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.