Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy Noon Year! Huh?

At Como, we like to ring in the New Year with our guests. So today we hosted our second annual Noon Year's Eve celebration. Kids danced and played games with Radio Disney, participated in some activities and then at noon....a beach ball drop!

Even the organutan's got into the fun.

Happy New Year's Everyone!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Chino is growing!

Chino is a 4 year old California sea lion who came to Como Zoo in April,2007. He came from the Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro, California after suffering permanent jaw damage from being tangled in garbage in the ocean. Once Chino reached a healthy weight, they determined through x-rays that his jaw damage went all the way to the bone and he would never be able to hunt for live fish in the wild. He has been a fast learner from the moment they started training him, and has made leaps and bounds in his training over the last year.

One behaviors we trained was to allow us to measure how wide he can open his mouth. As you can see his scar runs almost completely around his head, and veterinary staff want to document how his growth affects his injury. His injury could potentially cause him problems if if the scar tissue doesn't stretch as he grows which could further restrict his range of motion. As a young male, Chino still has a lot of growing to do. When he came to Como he weighed about 160 pounds, and he's gained over 100 pounds since then! He could easily grow to weigh between 500 and 900 pounds! We were not sure how his jaw would respond to this growth, but it appears he is doing very well! When we first measured his mouth, it opened about 4.7 centimeters and now he is opening it 6.3 centimeters! Way to go Chino!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Happy Birthday Jaya!

December 13th marks a day that the zoo keepers at Como Zoo won't soon forget. Last year on this day Jaya, a male orangutan was born via C-section, a first for Como and one of only 9 successful births in this manner for orangutans in zoos worldwide. After being raised by zoo keepers for the first 12 days of his life, he was reintroduced to his mother on Christmas Day. To celebrate his first birthday, enrichment volunteers prepared a special cake for Jaya and all his fellow primates in the building. Party hats and banners were in abundance and the enrichment volunteers all sang him happy birthday. It was a successful celebration for all involved.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A new show for Sparky

You couldn't tell by the look of it, but right now we're doing important work getting ready for anther season of Sparky Shows! Even though the stage is covered with snow, we are inside working hard to create a new Sparky Show for next year. This means we are busy writing a new script and coming up with new behaviors Sparky can do in the show. A lot of people are surprised to know that Sparky's training continues year round, not just during Sparky Shows. There are several reasons we train her year round. First, we train her to perform a number of medical behaviors that make visits with the vets not scary and just a normal part of her day. Second, training is an important way to build a trusting relationship between Sparky and her trainers. Finally, depending on how challenging the behavior is, it can take weeks to years to learn new behaviors. That means that some of the behaviors we are teaching her now, you won't see in a Sparky Show until 2010! And on that note, I must get back to work because Sparky is ready for her afternoon training session!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Not your average morning

Last Friday was a reminder to me that I do not have a normal 9-5 job.

My day started out in the Primate building, where the keepers and vets were preforming a routine physical on Schroeder, Como Zoo's biggest gorilla weighing in at 500lbs. Once fully sedated, the cardiology team from the University of Minnesota were able to get some great ultrasound views of Schroeder's heart, even to the point of being able to see the valves opening and closing. Schroeder also had his teeth and blood work checked, blood pressure tested, and got all his necessary vaccinations.

Following a successful procedure where Schroeder received a clean bill of health, I went to the Aquatic Animal building where I assisted with ultrasounds for our seals and sea lions. This was merely practice for the pinnipeds and they did swimmingly (pun intended!), holding very still for the veterinarian and giving us a good picture of their internal organs.

Definitely not your average morning...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Near-sighted Orangutan

Have you ever had to hold something close to your face to focus on it? This can be a sign that your vision is changing. Being a human, you would be able to go to the opthamologist and have an eye exam done. Easy right? Now try having the same problem, but you're an almost 300 pound male orangutan. You can't tell the zoo keepers you're having trouble focusing, all you can do is show them. Recently, we had an opthamologist from the University of Minnesota confirm that Jambu, the adult male orangutan at the zoo, is near-sighted. Zoo keepers have suspected that Jambu may have trouble focusing on things further than arms' distance because he examines new items that he is given by holding them a foot or less away from his face. During an operant conditioning training session, Jambu was given a preliminary examination from an opthamology vet from the U of M. Jambu was an excellent patient, but being a wild animal, the opthamologist was not able to get as close as she needed for a full exam and still be safe. Last week though, when Jambu was scheduled for his annual physical, the opthamologist was able to examine him fully while he was under sedation. She confirmed that Jambu is extremely near-sighted in his right eye, much more so than in his left. As of now, Jambu continues to get along very well with his limited vision, so aside from continuing his eye exams during training sessions, no further action will be taken.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

1) I'm wondering what sort of people take the trips on the buggies -- what draws them to Churchill for this experience -- and what sort of training or orientation are they given to keep a respectful distance from the bears?

I was surprised by the variety of people who took trips to Churchill! Many of the guests were not from North America; a lot of folks were from the United Kingdom, Australia, or New Zealand. That being said, all of the guests had one thing in common: They love polar bears! Many people were there because they believed it would be their last chance to see polar bears in the wild.

Many were also very interested the other wildlife around Churchill. We saw a number of snowy owls perched on rocks in the tidal flats, ptarmigan (which is an Arctic member or the grouse family) and both red and arctic foxes. Some buggies even got to see caribou (I was not so lucky).

In addition to being nature lovers, a significant number of photographers joined us on board the buggies.

In reference to your question about any training, before a group goes out on the tundra, the drivers give an introduction to the day and discuss the buggy rules and the importance of respect for the animals. In Manitoba it is illegal to harass, bait, or feed polar bears, and this law is taken very seriously by the citizens and tour companies. Drivers explain that there is no food or drink allowed on the back deck; anyone caught feeding or baiting a bear will be picked up from the buggy by a helicopter, at their cost, and flown back to town. They will also be fined or could serve jail time. In a situation where the person is not able to be identified, the entire buggy and all on board will return to launch. In my expereince, guests always understood the importance of this law and no one ever tried to sneak the bears food.

In addition, the drivers are trained to pay attention to the body language of the animals as we approach them in the buggies. They emphasize that we are traveling in the bears’ territory. If a driver senses a bear is uncomfortable with the buggy's presence, they will respect that animal by not approaching them or leaving the area. As an animal trainer, I was very impressed by how well the drivers and tour guides know the animals!

Polar Bears International (PBI) was also able to fund a research project to evaluate the effect of ecotourism on the bears. The results identified various ways tundra vehicles could approach bears to minimize a response from them. The research also helped to understand precursor behaviors bears display that indicate a potential negative response to the buggies.

2) Now that you're back, if you what do you wish you would have known before you went on this trip that would have made it a better experience for you?

I wish I would have had a better camera! My point and shoot digital did not do justice to the bears or the scenery. But other than that, I felt very well prepared. Prior to my trip, I was given hundreds of pages of information by PBI to read and learn. In addition, working with our polar bears at Como Zoo and answering visitors' questions was a lot of help in preparing me for what I encountered in Churchill.

Thanks again for your questions!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Home from the tundra!

It's always a weird feeling coming back to work after a vacation, but this is a completely new feeling! I have been in Churchill for the last 2 weeks out on the Tundra Buggy everyday talking with visitors about Polar Bears International and polar bears in general. As a zookeeper, my main responsibility was to share with people how polar bears in zoos are turning out to be some of the most important subjects to help us protect bears in the wild! They are serving as ambassadors for their wild counterparts in an unprecedented way by participating in research projects that help us learn more about bears in the wild and protect them more effectively. In addition, I go on to talk about just how amazingly the bears have adapted to one of the harshest climates in the world. I was truly inspired by being out on the tundra everyday talking with people who care about bears, collaborating with other zookeepers, and answering questions about polar bears and climate change. Sometimes it may feel like the problem is too big, or its too late to change, but talking with the top scientists who say we can still change and meeting so many people who care and are ready to take action got me motivated to make as many changes in my life as I can! Now I am hoping to keep this momentum and inspire all of us to lead more sustainable lives in hopes of saving the polar bears!

Friday, October 24, 2008

ZooBoo on Twin Cities Live

Thursday's Episode of Twin Cities Live on KSTP

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Max the Harbor Seal

On September 23rd Max, a 26 year old harbor seal, was transported to the University of Minnesota for removal of an ocular tumor on his right eye. Dr. LaRocca, a veterinary ophthalmologist, worked in collaboration with Como Zoo’s vet Dr. Trent and the University of Minnesota veterinary staff. The surgery was a success and Max had his one month check up with Dr. LaRocca today and is healing well. He is continuing to participate in his operant conditioning training program. Since Max participates in his own medical behaviors through training, we were able to closely monitor the tumor before surgery and are now able to examine the surgical site. The keepers would like to thank all who helped make this medical procedure a success.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

ZooBoo on KSTP

Monday, October 20, 2008

October at Como Zoo

October brings about many changes at the zoo. The switch to winter hours occured on October 1, meaning the zoo closes at 4pm instead of 6pm, bringing all the zookeepers to the zoo at the same time instead of in split shifts. Wood cutouts of animals and fairy-tale creatures among other things start springing up all over the grounds in preparation for Zoo Boo. And, as the temperatures continue to drop, it is time to winterize the Bird Yard. The migration of the flamingos, ducks, and geese from the Bird Yard exhibit occured last Thursday. Keepers rounded up the birds carrying them down to the Animal Support Building where they were checked over, weighed, and photographed before being placed in their indoor holding. The Animal Support Building is once again filled with noisy quacking and honking.

Our newest addition, the flamingo chick hatched this July has grown like a weed! As you can see in the picture below, it is almost the same size as the rest of the flock and is starting to get the pink feathers of an adult. Feather samples have been sent to a lab to determine the sex of the little one. We will continue to give the flamingos access to their outside holdings during the nice sunny days in October, but it is nice to be able to close them in at night to make sure they stay toasty warm. Hopefully next spring will come quickly and we can look forward to moving them back to the Bird Yard for everyone to enjoy.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Baby Giraffe in the News

Monday, October 13, 2008

Baby Giraffe

A new baby giraffe born October 3 made it's big debut today. The "little" girl is 5' 5" and approximately 150 pounds.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Happy birthday to me!

As I sit here and write my blog, two of my friends (Maribeth and Becca) are singing me happy birthday!!!! was my birthday!!!!!!!!! haha...and if I might add, probably the best birthday I will ever have. The day was filled with once in a lifetime activities that I will never forget. It all started out by the mother and her two cubs coming up to the Tundra Buggy for the first time. I invited them to my party : ). haha That was amazing.

After taking hundreds of videos and pictures of the bears, we had a priority to fulfill. A helicopter ride to be exact. What a wonderful birthday present right?! We took a tundra buggy out to a safe place where the helicopters would be picking us up. The group met with the pilots and drivers and learned about these amazing vehicles before we piled into them for our ride to the den. As I entered the helicopter, I had no idea what to expect. I had requested to sit in the front so I could get the full effects of the ride. It truly felt like I was in a video game. It felt surreal. Our pilot was an amazing tour guide considering he was telling us about the land hundreds of feet off the ground, going at about 90 miles per hour. As we landed I imagined what the tundra would feel like, and as I stepped out onto the precious tundra floor, I was surprised by the squishy spongy feeling under my feet. It was amazing. After exploring the maternal den, looking out over the river at the autumn trees, and investigating about the earth, we hopped back onto the helicopter to return to the tundra buggy. It was one of the most incredible experiences I have ever encountered!!!!!!!

After returning to the lodge, we did a video conference, ate lunch, and got some business done. Kathy came up to me and asked me if I wanted to call my parents. I wondered “well I don’t REALLY want to, but I guess that would be nice, seeing it is my 17th birthday!” So she took me into the girls bunk for some reason, maybe because it is quieter in there, and I called my mom and dad. After I was done, her and a few adults led me to the dining car and told me to open the door. So I did! I opened the door slowly, and peering inside, I saw that it was dark! I was like, “what the heck?!” and all of a sudden, everyone popped out from under the tables and yelled “SURPRISE! HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!” and began singing and taking pictures. Of course, I began to cry because all day I was hoping that something really special would happen. My dream came true! It was amazing. It was so sweet that they spent their time and efforts to make my birthday even better!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Sneakin on the Computer

Good evening Como!
It's 11 o'clock in the evening and the reason I'm up so late is because we had a very amazing experience tonight!!! The group was being given a presentation about the greenhouse effect and The Northern Lights by Stacy when we got interrupted by the shouting of "BEAR! BEAR!". The mother and two cubs that we have been tracking came to our camp and were right outside our windows!!!! It was the most extravagant beautiful site I've ever seen. And actually right at this moment everyone is crowding around the windows looking in awe at them and taking pictures. I am not technically supposed to be blogging because I was on "kitchen duty" but I thought I just had to let you guys know!!!!!

Tomorrow's my birthday and the group has some BIGGGGGG plans!!!!

I'm off to shower and get ready for my big day!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

guest speakers!

Hello Como! Here are a few pictures from my previous days of adventures!!

Today was filled with adventurous activities but i would like to just touch base on a few of the most exciting and important ones.

We ventured onto the tundra, hoping to spot some bears, and after almost giving up and going home we did! Or should I say James did! Out in the distance along the horizon James spotted the mom and two cubs that we think were the ones we spotted yesterday. The group got to witness them trudging across the water in a single file line and resting in the grass on the other side. That was an amazing site. I definitely took a lot of pictures!

After returning from our adventure on the tundra we did some group activities and then Carolyn and Robert's friends from Churchill came in and talked with us about their career as trappers. Parker, Jim, and Betty brought with tons of different pelts from various animals which were incredible! Everyone got to feel them and take pictures with them. They told us about their lives and told us some stories about their hunting experiences. Definitely very inspiring...

The group then was greeted by a man named Kevin Burke. He is an official Tundra Buggy driver. We all sat in the meeting car listening to his fantastic stories about driving the buggy's and how he got started in the business. His inspirational stories and words of wisdom consisting of "follow your dreams" brought tears to my eyes. Kevin is an amazing guy.

Now I'm off to watch the sunset!! : )

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Today was the day!!!

Oh my gosh!!! Today was the day of our first polar bear sighting, and for me it was the most amazing moment of my life. Eva (the student from Denmark) spotted them first, and yes it was a THEM!!!!! Our first polar bear sighting was of a mom and two cubs. How incredible is that!?

Well ill start from the start. We woke up at around 7:15 and ate breakfast at about 7:30. Breakfast consisted of oatmeal, cereal, yogurt, and toast. The group then gathered in the meeting car for a quick discussion about natural tundra happenings, and what our plan is for the week. After getting abruptly interrupted by a bear warning...we were told to gather our belongings, change into our long underwear and blue coats, and load onto the buggy. After about an hour of driving through mucky ponds and over gigantic boulders, we spotted an arctic hare and some birds. Finally Eva spotted some white blob in the distance which just happened to be a mom and her two cubs!!! Like Robert Buchanan said "all you can hear is the sound of your own heart". He was so true! It was the most amazing feeling and sight i had ever seen. We followed them around for about 2 and a half hours, watching them walk, lay, and play with sticks. Those 2 hours seemed like 5 minutes. After oohing and ahhing over these three adorable bears, we decided to head on back to the Tundra Buggy Lodge. After returning we split off into our groups and we began planning our "Impacts" presentations.

Well I'm off to dinner now!!!!

Friday, October 3, 2008

First night on the tundra buggy!!!

Hey everyone!!!! I arrived in Winnipeg yesterday at around 2 PM. I didn't get lost in the airport! Yay! I was greeted by Robert and Carolyn Buchanan and soon met with the other campers in the lobby restaurant. Everyone was so nice. We sat and talked until everyone arrived at about 4:30 and then we gathered in the “Lakeside” meeting hall in the hotel. We did an ice breaker, listened to guest speakers from the sponsor’s of the camp, and ate a delicious dinner (which had AMAZING deserts!) After dinner we had a power point presentation by Robert Taylor who takes incredible pictures out here on the tundra! I envy his picture taking skills. After that inspiring power point, we were given CANADA GOOD JACKETS!!!!!!!!, probably the most amazing jackets ever. We are the first camp to receive these 350$ blue jackets with a fur hood! How cool is that?! After the meeting we departed to our rooms and got ready for bed. My roommate was awesome! Her name is Maribeth Flowers. Seeing we had to arise at 4 AM, we went straight to bed after talking for a while.

Our day consisted of waking up at 4 Am and boarding a small personal jet. We visited Parks Canada wildlife center and then got on a coach bus and headed for the small town of Churchill; which has a population of about 900 people. Very different from our Como Park Community, but very unique and full of character. After walking down the street we ate lunch at Gypsy's cafe and soon after we visited the school/community center, post office, and the amazing Hudson Bay! After our little tour, we hopped on the coach bus and visited the polar bear jail! we met with Sean Bobier who is the Conservation Officer of Churchill.

After that... what we all were waiting for!!! Our first expedition to the Tundra Buggy! We drove for about 2 hours onto the tundra and arrived at our amazing Tundra Buggy Lodge! The group claimed bunks and then gathered for a safety meeting. The meeting ended and we scurried to the dinner car to eat a delicious dinner cooked by Robert Greg the cook! We ate sandwiches and soup! Now the group is just blogging away and hopefully...waiting to see the Northern Lights!!!!!!!

Now I'm off to see the Aurora Borealis!!!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Hey! It's the night before I leave for Churchill and I'm supppper excited!!!! I am sad to say that I haven't packed yet..but I'm working on it. I am so anxious to meet everyone tomorrow after arriving in Winnipeg. I can't wait to depart on my adventure to the tundra and learn everything there is know about POLAR BEARS! I'm looking forward to gaining speaking and leadership skills so I can return to my Como Park Community and share what I've learned. I can't wait to hop on that tundra buggy and go exploring!!!!!!!!!

Now I'm off to catch a polar bear! : )

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

End of the Summer

As the summer is starting to wind down, some animals are just getting started. Just this morning Jaya, the baby orangutan, was climbing all over the exhibit. He was swinging on all of the ropes and climbing around just like the big orangutans. The other orangutan watched from the ground as Jaya explored new heights.

The baby flamingo also has grown a lot and has started exploring. The flamingo still has grey fluffy feathers but now is able to wonder around the bird yard.

During your visit, you can also view a miniature Union Pacific train. The train is located by the bird yard and will be on display through out the week. September 7th is the last day Blooming Butterflies will be open to the public but if you miss it this summer the exhibit will be opening again next summer. Stop by Como Park Zoo and Conservatory for one last adventure this summer.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Japanese Lantern Lighting Festival

This years festival was a huge success. The weather was beautiful which helped in the amazing turn out. This years theme was 'Elements of Tea.' There were a few booths that sampled tea, hot and cold. The entertainment was on the main stage which included dancing and music. There were martial arts demonstrations through out the festival grounds. Booths showcased topics regarding the Japanese culture, ranging from games to pottery. There were also special tours to the Tea House. At dusk the lanterns were light in the Frog pond and the Japanese Garden. It was a very peaceful and beautiful way to close out the festival. Thank you to all of those who participated and attended this event.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Presenting Murry!

Murry a male Amur Tiger came to us in June from the Lake Superior Zoo in Duluth. After a mandatory 30 stay in quarantine to make sure he was free of any bugs or parasites that could be transferred to the zoo collection, he was moved to the Large Cat Building. After a few weeks of getting used to the building and his holding area, he was offered the chance to go on exhibit. The first few days he looked at the open door, but did not venture onto the exhibit. Finally on Wednesday he made his way outside, and as you can see from the picture, Murry looks quite content outside. Murry will be splitting his time on the exhibit with the female tiger, Pahstrel, until they are introduced later this year. For now, they are meeting through a mesh wall to get the scent and sight of eachother. Murry is a big guy, about 450 pounds, dwarfing petite Pahstrel by about 250 pounds! He has a mellow temperment, and we feel he will be a great addition to the cat house. Murry is being incorporated into Como Zoo's Operant Conditioning Training Program, and should learn the basics of training such as targets, paw presents, and shifting quite quickly.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Busy Days

Each day there is something exciting happening at Como Park Zoo and Conservatory. On Saturday there were two company picnics, wedding ceremonies and wedding receptions. The grounds were fairly busy with the general public because it was such a beautiful day. Almost all of the animals were outside and they were very active. Visiting the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory is a great place to plan any event or just to come for a day visit.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Sparky's Learning!

When she isn't performing Sparky VI is learning all kinds of new behaviors. Sometimes that means learning something completely new, sometimes it means building off of something she already knows and making it a little more complex, and other times it means reminding her of a behavior she already knows!

Yes, believe it or not, sea lions can forget things too! For example, Sparky VI knows how to balance a ball on her nose both on the land and in the water. At one point in her life, she also knew how to hold it on her nose while she came out of the water and onto the stage, which is quite a leap if you've seen the show! However, about a year ago she either forgot the behavior or something has prevented her from being able to perform it for over a year.

As trainers it is our job to determine why she isn't performing the behavior anymore and figure out if and how we can get her doing the ball balance again. The first thing we needed to assess was if she was still physically capable of doing the behavior. When I was 12 I could do a back-flip, but it would be unfair to expect me to do that now since I haven't done one in years and I am completely out of practice! We had to find out if the behavior have become uncomfortable to do for some reason. Did she pull a muscle? Has her muscle tone or sense of balance changed recently? As trainers sometimes we can pick up on very subtle behavioral cues which would indicate the animal might have a medical issue that would need the vets attention. We tested her balance and strength and determined none of these to be an issue. She was performing all of her most challenging behaviors without any hesitation! We also checked her weight to see if she had gained any additional poundage that would make it difficult to perform the behavior. Our pinnipeds are weight each week and she was well within her normal range, which is 130-140 lbs. Luckily there did not seem to me a medical or physical reason for why she would not come out of the water with the ball on her nose.

Hmmm, so if she appears to be physically capable then why would she not do it? Well, it could be a number of things: she could have forgetten, maybe she just doesn't want to, or maybe she messed up one time and now she is not sure she can do it! Either way to get the behavior back, patience it key. I needed to make every step towards the final behavior very rewarding which means she gets lots of fish and attention. If she forgot and isn't sure she can do it anymore then taking small steps towards the final behavior will hopefully remind her what we would like her to do. So that is what we have been doing all summer. I asked her to hold the ball steadily on her nose in the water, and gave her lots of fish! Then I asked her to come on deck and if she swam quickly towards me, I gave her lots of fish! Next I expected her to try and come out of the water, even if she couldn't keep the back on her nose, I would give her lots of fish, an A for effort! Well that seemed to fix it! Now she tries everytime to keep the ball on her nose and come out of the water. Sometimes she does it perfectly and she practically gets her whole bucket of fish! Other times she drops it, but I still feed her so the behavior stays fun and interesting for her. Afterall, one of the major reasons we train aniamls is to keep the animals mentally stimulated. In addition, this behavior is developing her muscle strength and tone and increasing her agility. Hopefully by next summer she will be keeping the ball on her nose and moving all around the stage and water easily!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Proud Mother Jen

For the first time in the history of Como Zoo, we have a flamingo chick! Como's bird keeper, Jen, has worked diligently for the past several years, trying to create the optimal conditions needed for egg laying and chick rearing. This year was a success! Three Chilean flamingos laid an egg each which was swapped out with a false egg so the real eggs could be put in an incubator to ensure they were not accidently stepped on or broken. Two turned out to be infertile, but one was fertile and a careful watch began waiting for it to hatch. After a 28 day incubation period, the time had come. Keepers were able to hear the chick calling from within the egg and feel the movement of it trying to escape the shell. The dummy egg was replaced by the now hatching egg to allow the parent flamingos to start bonding with their baby. Early Thursday morning when zookeepers got to work for the day, they got their first glimpse of the small white chick from under the wing of the father flamingo. The first time parents have been doing an amazing job, feeding crop "milk" to the chick and keeping it warm. Now that it has started to stand and wander around the nest, the two adults are kept busy following the chick as it checks out the wide world around. The chick will continue to get braver and wander the bird exhibit more, but the parents will maintain a constant vigil. Stop by the bird yard and see the little cutie. The zookeepers are very proud of the successful hatch and have hopes of more in the future. Jen is definitely the mother hen of the bird exhibit and her hard work has paid off.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Sparky the 5th is 30 year old!

That’s right, this weekend Sparky V celebrated his 30th birthday!

He began doing Sparky the Sea Lion shows in the early 80’s with Norm Byng. He entertained visitors for over 20 years, until he and his trainer retired in 2001. Even though Sparky is retired from shows, he is still trained daily, and remembers many of his show behaviors. You may remember Sparky’s run in with the Minnesota mosquito. He used to show the crowd where the mosquito bit him, right on his rump and he would show everyone just how noisy that mosquito was! I still remember the whole routine he and Norm did because I made my parents take me to the zoo all the time. Sparky is quite a legend here at Como and we value everyday we get to work with him in our training sessions, knowing that for a sea lion he has now fully entered "Old Age." California sea lions, like Sparky, on average live 15-25 years in the wild and about 30 years in captivity. However, according to our records, the oldest sea lion in captivity has lived to be 35 years old , so we are pushing for Sparky to break that record!

To celebrate his birthday the visitors and news crews sang him "Happy Birthday!" and his keepers made a special frozen fish birthday cake just for him and one for each of his roommates. He also painted a picture to document the day. Volunteers helped decorate the island by making an awsome banner to hang on Seal Island!

Thanks to everyone who came out to help us celebrate and Happy Birthday Sparky!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Ralph "Doc" Farnsworth on Twin Cities Live

KSTP's Twin Cities Live - July 22, 2008

Como Zoo Vet Retires after 45 Years

We recently said goodbye to Ralph "Doc" Farnsworth who has retired from Como Zoo and the Unversity of Minnesota School of Veternariy Science.

Star Tribune Story - July 7, 2008

From Como Zoo vet to volunteer

CHRIS HAVENS, Star Tribune
The gorillas probably won't miss Ralph Farnsworth all that much.
Just seeing the veterinarian in his khaki hat walking toward their home at the Como Zoo gets them riled and banging on the glass. When he showed up, they knew they were about to be prodded and maybe stuck with a needle or two.

They'll be resting easier now because Doc, as he's known around the St. Paul zoo, retired last week after more than 40 years of treating the animals.
"I'm old enough," the 71-year-old veterinarian said. "You've got to quit sometime. Might as well do it while I'm in good enough health."

Yes, he still has all of his fingers and toes and a few memories of close calls. His patients have included birds, sea lions and giraffes. He prefers larger animals, despite his smaller stature.
His career didn't come with much of a handbook, so he forged ahead using common sense, intestinal fortitude and animal tranquilizers.

The problem with working with zoo animals, he said, is simple: If you get hurt, you probably get killed.

Farnsworth never liked to get bit, said zoo curator John Dee, who started at Como 20 years ago as a keeper. "You always made sure you had a good hold on the animal," he said.
Not scared? Not careful Farnsworth never planned on working with exotic animals.
But over his career he flew with a gorilla sedated on a stretcher in a small jet to Omaha, captured a moose loose on the grounds of the Glensheen Mansion in Duluth and bottle-fed baby lions in his home. He has shared his knowledge with numerous students.

A few things he has learned:
• Animals are resilient. Sometimes it's best to give nature a chance to be a healer.
• Given the choice, it's better to be on a plane with a gorilla than a horse. "A gorilla has a lot more sense than a horse."
• Sometimes more rewarding than just keeping animals healthy is knowing that people will be able to keep seeing the species.
• If it's not scary working in an animal's pen, then you're not being careful.
Farnsworth's favorite thing about the job has been the challenge of doing it.
Zoo medicine has changed tremendously since Farnsworth started. The level of care was based on how close a vet could get to an animal, he said.
In the old days, ropes were used. Then tranquilizers became safer and safer. Now, some animals respond to commands.

The animal he enjoys working with most is also the most difficult: the long-necked, long-legged giraffe. "They look graceful and nice, but they can kill you very easily," he said.
Farnsworth can be a character, Dee said, but he takes treating animals very seriously.
"If there was an expert around, he got the expert," Dee said. "He was never bashful about getting help so we got the best care for the animals."
Arlene Scheunemann, a zoo board member and longtime volunteer, first met Farnsworth 40 years ago. "He has been absolutely excellent," she said. "Doc was always around."
She fielded late-night calls from him to rush to the zoo to help with a sick animal and returned the favor when her family would take home baby orangutans, tigers and gorillas.
Taking baby animals home for a couple of months was common practice years ago because there wasn't enough room in the old, cramped facility.

No more milking Farnsworth grew up on a dairy farm near Toledo, Ohio, and had every intention of returning to it after college at Ohio State University. But he ended up in vet school and after graduating took a teaching job at the University of Minnesota. That was in 1962, and immediately he began helping out part time at Como.

In 1965, he became the zoo's primary veterinarian in addition to his U duties. "I ended up being on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week for 45-plus years," he said.
Dr. Micky Trent, a U colleague who has been working with Farnsworth over the past several years, will take over as the zoo's primary vet.

Dee said Farnsworth remains on speed dial and will serve as a "special volunteer."
Farnsworth's feelings toward retirement are similar to those he felt when he watched the last cow get towed down the driveway of the family farm in Ohio. "It dawned on me -- now I don't have to milk tonight," he said. "That's kind of how I feel today."

Chris Havens • 651-298-1542

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Polar Bear Odyssey

The new web page for Polar Bear Odyssey is now updated and available for viewing. The link is located on the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory homepage. See updated photos of the construction, watch the construction live from our brand new web cam and see pictures of Buzz and Neil on vacation. The new exhibit will be opening in 2010.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Just a regular day at the Zoo!

Summertime is downtime for many kids while they are on vacation from school. But at the zoo it is our busiest time! In between caring for the animals and performing Sparky shows for the summer crowds, we also have some less exciting, but equally important maintenance work to do around the zoo. One of the wonderful things about being a zookeeper is that we never sit still for too long! Whether it is srubbing pools on our hands and knees, disinfecting enrichment items, preparing pools for painting, or vacuuming pools we are always moving!

Thanks Doc

After 45 of dedicated service Veterinarian Ralph Farnsworth (also known as Doc to some) has retired. He will still be seen around the zoo grounds not as a vet but as a volunteer. He has many memories of working with all of the animals and people but his favorite animal is the giraffe.
Doc has taught so many things to so many people. Thanks Doc for all of your great service here at Como Park Zoo.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Construction Underway

As some of you have may noticed the large piles of dirt and construction crews where the polar bear exhibit used to be. Construction is underway for their brand new exhibit opening in 2010. Just this week Como Park Zoo and Conservatory has just installed a web cam overlooking the construction zone. In the next couple of weeks you will be able to check the progress of the exhibit right on our website. The camera will be running 24 hours a day and will capture images every 5 minutes. Check back soon to see if the web cam is up and running.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Happy Birthday Sparky!

On Sunday we celebrated Sparky the sea lion's 18th birthday. Chino, Sparky's pool mate, came down at the end of the show and the entire audience sang happy birthday while Chino barked along. Sparky was born here at Como Zoo and is the first female Sparky to perform at Como in the 51 years that the Sparky show has been running.

Chino, being new to training, is not too sure of the adoring fans that flood the amphitheater, our plan is to incorporat him into the shows, but for now he's just getting used to everything. His eyes were as big as saucers when the audience starting singing happy birthday, but he stayed focused and finished the show with a wave.

Sparky sat up on her rock and gladly let everyone wish her a happy birthday.

Friday, June 27, 2008

AZA & Animal Planet Commercial

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Year of the Frog

Como Celebrates the Year of the Frog

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


New recycling containers have been delievered to Como Park Zoo and Conservatory. Eureka Recycling has set up a new program at the Zoo and Conservatory. Plastic, glass, aluminum cans along with milk cartons and juice boxes can be recycled in these new containers. Also learn about recycling at the new Sparky show.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Summer Reading Kick-Off

Summer reading has finally started at Como Park Zoo and Conservatory. On Thursday, June 4th MELSA kicked off the summer reading program. Events and activities included primate enrichment, DJ, face painting, puppet show and many others. This year's theme was "Look Whats Cookin." Though out the day you could see guests walking around the grounds wearing their own chief hats. Even the primates had their own hats and tee shirts to celebrate the day.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Blooming Butterflies

Friday, June 13, 2008

Happy Half Birthday Jaya!

Friday the 13th is a good day for the zookeepers. Today Jaya the male orangutan turns 6 months old! He had a precarious start, being born by C-section at the University of Minnesota and being raised by zoo keepers for the first 12 days of his life. We held him around the clock wearing a fake fur vest for him to cling to, feeding him bottles of formula and recording notes on his bowel movements, urination, and hiccups. The late night shifts made it particularily tough to stay awake as you watched him snooze on your chest so peacefully. Finally on Christmas Day, he was successfully introduced to his mother. We are all glad to see that he has grown and thrived in the first 6 months. Jaya will now venture away from mom Markisa for short periods climbing ropes or the mesh of the holding area, as well as put everything into his mouth, much like human infants. He is one of the cutest babies I've seen in a while. The orangutans are now on their outside exhibit and can usually be found lounging with fabric or a swimming pool over their heads for relief from the busy day. They do have the ability to go inside if they choose, so if you don't see them outside, they'll be inside hamming it up in front of the exhibit glass.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

School Group Season

During this time of year hundreds of school age children visit Como Park Zoo and Conservatory through out the week. It is a sight to see as bus after bus unloads in front of the Conservatory. Looking out the windows of the Visitor Center around 10 am you will be able to see this rainbow mob waiting to get into the zoo. When the doors open you can just feel the excitement of these groups as they walk by. If you are brave enough to go to the 11:30 am Sparky show you will get the full effect of the excitement at Como Zoo. As soon as Sparky enters the stage a thunder of applause and screams echo throughout the entire zoo. By 2 pm the buses are being loaded and the Zoo and Conservatory becomes quiet and peaceful while it waits in anticipation for tomorrows groups.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Blooming Butterflies is a blooming success!

This weekend was the grand opening of Blooming Butterflies, a summer exhibit of butterflies from around the world. Thousands went through the giant caterpillar shaped building this weekend, taking countless numbers of pictures. Children and adults alike reached out their arms hoping to supply a landing spot for the approximately 500 butterflies fluttering throughout the exhibit. One gentleman I spoke with had gone through three sets of batteries for his digital camera! Another was taking pictures of all the plants in the exhibit to bring to his landscaper to attract butterflies at his own home. Blooming Butterflies is a great resource for getting some amazing shots of butterflies. I saw people taking pictures with disposable cameras, cell phones, and some super high tech digital cameras with lenses longer than my arm. Even the amateur photographer can get a great picture as the butterflies literally are close enough to touch, although we ask that you don't touch them, rather let them touch you. I think it is great to see the delight on the visitors' faces when a butterfly swoops past them or lands on them. They are truly amazing creatures with such a wide array of colors and patterns. My favorite so far is the Glasswing Butterfly. We only have a few flying through the exhibit and they are difficult to spot because they are small and their wings are transparent except for the edges, but they are simply gorgeous! Blooming butterflies will be open all summer long with new butterflies being released into the exhibit on a regular basis. Stop by and test your photography skills.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Definitely not Ugly Ducklings...

We recently had some ruddy ducklings hatch out. The eggs were laid while the animals were still in the Animal Support Building, so we put them in the incubator when the birds moved out to the bird yard. One morning they had cracked their shells and were huddled together in the back of the incubator. They are growing like weeds and at only two weeks old are nearly full grown. We are now slowly lowering the temperature of their holding and once they've been checked over by the veterinarian, banded for identification, and vaccinated, they will join the other Ruddy ducks in the bird yard. Cute little things aren't they!

Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Butterflies are coming!!

Blooming Butterflies is new to Como Park Zoo and Conservatory this year. This exhibit will open June 6, 2008. Hundreds of butterflies will be housed in this caterpillar shaped building.
This week gardeners are finishing up planting and are preparing for the opening. Different butterflies found around the world will be showcased through out the season.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

A new addition...

We had an unexpected addition to the Como Zoo family on Saturday morning, a baby reindeer! At first glance, the calf is easily missed as she is dark brown and usually curled up on the ground near her mom. We received two female reindeer last fall. They had been with a male at their previous facility, but hadn't produced calves for several years, so it was unlikely that they would reproduce this year. Although she showed no signs of carrying extra weight, Nikka the reindeer gave birth to a very strong and healthy girl on Saturday morning. Reindeer calves are about 12-18 pounds at birth. Come see the baby when you get a chance.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Memorial Day Kick-Off

Well, it may have come on quietly, but it is definitely summer! It's 80 degrees, the sun is shining, the ice cream stands are out, and the Sparky Show has started! This years show is "Sparky's Coastal Journey" and it's all about her imaginary trip to California and the Arctic in search of polar bears. The kick-off was Saturday and it was a hit as crowds learned and laughed while Sparky and her trainer gallivanted all over the United States. Chino even came down for a surprise visit and waved to the surprised crowd!

And of course we were all happy to see the seals and sea lions out on the newly resurfaced Island soaking up the rays. Training demonstrations with the animals occur at 3:00pm daily (except for Mondays) and will begin on Saturday May 31st.

It's been a beautiful Memorial Day weekend, and just think, we have an entire summer of fantastic warm weather ahead of us!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Let the sun shine!

After a long winter and an even longer spring, the weather and construction around the zoo has finally cooperated enough for the Zebra and Giraffe to go out. After the yards had been cleaned and given the once over, we opened the doors for Jahari and Daisy Giraffe, and Ulysses the Grant's Zebra to enjoy the sunshine. All were a bit hesitant as is usual for hoofstock when there is a change in routine, but after only a few minutes, Ulysses was running and kicking up his heels as the giraffe calmly walked their exhibit, nibbling the new grass and looking at their adoring fans. We hope to get the rest of the giraffe herd out in the next week. Jenga, the almost two year old, seemed eager, but has not ventured out yet. 8 month old Autumn and mother Clover will get to go outside when it warms up a bit more. For now, they can be seen on the inside exhibit.

Let the Sun Shine and Happy Memorial Day weekend!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Chino is learning how to be a star!

Training is all about baby steps or approximations towards a final goal. When you get to see an animal perform a behavior, it may only take a few seconds, but many times the animal and trainer have been practicing the behavior for months and sometimes even years in order to learn the final product. Chino has been part of the trainer process since he arrived to Como in April 2007. He is very good with training and we hope that someday Chino can co-star in the Sparky Show. However, before that can happen he has to get used to a lot of different things; things most people would even think are a big deal, but he sure does! Chino has been out on our new Sparky stage many times since the weather has been nice and he is slowly getting used to the sights, smells, and sounds of the stage, but up until today he has never had visitors in the Sparky arena with him. He's been doing so well that today we thought we would invite a small group of kids into the amipitheater to help acclimate Chino to crowds. His first audience was small with about 30 kids and grown-ups. Everyone had to be on their very best behavior and sit very quietly so Chino didn't get scared and leave. He was fabulous! He looked around at everyone, looked back at his pool upstairs and then decided he would work with his trainer on a few behaviors. He even barked for everyone! Afterwards he went back upstairs with his trainer while Sparky showed off for the crowd. Thanks Chino!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Tiger training in the sunshine

One of the best parts of my job is getting to go to the different areas of the zoo to assist with the zoo's operant conditioning program. Operant conditioning, is a great way to mentally stimulate the animals as well as get them to participate in their own daily health care. Today, the cat keeper and I decided to try a session with Pahstrel, an Amur Tiger, outside on exhibit. Pahstrel was lounging in the sun in the tall grass at the center of her exhibit when we went out into the keeper area, but her ears perked up when she recognized our voices and heard us call for her, and after only a few seconds came over to the fence to begin her session. We do protected contact training with our big cats, meaning there is always a barrier between the trainer and the cats. As an added safety measure, we also use tongs to feed the training treats to the big cats. Even though they look cuddly and cute, these animals are wild, and would not hesitate to grab a finger or arm if the opportunity arose. Pahstrel was very eager and participated well for the session, putting her paws on the mesh when asked, as well as sitting and standing on her back legs on command. We kept it simple as she had not previously trained outside and was a bit distracted by the noises of the zoo getting ready to open for the day. At the end of the session, she returned to her spot in the middle of the exhibit to soak up the sunshine while it lasted.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Happy Mother's Day!

Happy Mother's Day!

As a mother, I appreciate all of the hard work that animal mom's put into their offspring. The care and attention they need is often times staggering...

Imagine nursing a baby orangutan for up to eight years!

Being pregnant for nearly 15 months and then giving birth to a six foot tall baby!

Giving birth to hedgehogs with quills just below the surface of their skin!

Mothers are wonderful, and while we should appreciate them everyday, take an extra moment today to thank them for all they do.