the name for the group of animals that includes seals and sea lions.

Pico: And who is your favorite animal at the Zoo?

MAC: I really love the male wolf and Victoria, the mute swan.

Pico: See, you think Pico is going to storm off like last time, but no, I am a professional now. So I will ask one more question, what do you do away from the Zoo?

MAC: I play volleyball, go camping, and do crafts.

Pico: Might I suggest your time would be better spent taking a few classes in Toucan Studies?

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Pico tends to focus on animals, because well, he is one. But a big part of Mesker Park Zoo & Botanic Gardens is the plants! I was reminded of this recently when I happened to overhear, okay I eavesdropped (you already know Pico is a horrible gossip) on some of the horticulture staff working in AMAZONIA.

Every year the Zoo holds an event called the Bloomin’ Zoo Garden Festival. The horticulture staff spend the year propagating around 75 types of perennials, grasses, shrubs, trees, and other plants and then offer them up for sale to the public. A portion of the proceeds benefits Howell Wetlands. This year the event will be held on May 2nd and 3rd.

New this year are the location, which will be the new entry plaza, and some of the plants will be from AMAZONIA stock! Check back with the Zoo’s website closer to the event date for a complete list of what will be for sale. And remember, Zoo members get a special preview sale! 

this Polka Dot Begonia says "buy me!"

a Polka Dot Begonia says "buy me!"

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Pico the Toucan here. Today I’m playing gumshoe reporter and interviewing the Zoo’s Registrar, Dana Duke. I once read a Vogue magazine that the monkeys were playing with, so I feel I know how this should be done. I am perched in Dana’s office in the Kley Building. She looks relaxed in warm winter fleece sipping water from her eco-friendly reusable drink container.

Pico: Dana… may I call you Dana? What exactly does a Registrar do?

Dana: A Registrar keeps track of all the records that have to do with animals at the Zoo. Everything from basic medical, to keeper and management notes, to diet changes and where in the Zoo an animal is being housed. I also manage all the permits that allow us to have captive wildlife and deal with the paperwork and arrangements for ingoing and outgoing animals.

Pico: So you know the intimate details of Pico’s life? What qualifications do you need to work this job?

Dana: I worked as a keeper at the Zoo for 9 years before becoming Registrar in November 2007. It helps to have familiarity with the animal collection. You also have to have strict attention to detail and knowledge of computers and software. All zoos use a program called Animal Record Keeping System or ARKS. I had to attend AZA Institutional Record Keeping to learn how to use it and be an effective registrar.

Pico: What is new in the world of registrars? Any scandalous gossip?

Dana: The group that keeps track of all zoo animals is developing new record keeping software that will be web-based. Personally, I’m looking forward to learning how to navigate the incredibly complex “waters” of overseas animal transfers.

Pico: Do you have any outside interests?

Dana: I’m the Vice President of a dog breed rescue called Shar-pei Savers.

Pico: Who is your favorite animal at the Zoo? Feel free to say “Pico.”

Dana: My favorite animal is the male Sumatran tiger.

Pico: This interview is over!

Dana Duke, Registrar and toucan betrayer!

Dana Duke, Registrar and toucan betrayer!

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The wolves would probably enjoy eating Pico.

The wolves would probably enjoy eating Pico.

Pico was visiting his pals the turkey vultures when a police car went by with its sirens going. Suddenly I heard another kind of howling… from the grey wolf exhibit!

The Zoo currently has two wolves. The male has a white coat and the female has a grey coat. Their coats are especially fluffy and nice right now due to the cold temperatures. Historically grey wolves were found throughout Eurasia and North America and are adapted to a wide range of temperatures.

The Zoo’s wolves are older animals at 11 (female) and 12 (male). Wild wolves typically only live to around 10 years. They are in good health, however, and only require a supplement to help maintain their joints. They still enjoy playing with a wide variety of objects. Blankets are fun to rip apart and bury and shoes are fun to chew on. The pair’s normal diet is meat, but they enjoy apples and primate biscuits as treats. The female also likes to eat fish and mice. The male enjoys rubbing his face on mice and rolling on fish, but not eating them.

Wolves normally live in packs with a dominant male and female. The Zoo’s 90-pound male will sometimes exert his dominance over the 65-pound female, but mostly she walks all over him, taking his treats and making him regurgitate his food if she’s still hungry. He is more outgoing with his keepers, but the female has a marked preference for male keepers.

Stop by and visit Pico’s new predatory pals!

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