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.