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Archive for the ‘Rants’ Category

One of the ‘games’ I play when visiting zoos is sneakily correcting people about animals. If someone is gushing over how cute the baby jaguar is, I’ll call over my boyfriend with a “Hey, come look at the ocelot!”. If someone is commenting how they always thought kangaroos were bigger, I’ll read the sign stating average lifespan of a wallaby out loud to who I’m with. Sometimes I’m a little more up front about it…I’ll just state a random fact about the animal or say something like “oh the axolotls are always too hidden for me to get a good photo”. I don’t like conflict and I don’t want to make anyone feel stupid for not knowing…but I also don’t want people to go home thinking they saw forty species at the zoo that day when it was actually sixty.

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Although it resembles a kangaroo this is actually a wallaby!

 

Now I understand I graduated in zoology, have worked at zoos, and frequent zoos often so I tend to know animal species a little more than the average zoo goer but this is still a frustration of mine. Let me tell you why:

Signs: The most obvious reason…I have yet to visit a zoo that hasn’t posted even the most basic sign about the animal you’re looking at. Even the worst zoos I’ve been to have at least ‘LION’ hand painted on a board and nailed to the fence. Yes sometimes the signs are not right in front of your face but they are usually pretty easy to spot.

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Conservation: What you thought was an armadillo was actually a pangolin, the most trafficked mammal in the world. By reading the signs and understanding what you are looking at it might give you a different outlook on the animal in front of you. Maybe when you realize you’re looking at an animal who has lost 90% of it’s habitat to deforestation you might decide to adopt one on the way out. By encountering an orangutan for the first time and learning how unsustainable palm oil is wiping them out, that visitor may change their spending habits in their home.

Education: Even just for the fact of an educational outing, please learn what it is you are looking at. Maybe it will just be another animal name that you know; it may help you during trivia night sometime. Who knows you might even learn something about yourself or the world! Did you know that weird thing you just assumed was like any other crustacean at the bottom of the ocean is in fact a horseshoe crab? Did you know that they have had a profound impact on human medicine?

Children: Quite often when I’m hearing people referring to animals by the wrong name it is parents discussing the animals with their children. Now I understand with young kids it’s easier to say ‘monkey’ rather than ‘gibbon’ because they may already know what a monkey is, or say ‘cat’ for all of the big cats….but is it really? Children are picking up on a lot of vocabulary and teaching them the difference between a tiger and a lion is not that big of a feat. In terms of older children who have an easier time with the distinctions, why WOULDN’T you? Raising your children to have a broader view of the species throughout the world and the challenges they face with climate change, habitat loss, and poaching (to name a few…) can make them more environmentally conscious adults in the future. For example linking shoreline cleanups with the spiny softshell turtle they fell in love with at the zoo could encourage them to take part. After experiencing the popcorn scent of a binturong and discovering the island of Sumatra on a map, your child may become an advocate for its critically endangered inhabitants.

This spiny softshelled turtle could inspire your child to be a protector of watersheds.

This spiny softshelled turtle could inspire your child to be a protector of watersheds.

Conservation relies on awareness and public interest. A major aspect of zoos is raising awareness and encouraging the public to relate to the species they are interacting with, which in turn boosts activism and conservation efforts. If every zoo visitor left having learned about the challenges of a species they otherwise did not know existed, that species has a better chance of survival. Donations, awareness, and greener living and spending habits are what can turn the fate of species around. Knowing how small interactions can produce big lifestyle changes is perhaps why I find it most irritating. I still discover new species during zoo visits! So next time you’re at the zoo try to discover at least one new animal!

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RANT: Sleeping Animals

I have heard it time and time again…my visit was great BUT the animals were all sleeping! I’m going to give you guys some hard truth: this is not going to change. I’m hoping after reading through this post you will understand some of the reasons the animals will be napping, how to time your visits for the best active viewing, and how to still have a good time despite napping animals!

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Reasons:

  • Nocturnal: Zoos are open during the day. Just because that is when people are visiting and the zoo is open, does not mean that is when the animal is ‘programmed’ to be awake! Many animals are nocturnal meaning they are awake and active at night or crepuscular meaning they are active during dawn or dusk. Ex. Many rodents and most carnivores (leopards, tigers, wolves, etc)
  • Lazy: Some animals are programmed to sleep…A LOT. For those of you that have a pet cat, you will notice sometimes they sleep all day. Many wild animals are just big versions of your cat. Lemurs, lions, hippos, sloths, and koalas all sleep for more than 16 hours a day! Many animals need to sleep that much to be able to digest their food. Fibre rich diets like those of the koala and panda require a lot of energy to digest. Think of it as these animals eating Thanksgiving dinner every day!
  • Heat: Those steaming hot days in the summer make you drowsy right? Heat can affect animals the same way. No one wants to be running around in the heat so they will often take naps during the hottest times to try and stay cool.
  • Pampered: Many animals have the luxury of napping in zoos since they do not need to hunt or forage for food. Through enrichment programs and creative exhibits zoos try their best to still encourage foraging behaviour or hunting techniques; however, this still will not require as much physical activity as their wild counterparts exert. If the grocery store came to you every day you’d probably spend more time relaxing too!

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What a napping animal does NOT mean:

  • Bored/sad: I have heard many visitors walk up to exhibits with napping or resting animals and exclaim ‘he looks so sad!’. While I can’t speak for all animals in all exhibits, this is most likely not the case. Respected zoos house animals which are well fed, vet checked regularly, and provided which enrichment. The majority of the animals do not know what it is like in the wild since they were born and raised in captivity; therefore they are not yearning to be set free. Long story short, they’re taking an afternoon nap.
  • Drugged: I’ve also heard people comment that ‘they must be drugged, they’re in the same spot every time I’m here and are always sleeping!’. Besides the reasons I listed above, they’re probably napping in the same spot because it is the most comfortable.
  • You deserve your money back: Zoos are there to showcase the animals and provide education on conservation issues. They are not circuses. If you want to see a lion like how you most likely would in the wild you will see it sleeping at 1pm. You go to the zoo to see the animals, if you saw it sleeping you STILL saw it.

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When to go to avoid the nap:

  • Opening: Visiting right when the zoo opens is a great time to see the animals first going out into their exhibits. Usually keepers will fill the exhibit with enrichment and toys, so the animal is most likely going to spend some time discovering these items. It’s not the peak temperature of the day yet either so many animals will be active and eating until the afternoon heat kicks in.
  • Closing: Go later in the afternoon: Similar to morning, many animals will start to wake up and be moving around in anticipation of moving inside for the night.
  • Feeding times: Check out the zoos website or call to see what the feeding times for each animal are. Many zoos will feed their animals at certain times, meaning the animal will be up and active in anticipation for it.
  • Return: Keep checking back at exhibits throughout the day. Many animals don’t have a schedule and will be active unexpectedly. A lot about getting great shots or views of animals in zoos comes down to luck.
  • Off season: Don’t go in the summer! Fall, winter, and spring are all great times to see the animals. The temperatures are lower meaning less afternoon naps to beat the heat.

How to make the best of it:

  • Not moving: To be honest many animals are easier to photograph when they’re napping! Even though they are not up and moving around, you can still get some great sleeping shots. If you’ve ever tried to photograph some marmosets during a play fight or swimming otters, you may appreciate them staying in one spot for a bit!
  • Detail shots: You wouldn’t regularly be able to take good photographs of the bottom of a polar bear paw or detail snake scale shots unless they were resting right?
  • Butt album: One of the biggest problems is they’re napping out of sight or not facing the right way. Start a photo album of zoo animal butts, or feet, or backs of the head. Make it fun. Who knows, maybe you’ll start wanting the animals to turn away!

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I hope this has helped you to understand when and why animals nap. I doubt you will be excited when your favourite animal isn’t hamming it up for the camera, but at least have a more positive outlook on it. Visit the zoos when the animals are more likely to be awake and respect the zoos that are letting their animals sleep when they want to.

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One of the things I find many visitors love about going to the zoo is the experience of feeding the animals themselves. Not to downplay how awesome it is to experience but I feel in many cases this is not healthy for the animal or our relationship with them.

1. Overweight Animals
Animals at zoos which allow visitor feeding I have observed to be more overweight than those where diets are monitored. In terms of animal health this can cause many issues – much like obesity in humans. In zoos with strict no feeding policies animal diets are monitored and keepers are better able to adjust the diet if need be to suit specific animal needs.

2. Aggression
Competition for food is a normal part of animal life. In many cases the more dominant or aggressive individuals are more successful. I find many animals within petting zoo style enclosures which are fed by the public are conditioned to be more aggressive than they usually would. In the wild or in keeper fed enclosures there are usually multiple sources of food – grass fields, larger feeding vestibules, or separate feeding stations for individuals. In public feeding scenarios either the food pellets are the only option or the more enticing one – meaning the animals have to compete for the attention of the visitor. This can be detrimental for the whole visitor experience especially for young children who may not be used to pushy animals.

3. Enrichment
A huge element in the modern zoo is the role enrichment plays in the lives of the animals. One of the easiest ways to provide enrichment and diversity into day-to-day life for the animals is through food. By hiding food in the exhibit it encourages foraging or hunting behaviours and mental stimulation. In many species diversity in their food can be used as cues for seasonal changes, to allow for variation between individuals (one may need more fat, another may be low in certain vitamins or minerals), or research into better zoo nutrition overall. Treats can be used as rewards in the training process and/or to help in the administration of medication. The more public feeding becomes dominant in a zoo, the more stagnant their diet becomes and these other diet aspects are put to the side.

4. Encourages Feeding at Other Zoos/Exhibits
Contrary to many guests beliefs that if one zoo has certain rules it applies to all – not all zoos allow feeding. Along those same lines, some species are more easily adapted to public feeding scenarios than others. For this reason, pay careful attention to signs posted and unless it explicitly says that feeding is allowed…don’t. Just because an animal is in a zoo doesn’t mean it is domesticated or unable to harm you.

5. Bribe
Most zoos have a variation of an indoor enclosure for their animals to spend the night. Normally their indoor environments are better controlled than their exhibits and are more secure. The easiest way to encourage an animal to go inside at night or outside in the morning is through their stomach. If visitors are filling them up all day it can be harder for keepers to get them inside at the end of the day. This may not seem like a big deal to the visitors who don’t have this frustrating task – but if you think of it in terms of the safety of the animal this should be of more of a concern.

6. Social Status
Many zoo animals live in social groups with members having different social rankings. One of the most common perks of being near the top of the standings is having first pick of the food. When a guest disturbs this practice by feeding one of the lower ranking individuals they could be causing social unrest within the whole group. A prime example of this is the death of a young orangutan at the Toronto Zoo in 1998 when guests threw food into the exibit.

Plaque at the Indomalayan Pavilion at the Toronto Zoo

7. Encourages Feeding of Wild Animals
Obviously there are differences between putting out a bird feeder and trying to give a slab of raw meat to a bear – but feeding in zoos can encourage disruptive behaviour. Hand feeding wild animals can make them imprinted on humans or unable to forage properly. Not having that fear of humans leads them to become comfortable in urban areas or being near humans – this can lead to them being labeled nuisances and sometimes killed. It can also be a danger to those doing the feeding as protective mothers may attack those trying to feed the more inquisitive young. It’s best to keep the wild animals wild and admire from a distance.

8. Toxicity
Those of you with pets probably know that certain foods can be toxic to different animals, such as chocolate or grapes for dogs. This is the same for many zoo animals. What you may think would be part of their natural diet could be potentially fatal – for example avocado skin and pits can be toxic to many species including goats and rabbits, and the flesh can be harmful to a number of bird species. Many plants can have toxins in their bark, wax covered leaves, or flowers. For this reason, feeding your picnic lunch or nearby vegetation to zoo or wild animals could be causing them harm.

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Cards given out to guests at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

9. Diseases
While zoos regularly check their animals for diseases and keep as sanitary an exhibit as possible, it doesn’t mean guests still can’t get sick if they come in contact. Many animals touch or eat their own feces or that of other animals, which can make humans sick. Many wild animals may have ticks, fleas, or other problem insects that can be transferred to humans. The list is endless which is why it is safer to view from a distance – zoos add barriers for a reason.

I don’t mean to completely deter guests from doing behind the scenes feedings or going into the petting areas – I just want you to make some smart choices at zoos. If the animals appear overweight don’t buy the food when you go into the petting area; if the food being fed to the animals during guest feedings don’t seem like a natural option for them don’t take part; if you see other guests feeding the animals approach them and explain why it is harmful. Most of all respect the zoos wishes and remember it is for the animals safety as well as your own!

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We all see the signs at various exhibits – PLEASE DO NOT TAP ON THE GLASS. We have all also seen the people (children and adults alike) banging on the glass trying to get the animals’ attention. This is a huge pet peeve of mine, especially if there’s a sign.

1) If there’s a sign, chances are the animals in that display are sensitive to noise or motions of that nature. The signs are there for the welfare of the animals.

2) Even if there are no signs stating it – tapping on glass is annoying to everyone around you and it’s distracting to anyone else trying to enjoy the exhibit.

3) Children: If your child is tapping on the glass it is a good opportunity to teach respect – both for the animal as well as the zoo property itself. If they can’t stop tapping on the glass, then they shouldn’t be near the glass in the first place.

4) Probably half the people I see tapping on glass are adults – either parents trying to get the animals attention so it will look at their child, or photographers trying to get a good picture. This bugs me most of all as it is these people who should be setting an example for the children. Also, as a good photographer you MUST learn the art of patience.

5) One word: FINGERPRINTS.

6) I believe it bugs me most of all since I have worked in the field. I have personally witnessed that tapping on windows, yelling at the animals, and honking horns has virtually no effect on the animals behaviour in a positive way, if anything the animals will move away from you. You will not get a better picture. In turn you will just irritate other guests and workers.

So let’s all work together to stop the window tappers, it will create a more enjoyable experience for both the viewers and the animals. The glass will be cleaner for those photos as well!!

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RANT: Strollers

As a frequent visitor to zoos I cannot stand strollers and wagons. I’m not saying not to bring them or use them…with young children you need them! All I’m asking is you be mindful of them.

  • Do not block walkways and pathways – especially on busy summer days it is very frustrating to other visitors when a wagon is blocking half the walkway! Put it on the grass to the side or at least running the same direction as the walkway, not sticking out into the middle!
  • Watch for signs – many pavilions do not allow strollers due to the restricted areas inside to begin with.
  • Bring only what you need – I’ve seen families with two kids and the parents are carting around a huge stroller, a wagon, and three backpacks! There is no need for that much stuff! Not only is it frustrating for everyone else trying to maneuver around you, but what an exhausting day for the parents!

And last but not least…

  • DO NOT USE YOUR STROLLER AS A BULLDOZER! I understand your child wants to see the animals, but maybe it’s a good opportunity to teach patience to your children. Everybody else there paid money to see the exhibits as well, even though I’m over the age of 10 doesn’t mean I don’t get just as exited when the polar bears are playing in the water! Countless times I have felt the pressure to move out of the way after a brief look into an exhibit because the person behind me is continuously bumping me with their stroller or making overly loud comments about how if people moved their child could see – only to move out of the way and discover their child is sound asleep!
  • A better solution? If there is more than one adult have one hang back out of the way with the belongings and have one parent take the children up to see the animals.

If you are already mindful of your strollers and wagons I thank you. I am not by any means saying every person with a stroller in a zoo is a jerk! And seeing how I do not have children I don’t really know what it is like trying to cart around a child in a busy location…but I do know what it’s like as a frustrated fellow visitor.

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