Goodbye Philadelphia, Goodbye Zoo!

Wow! This summer has FLOWN by! It seems like just last week that I was packing up my dorm room and finishing up my finals. Its crazy to believe that I’ll be sending off to South Caicos for study abroad in less than two weeks and that I finished my internship at the zoo and moved out of my apartment in Philadelphia just about a week ago. It’s all finally starting to sink in, and I have to admit, I miss it more than I though I would. Mostly, its the people I met, my fabulously enthusiastic supervisor and the great friends I met from either the next state over or halfway across the country. But, its also difficult to leave something that has helped you grow so much, personally and professionally.

When I started out at the zoo, I was pretty motivated in a lot of different ways. I wanted to find a working environment that I could be comfortable in, but also feel challenged to do things I would normally not be the most comfortable doing, such as talking about important things in front of groups of people. Also, because I have been oddly shy since starting college, something that does not fit my personality at all,  I felt it was important for me to get out of my slump and make connections with my fellow interns.

This internship program really ended up being the perfect place for me to grow up into someone who can be confident in a working environment. The program began with a four day orientation, which trained us on topics that many people wouldn’t initially think are necessary in a zoo setting. We had conversations that highly consider the long list of difficult questions that guests have, and how to carry yourself as a zoo employee. This training was quite long and mimicked the training all zoo staff and professionals go through before starting work. After the four days were up, I felt confident that I could answer nearly any guest question with ease, or at least, know the direction to send them in if I did not know the answer, an incredibly important part of customer service. The staff are all encouraging and constantly thanking the interns, noting that they can see the hard work we put in all summer long.

Socially, I excelled in this environment. Being surrounded by kind,  hardworking, like-minded people was a wonderful opportunity that allowed me to feel comfortable enough to be entirely myself. Many of the people I’ve met are people who I can see myself reconnecting in the future and some that I hope to maintain contact with. Because of this I actually feel more excited and less nervous to meet the people in my abroad program, as I believe I will once again be surrounded by people who are also similar to me.

Ultimately, I am sad to be saying goodbye to such a wonderful city. I have truly been spoiled by the local food and sights! Coming from the sticks in northern NJ, living in a city was a great change of pace. Though I often missed being able to hop on my kayak whenever it got hot out, I found fun in some great museums, like the Academy of Sciences, Franklin Institute and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, there was always something new to discover. I am so grateful for all that the Zoo and city of Philadelphia had to offer!


White Handed Gibbons!

Animals are pretty weird, and often possess behaviors that are surprising to some humans. For example, many primates have a dominant hand, just like humans and certain species of tree frogs have been known to communicate using symbols they form with their forefeet. Upon starting my internship, I was told that I would need to conduct an observational study on any behavior in relation to any animal at the zoo. At first, I really struggled to choose an animal, not really knowing too many interesting facts about the animals at the zoo. But, one day when I was walking through the primate building, I found myself staring at a family of small apes climbing and swinging effortlessly through their multilayered exhibit, the white handed gibbons.

At the zoo, we have a family of four, Mercury, the father, Pheonice, the mother and their two sons, Orien (age 4) and Aries (age 2). These animals are considered lesser apes due to their size, and are often overlooked when guests see the gorillas across the way, but they are incredible! These primates are native southeast Asia, from southern China to Indonesia and weigh about 7-12 pounds. White handed gibbons are the most acrobatic primate and full of energy, making them incredibly entertaining to conduct a behavioral study on. I chose them, knowing I wanted to study something in regard to their family structure and after a few hours of watching, decided to study who initiates play more frequently, Aries or Orien, hypothesizing that Aries would, being the younger sibling.

Throughout my time, I observed for an hour per day, keeping an ethogram marking who initiated play, and what type of play was being initiated. The types of play ranged from tag, play wrestling and biting and food stealing. Honestly, not every single moment was exciting, during the 95+ degree days, neither me or the gibbons wanted to think about moving, and I wound up collecting little to no data on those days.

Approaching the end of my internship, I started to count up my tallies and figure out who was truly initiating play more frequently. Contradicting my hypothesis, Orien initiated play more times overall. Within the different types of play, Orien was more likely to initiate tag, while Aries would initiate wrestling and biting, Aries also was the only gibbon to be guilty of food stealing.

These observations can be helpful in understanding the family structure of this family, and can help record behavioral changes when an animal becomes stressed. I’ve enjoyed my experience with these animals, and have gotten to know them quite well from their physical appearance to their behavioral quirks. I’ll definitely be back to visit sometime in the future, and maybe next time Orien and Aries will have another younger sibling to pick on!



Humans Say the Darnedest Things…

This post includes a compilation of funny things I’ve heard while on the clock:

There is no doubt that our baby giraffe is bringing many curious and excited guests to the African Plains region of our zoo. Over the past few weeks, we’ve had interns stationed all along the giraffe exhibit to tell everyone about the baby, Beau. I was stationed at this location when a young guest comes up to me and asks, with the utmost confidence, “How old was he when he was born?” I turned to the guest, puzzled and kindly asked what he meant. He looked confused, and with a furrowed brow let out a long, “Uhhhhhh mom?” It turned out he meant to ask how tall the giraffe was when he was born!

A common statement made by guest (particularly when they see a red panda) is, “I WANT ONE!”. Understandably, this type of statement is one that we discourage at the zoo. When guests make this statement, it is important to remind them that it is a wild animal and they likely do not have the time or resources to provide that animal with a quality life. For example, the red panda’s diet consists of 90% bamboo, so unless there is a forest of bamboo in the backyard, the panda will not survive. As individuals working to improve the guest experience, comments like these are always responded to in the most positive way, making guests think about the animals as wild and not comparing them to their pet dog.

Lastly, at the zoo, one of our goals is for they animals to act as close as they would in the wild as possible. This is a wonderful thing, though it gets a little strange when it happens in front of young children. If I had a dollar for every time I heard, “…Mom…what are they doing?” I could probably buy myself a nice new pair of sunglasses. A few weeks ago, things went a little differently. I was standing in our reptile exercise yard and, to the left of me, the Galapagos tortoises were mating. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen this happen, but it is VERY obvious when it is. A young girl, probably about 6 years old, ran up to me and yelled in front of a crowd of other children, “THOSE TORTOISES ARE MAKING BABIES!” Struggling to hold in my laughter and shocked that she actually referred to them as a tortoise and not a turtle, I responded, enthusiastically, “Really? That’s wonderful! Here at the zoo, sometimes we call that ~calling the stork~” and the moms laughed and I continued my discussion about the red-footed tortoise in the yard.


Zoo Families!

So, as you may know, zoos often obtain their animals via inter-zoo breeding programs that connect zoos with once species of animal, and compare those animals for a good genetic match for the possibility of mating. Sometimes, families end up spread out across the country once the members reach breeding age and start a happy little zoo family of their own! These zoo families are unique both in the ways that they differ and imitate their lives in the wild.

My position within the Conservation Education department allowed me to really familiarize myself with two major zones of the zoo, mine being African Plains/McNeil Avian Center and the PECO Primate Reserve. Today I’m going to talk about two families in our primate reserve, our Sumatran Orangutans and our Western Lowland Gorillas.

Sumatran orangutans are critically endangered, with an estimated 14,000 individuals remaining, 80% of their habitat has been destroyed over the past 20 years. At the zoo, we have three sumatran orangutans, Sugi (father), Tua (mother) and Batu (daughter). In the wild, father orangutans do not stick around help raise the young, though the mother will invest heavily into each infant, nursing them for 4-5 years! Though, in the zoo, Sugi is consistently interacting with his daughter by building nests, grooming her and cuddling her. Despite the fact that they are in captivity, meaning Sugi is unable to physically leave the family, it is believed that Sugi learned his fatherly characteristics from his own father.

Compared to the orangutans, our gorilla family has a slightly more complicated family structure. Gorilla families are often referred to as “troops”, which typically include one adult male gorilla, a few female mates, and their offspring. At the zoo our troop includes, Motuba (Father), Honi (Mother), Kira (Mother), Amani (Offspring of Motuba and Honi) and Ajabu (Offspring of Motuba and Kira). Our other troop includes two bachelor males, Louis and Kuchimba. Kuchimba is actually Honi’s son, they both came from a different zoo, and Motuba is not his father. Kuchimba can not have contact with the family group because of Motuba’s territorial instincts. Regardless of lineage, when a young male gorilla grows up, he must leave the troop and start his own family.

The family troop are adorable to watch! With Ajabu’s first birthday back in June and Amani turning two in august, the two are similar in size and often wrestle and climb with each other. While dad minds his own business, the moms watch closely, and occasionally grab their little one when it’s time to calm down, but the mother gorillas will never touch the other gorilla’s offspring. I imagine this is much like when human mothers get offended when someone “tries to tell them how to raise their child”, I can hear my stepsister firmly speaking to my stepdad in the back of my mind, “Dad, I’M her mother, remember?”. Though I have no children, I could definitely see myself reiterating that statement somewhere down the line.

The two bachelor males are almost equally as adorable to watch as the two babies, as they sort of act like giant children. Louis and Kuchimba do not live together, but have gorilla playdates about once per day where they spend their time wrestling, lounging around and even comforting each other. Though they are not technically a family, they are indeed best friends.

Zoo families can differ a lot from what us humans think of as a “normal” family. But, then again what even is normal? Many guests come peer into our gorilla habitat and shockingly ask, “So, he has babies with BOTH of them?”. For me, it seems a little less strange, growing up, since I was about six years old, I  had two full sisters and three step-siblings all under one roof with my mom and stepdad – except they never actually remarried so none of them are actually my step-siblings at all. Try explaining that when you’re eight years old and don’t even know what marriage is!

The youngest orangutan, Batu, seeking shelter under a paper bag

One of our baby gorillas, Ajabu

Sugi with his daughter, Batu


Batu climbing

Tua, Sugi and Batu who is hiding under the paper bag

So, We Have a Newborn Giraffe On Our Hands

Today is a VERY special day, as the zoo’s newborn giraffe, Beau turned one month old! In celebration of his first month on earth I decided to dedicate a post him!

About two weeks in to my internship, my supervisor had some very exciting news for us interns: Our oldest female giraffe, Stella, was showing signs of late pregnancy! Though the zoo staff could not confirm this because Stella wouldn’t stand still enough for the veterinary staff to do an ultrasound, she was incredibly round, and common zoo-goers were starting to ask questions. We were told explicitly to not discuss, especially on social media, the possibility of Stella’s pregnancy and not to confirm any of the guests questions. Zoo staff and interns were also told to be on the look out for what we were referring to as “a sploosh” in reference to the protocol we should take if Stella’s water was to break while we were around.  Of course, there was quite a buzz around the intern office, as we were so excited to be on baby watch for a new member of our zoo family! It felt super cool to be let in on a not so little zoo secret, and it was super exciting to be on “sploosh watch”.

A week or two went by, and we were finally informed that we were able to discuss the possibility of Stella’s pregnancy, but only while at the zoo. The guests were excited, and some who had visited in past weeks were happy that we were finally confirming their suspicions. Soon after, on June 10th, Stella gave birth to a baby boy, Beau, who stood 5 foot 7 inches and weighed about 150 pounds at birth! This information was only to be shared at the zoo with guests, as the family, Gus (father), Stella (mother), Abigail (first born) and Beau (second born) were taken off exhibit to adapt to their new family member!

Conveniently, we officially announced Beau’s birth on World Giraffe Day, June 21st! He had access to his outdoor exhibit during this time, but only a few lucky people got a chance to spot the cute little guy because mom was being incredibly protective. As giraffes are prey animals in the wild, their young are incredibly vulnerable to predators. Stella was just being a good mom! Most guests were very understanding of the situation, especially mothers who had little ones of their own! Over the past few weeks, Beau has made occasional appearances in the yard, he is very curious and loves to practice running laps around his yard!

Below I have a collection of photos of Beau and family, and one of me on World Giraffe Day holding a Beau-sized stuffed giraffe!

World Giraffe Day!

From left to right: Abigail, Beau and Stella

Baby Beau!

Video of Beau Running!


Food! Dickinsonians! Touristy Things!

A few weekends back I was lucky enough to have three of my friends from Dickinson come visit me in Philadelphia! Here’s how the visit went!

On Thursday night, I drove to center city to pick up my roommates Caitlin ’20 and Kat ’20 from the train station. I parked and patiently waited for them to find my vehicle among the tall walls and other cars. They eventually spotted my car and hopped inside we drove back to my sisters place in Mt. Airy where I made them some homemade pizza and went to sleep.

Friday morning we hopped on a train to Suburban Station and visited Love Park. It was the first day of Pride month and there was a magazine photographing a couple in front of the small LOVE statue. The park is nice, equipped with seating, fountains and even PING PONG TABLES. We played for a few minutes before realizing ping pong was not our calling and started walking.

Next, we visited Reading Terminal Market, which is A DREAM for food lovers (and who doesn’t love food?). This market originally opened it’s doors in 1893, it still exists as a great location for food dealers and farmers to sell their goods. After walking around for some time, and nearly getting lost in this maze of tasty eats, we decided to sit down at a Pennsylvania Dutch deli counter and order some sandwiches. I had the special, which was a massive cold reuben complete with cole slaw and thousand island dressing – two things I typically do not like that went together perfectly on this sandwich. Completely stuffed, we really needed to get up and do some more walking.

After taking a detour through Chinatown, we headed over to old city to see the Liberty Bell. We had no intentions of going inside, just plans to look through the glass, but when we got there, admission was free and the line wasn’t very long. Since Kat is a huge history geek and we were feeling pretty touristy, we decided we couldn’t pass up on the opportunity. The bell was really large with a big crack down the side just as expected.

Tired and sweaty from the 90º heat, we walked back to the station to board the next train back to Mt. Airy, having a quick run-in with Ellis ’20 on the street. When we arrived back home, a third Dickinsonian, Abby ’20 was there to join us for the rest of the weekend!

That evening we got some delicious food from Biryani Bowl Indian Cuisine! It was Caitlin and Kat’s first experience with Indian food, and they really enjoyed the Butter Chicken, one of my favorites. 

The next morning we went to one of my favorite places to eat in Philadelphia, the South Philly Barbacoa! This gem is nestled in the Italian market, in a teeny tiny mosaic building – they hardly have enough room for all the people who want to eat there! Inside, on weekends they offer a full experience complete with soup to start, handmade tortillas, tons of great toppings and smoked pork and lamb by the kilo. Though, we had to be sure to arrive early (we got there around 9AM, but they open at 5AM!) to make sure they didn’t sell out, and to beat the afternoon rush. Truly the BEST tacos I’ve ever had.

After stuffing ourselves, and taking some leftovers for the road, we walked off our meal and headed uptown to the Franklin Institute! If you’ve never heard of this place, I would best describe it as a curious person’s dream. This is an interactive museum that explores almost any and every branch of the scientific world – from astrology to biomedicine to physics, this place has it ALL. My friends and I met up with recent grad, Liza ’18, and let out our inner nerd for a seriously exciting time (even for the non-science majors)!

Our time together was quickly coming to an end and we had to go our separate ways. We took one last stop at Goldie, a small falafel place right off 16th street. This place has the most fabulous vegan shakes on the planet. Made with tehina, the shakes have a sort of nutty taste and come in several flavors such as, coconut, turkish coffee, original and chocolate chip mint. Everybody was happy with their choice, mine was gone within 5 minutes!

Overall, I had a great weekend with my fellow Dickinsonian’s! Seeing them made me a little sad that I won’t be on campus in the fall but, I know I’ll have a blast studying abroad in Turks and Caicos.

Myself, Kat and Caitlin ’20 at the Franklin Fountain
Small Abby, Big City
Kat ’20 and Caitlin ’20 at the Franklin Fountain

 Abby ’20 at South Philly Barbacoa 

Reading Terminal Market 

We made it to Philly and we’re doing alright.

** This post was written after my Orientation on 3/17, but not published until I discussed the assignment with my supervisor. Enjoy! **

Let me start off by saying that I NEVER thought I would end up working in a zoo. It’s not that I wasn’t interested, or thought zoos were some evil place that only benefitted the man, I just had only been to one zoo in my life, the Bronx Zoo once when I was in kindergarten and once during my senior year of high school. The memories are positive, but fuzzy, zoos just weren’t a major part of my life at all.

Fast forward to my Sophomore year at Dickinson College, I was looking into places to intern in the Philadelphia area for summer 2018 so I could build my resume, get some experience and spend time with my sister who lives in the city. I applied to the Philadelphia Zoo on a whim, figuring I wouldn’t get in and knowing that they likely receive hundreds of applications each year. Though, here I am having just finished orientation for my Environmental Education and Animal Behavior Internship, or EEABI for short.

This week has been interesting, as I have always felt the most difficult group of people to interact with were my peers, a personal challenge for myself this summer is to quit being so awkward and shy and make friends and have some great conversations.  Over the four day orientation, we’ve been spending a lot of time in a conference room discussing a lot of logistics. Though, we also had the opportunity to do some team building activities. One of my favorites, “Pterodactyl”, a game that is played by standing in a circle squawking the word   while covering your teeth entirely with your lips and trying not to laugh (if a clearer explanation is needed, I would definitely be willing to follow up). Though my eleven-year-old self was squealing with excitement to play this hysterical game, my peers didn’t seem quite as excited, which may be because it was 9 AM on the fourth and final day of orientation.

Our most elaborate team building activity was a PHOTO SCAVENGER HUNT! My team, the axolotls, actually won the competition thanks to our creative recreation of zoo statues and fine attention to detail, granting us a free trip on the ZOO BALLOON! (photos below)