Zoo Time 1

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Kemiri was recently euthanised after 22 years of a fantastic life at Adelaide Zoo where she was a much loved animal who truly loved humans. I have written about her before on the blog. Make sure to click through and read about the time she gave some humans a big scare.

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After we left Adelaide, Kemiri got to do something which – knowing her as well as we did – I am certain pleased her enormously. She became the Big Cat who interacted with the humans. She was a Sumatran Tiger who firmly believed she was a human, due to her hand raising.

On the Facebook post where they announced her passing, people posted a lot of photos of that time they got to meet her. She touched so many people across her long life and turned a lot of people into passionate supporters of animal conservation. But she really would not care about that – she just loved being near to the humans.

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Goodbye Miss C

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Earlier this month Adelaide Zoo said goodbye to Miss C, the oldest known Hoffmann’s Two-toed Sloth in the world. She was also the last sloth in Australia.

It had been my plan to go through our old photo directories in order to put some of the older photos into storage, taking out the better shots for posting on Fridays here, for the rest of this year. I was planning on working on it, soon.

But then Hailey from Discourse of a Divine Diva went to meet some sloths, and she mentioned Miss C passing, and I thought if I set myself a time limit maybe I would Get Some Photo Viewing Done. And I did!

I still have a lot of directories to go, and Miss C was not the most photogenic of zoo animals. I have found these shots, thus far.

As zoo members, we could drop into the zoo for a short visit or a long visit, show our membership card, and go in for “free” – you pay a yearly fee which is some very low amount of money in my opinion.
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So whenever we got there, we could choose – which way will we like to go today, which animals do we want to visit. There were times we went for the whole day and walked the entire zoo and took a lot of photos, and there were times when we dropped in first thing for a half hour to check on the new lion cubs or to see a specific animal.

We no longer live close enough to a zoo to be members. If you do, you should check with your local zoo and find out how much it is. Most of the time in Australia it is around $2-4 a week across the space of a year, and you may get some benefits like free entry to other zoos and the ability to volunteer or go behind the scenes, discounts in the zoo shops, and other unique experiences. You can find out more about Zoo Membership on the website for your local zoo. :)

animals, zoo

Sunday Selections @Snoskred 9

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A couple more tiger shots today!

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photography, Sunday Selections, zoo

How Do You Entertain A Lion?

I used to be a tour guide at the zoo back when we lived in Adelaide. Adelaide Zoo has many volunteer programs going on and one of them is called BEAZA – Behavioural Enrichment for Adelaide Zoo Animals. One Sunday we were lucky enough to be there when the Lions were presented with an interesting toy. Can anyone tell what it is? I left the images bigger than usual so you’ll have to click on the thumbnails for a better view.
Lion meets bowling ball
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Note that this enclosure has since been demolished and the Lions are in a new enclosure with a lot less unpleasant looking security arrangements. And yes, the item given to the Lions was rather the worse for wear when it was retrieved. You can see some of the clawmarks in the photos! They had a lot of fun with it.

What else do BEAZA do? Anything and everything – from building a shelter for the Brown Bears to creating an artificial termite mound for the Orangutans to making hammocks for the Sun Bears out of firehouse to providing pumpkins for the Hippos to play football with – and the list goes on. However the Hippos decided they like to eat pumpkin more than they like to kick it around with their feet so a weekly pumpkin treat is now on their menu. I know I have some photos of that somewhere, when I find them I will share. ;)

I miss my zoo time. We used to be there at least once a week. Now I haven’t been to a zoo in months – all the zoos nearby are quite a drive away. I’ve been going through a lot of the photo albums lately.. so many memories. Now Adelaide Zoo are set to get Pandas in 2009. We’ll have to go back to see that.

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Accident of birth – the SCARY country.

Inspired by this post by Julie Pippert and also the Wednesday Hump Day Hmmm thingy she’s got going on, I am now going to tell you about my fear of snakes.

I live in Australia. It’s a nice place, but look at it from the point of view of a parent with a child they want to protect. In the sea, we have great white sharks, the blue ringed octopus, stingrays, many things which can kill you. On land, we have several extremely poisonous spiders, and many of the most venomous snakes in the world.

I remember only once putting more than a toe in the sea before the age of eight – I went in up to my knees, but not for long. When I was eight I saw the movie Jaws, much of the footage of sharks was filmed where I lived, in the ocean I could swim in! So you can bet, I never went NEAR the sea for a long, long time.

And now an embarrassing story I’d love to forget but my Mum loves to tell it to everyone. When I was 2, I was making very good progress with toilet training. I also was a sneaky little child who liked to be put to bed and then sneak back out to watch more tv. My parents were watching a comedy show called “The Paul Hogan Show” – containing the Paul Hogan – and there was this skit where a snake flew up out of a toilet and bit someone. I refused to go near the toilet for the next six months. In fact I would not walk past if the toilet door was open. This set the stage for me to grow a very healthy fear of snakes.

As I grew up I never encountered a snake myself, other than at the zoo from time to time, and then it was only to scream at it. There was once a red bellied black snake in our street, but one of the ladies who saw it went and got their car and then ran over it until it was dead. The canteen lady had a red bellied black snake on her doorstep, she called in a snake catcher. I heard stories but never SAW one, even so my fear never went away, and it stopped me from doing a lot of fun things like bush walking. I was too scared to go near anything that resembled nature.

I think all parents in Australia make a choice at some point between scaring their kids so much they will keep away from our dangerous creatures, and teaching them to have a healthy respect for them. I think one of the major factors in this choice is whether *they* are scared of them, or have a healthy respect for them. There were kids in my class whose parents kept snakes, and taught them all about snakes. If I could choose one way or the other, it would never be to make a child fear something, because fear is not an easy thing to get rid of.

So how did it happen that I now have a deep love for reptiles? How can you take such a fear, and change it to adoration and fascination? Education, knowledge, love and time my friends. That, and a partner who grew up in the country and knows all about snakes, an interest in photography, a zoo membership, Steve Irwin (and the snakes all seemed to want to get away from him), the Discovery Channel and Animal Planet, and one very wonderful reptile keeper who I am sure was terrified of me at first because of my enthusiasm. But he loved cameras, and he often invited us photographers to get special shots or he would set them up for us. He and the other half would talk cameras while I would watch snakes.

It all began with the zoo membership. It was just over one hundred dollars and we both could go to the zoo anytime we liked without having to pay. We started going every weekend, sometimes both days, to walk around. The grounds were gorgeous, and we began to make friends with the animals. I was still a little scared to go into the reptile house, but the other half talked me into it one day, and I walked inside to find one of the most beautiful snakes I have ever encountered.

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He’s a green tree snake. That picture there is one of the *very* rare times he ever sat still. Each snake does have their own personality and this guy was so endearing and so cute.. I really fell in love. I could stand in front of his enclosure for hours at a time with a daffy looking grin on my face.

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His enclosure was supposed to have a waterfall and a pond in it, but the pond had sprung a leak and it hadn’t been fixed yet, so he would swim little loops in his water bowl.

So as I’ve mentioned before here on the blog, in the life of a zoo volunteer there are days when you get to the enclosures of the animals you love to find them empty. One day I arrived to find a different tree snake in the enclosure. Completely different color, different personality. I bit my lip hard trying not to burst into tears (and I’m doing the same now writing this) and went to find the reptile keeper to ask what had happened, I was certain he was going to tell me my favourite snake was dead.

So I found him and he could tell by looking at me, I didn’t even have to ask. He said “No, your snake is fine, another reptile park had a female the same color and we wanted to mate them, so I sent him off there”. I still miss my favourite snake more than I can tell you, but I soon fell in love with the Forest Cobra because one day he did the Cobra dance for me, and the Taipans became my good friends, and I lost my heart once again to the Taiwan Beauty Snake at Mogo Zoo.

I could tell you many facts about snakes. I could go on for days. I have books. I have information. I have knowledge. I can tell you about each kind of snake. I can tell you about the snakes I have seen and where I have seen them and what I thought of them. I can tell you about the snakes I have held and touched. I held an alligator – what a moment that was for me! The reptile house is now one of the FIRST places we go when we get to a zoo. I have seen snakes in the wild now and not been terrified. I would still be scared if they got into the house, because I once lost a cat to a snake bite years ago, but I would know what to *do*.

What it really boiled down to, what stopped the fear was learning –

– Snakes would do anything rather than bite you. They’re only going to bite you if they feel so threatened that they have no other choice, or if you accidentally step on them, or if they are in the process of shedding their skin and they can’t see as well as usual.

– Most snakes have a limited amount of venom and they would much rather use it on their next dinner than a human.

– If you give them a chance, snakes will avoid you. Stomp your feet, walk noisily and they will go to find a hiding place.

– If you do encounter one, stand still and let them go their own way. They want to get away from you – watch the Crocodile Hunter, you’ll see what I mean. ;)

I am still scared of spiders, but I am learning more about them.. it’s only a matter of time. ;) I recommend you check out how much membership to your local zoo would be and if you can afford it, get it. I miss my zoo time now that we’re too far from a zoo to go every weekend.

embarrassing stories, Hump Day Hmmm, zoo

A tale of two kitties..

Not my kitties, for a change. I thought I would write about something zoo related, and this time a happy post. You can read the slightly sad reminder to wear sunscreen for Jacunda here.

So the Sumatran Tiger. We had two in our zoo. I’m not using their names to protect the innocent, the female one was K, and the male one was T. T is a tiger that originally came out from Germany over 20 years ago and they think he was about 6 years old then, but nobody is sure.

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He’s an old grump, but his genes are very important. He has very few teeth left. He licks his food to death, well he would if it were live, but it is served to him prepared. He is easily the most bedraggled cat you’ve ever seen. He looks like something the cat dragged in. Ouch, yes it was lame but I could not resist.

K was hand reared at another Australian zoo. She is absolutely stunning.

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When you hand-rear an animal, you bring into being a whole range of issues that the general public would not expect. K seriously thinks she is a human. The keeper can give her a good pat, and while this is great in some ways for health checks and that kind of thing, this is not normal tiger behaviour. Tigers are supposed to chase and eat humans, not purr throatily at them while the human gives them a scratch under their chin like any domestic cat.

I was present in the cat tunnel one day when the keeper did his usual health check with her, and just the sight of him approaching would set her purring – the purring sounds like thunder, a very deep rumble. K also would like to be at the front of her enclosure, talking to the humans. You could call her, she would turn up and stare at you and rub her face against the bars, almost begging you to give her a scratch. Her old enclosure had bars and while most people do not like bars, K adored them because it meant she could feel close to her adoring public.

At one point they moved her into an enclosure with a glass front. One visitor was given a huge surprise one day when she actually tried to jump out of the enclosure to be closer to the human. She shattered the inch thick glass, lucky for the human that tinting had been applied which stopped the glass from completely breaking, or human would have made a new tiger friend. K would have loved it. I suspect the human would have freaked out.

So, when you want two kitties to *ahem* mate, what do you do? You put them in enclosures next to each other and if they seem to look like they want to get it on, you introduce them in the cat tunnel (aptly nicknamed the tunnel of love) and see what happens. And this is what they did one day.

T entered the tunnel expecting to see the rear end of a female tiger ready to mate, as this is normal tiger behaviour. What he got was an open claw to the face. He retaliated by grabbing K by the throat and not letting go. Lucky thing he has virtually no teeth left, or that would have been the end of K. To separate them, the keeper had to turn the firehose on them.

The mating attempt was not successful and sadly they came to the conclusion that they will probably never be able to mate K. She doesn’t understand how she’s supposed to act. It was never taught to her, and it probably can’t be now. She may not have the correct instincts to be a mother, as well.

It is a really hard decision for a zoo to have to make when offspring are born and things go wrong – do they hand rear, or do they let nature take its course? With a valuable animal like a Sumatran Tiger, which is so endangered, there is a strong argument for hand-rearing any off spring if the mother cannot cope. There are so few of them left in the world. It’s almost like playing god.

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You look her in the eye and tell her she can’t be here, because I sure can’t. I’m glad it’s not my decision to make. Some species handle it much better than others, the cheetah is a great example of a species you can hand rear without doing too much damage to them and how they will live the rest of their life.

animals, zoo

Remembering Jacunda The Jaguar

I’ve mentioned in a few comments I have left on people’s blogs about being a zoo volunteer guide. It’s a fantastic experience and one I would recommend to everyone, but it does have its highs and lows. I want to talk about one of the lows today because I look outside and I see the sun is shining and it is a beautiful day. I have reasons, you’ll see.

One of the things the keepers tell you early on is not to get too attached to the animals. They say it with a wry smile, because they know there is no way anyone can manage it. They get attached even though they know that sometime, in the life of every animal they look after, there will be a mourning. And really, we do the same with the pets we have at home, though we like to think it won’t happen, the reality is there all the same.

You do not think that same attachment will happen to you with Zoo animals – the reality of it is, we were in that zoo almost every weekend and we did get to know the animals, where they liked to be in their enclosure, the stories from the keepers of their behaviour behind the scenes and every keeper would have a tale about every animal, a day they remembered, something that animal did that just drew them to love them more.

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Being a zoo volunteer, you don’t just walk past each enclosure and walk on, you spend time there. Sometimes, I would go to the zoo just to see one specific animal. I had a favourite lion, a favourite tiger, even my favourite reptiles.

But in the zoo, from time to time, animals pass away – or, they might be sent elsewhere. Sometimes you walk to see an animal to find it missing and you panic panic panic until you find the keeper and he says “Oh, I sent the tree snake to Steve Irwin’s zoo, we swapped because they had one the same color and we wanted to mate them” or “{animal} is just off exhibit at the moment because {reason}” or “{animal} is at the health centre” or even “We couldn’t get {animal} out of their night quarters today whatever we did”.

The first time I experienced it myself was with Jacunda the Jaguar. She was a gorgeous animal, she loved to bask in the sun at the front of her enclosure. She talked to me, not with a voice, but by the look in her eyes and the flick of her tail. I would often stand there for an hour or so, just being near her. She was 23 years old and so it was expected that there would come a day when we would walk up to her enclosure and find it empty.

But I was unprepared for the absolute kick in the guts when it actually did happen. The first other guide we saw was our trainer and she knew before I even asked what I was going to ask, and she told me the sad news – Jacunda stopped eating a couple of weeks ago, they darted her, took her to the health centre, and found a tumour. As she was so old, the decision was made to euthanise her.

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And so you try to keep a smile on your face, you make it through the rest of the day, you hope you don’t run into the keeper of that area because you won’t know what to say and you know you’ll lose the ability to smile and pretend when faced with someone who is well aware that was your favourite animal and that was one of their favourites too and when you get home you just bawl yourself silly.

You mourn for a few days, you try to move on, but you never forget, and each time you walk past the enclosure your loved animal was in, you stop for a few moments of silence to remember. Even after they put a new animal in there, and then another animal gives birth, and life goes on in the zoo as it always does.

Six months later, I was completely unprepared when I opened the zoo magazine just before going to bed at just after midnight and read an interview with the vet, who happened to mention that he had a jaguar in his freezer that had been there for six months and he hadn’t had time to autopsy her yet. There was no other jaguar at the zoo, no possibility this was any other animal, and when I thought of how she loved to sit in the sun and how she was now stuck in the cold for an apparently undetermined time, this just ripped the scab off a wound I was pretending had healed.

Losses never leave you, they are always hiding somewhere beneath the surface. I am sure reading this, you are thinking of losses of animals you have loved.

So eventually, she was autopsied (it sounds so morbid but really it is not, it has to be done and the results shared with other zoos that keep the same animals, for the learning of *all*) and the news came back that she’d had a skin cancer. This made perfect sense to me. But I then realised, she’d been living under the same sun I had been living under for even longer than she had. And the amount of times I’d got sunburnt without really caring. If this blog post does nothing else, please please, wear sunscreen.

The zoo I was at had a very odd group of volunteers who ensured that animals did not stop educating even when they passed away. Thanks to them, after *another* six months, I had a chance to really say goodbye to Jacunda, when her “outer shell” came back from being whatever it is they do to them, tanning or preserving or something. The head coordinator of volunteers told me one day that Jacunda was in her office, and I spent half an hour touching her soft fur that I always wished I could pat while she was alive.

It was closure, in a way but not really because like I say, it never goes away. You carry the animals you love wherever you go. A month or two later her skull was on the touch table while I was manning it during school holidays and I could see where the tumour had been, it had even eaten through the bone. No wonder she couldn’t eat.

People say a lot of things about zoos but in the wild, Jacunda would have lived to maybe 12 if she was lucky. She had a long life, gave birth many times, and her offspring and her offsprings offspring may be at a zoo near you, inspiring people to advocate for wild animals the way she inspired me and many many others.

This pic is the last picture we ever took of her.

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I now live too far from a zoo to volunteer regularly. Some of the experiences I had, I will never ever forget. There were moments that are so precious to me and that I will remember for my lifetime. If you have the chance, become a volunteer at your local zoo. You won’t regret it.

And the next time you go to your zoo, give a nod to the keepers, who somehow manage to get up each and every day and go to a place where if everything has gone well, their much loved charges will be waiting for them but at the same time, knowing that they may not be.

And remember the sunscreen this summer.

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