News From Seattle

A couple of weeks ago, our Leadership team traveled to Seattle, Washington to participate in the annual Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) National Conference. There, they attended a hearing with the AZA Accreditation Commission, in which the group addressed critical questions about the present and future of the Greensboro Science Center. This was the final step in a series of many steps to earning AZA accreditation again. With that said, we’ve got great news to share… but first, you’ll need some background information.

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GSC representatives attend the AZA Accreditation Hearing.

What is AZA?

AZA has been around since the early 1970s. In response to growing concerns over the animal care being provided in zoo and aquarium settings, AZA established a set of scientifically-proven best practices as applicable to aquariums and zoos. The standards, available for review by the public at any time, apply to all aspects of an organization’s operations, including animal welfare, governing body, conservation, education, guest services, facilities, safety, staffing, veterinary care, and finance. AZA standards are considered the national benchmark in the eyes of many U.S. agencies, including the USDA, USFWS and OSHA.

How It Relates to Us

The GSC was first accredited back in 2008 with the opening of Animal Discovery Zoo. Before this year’s efforts, our last application and inspection took place in January 2013. With a new application due every five years, we’ve been in the process of applying for accreditation again. The application steps are outlined next.

The Accreditation Process, Simplified

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The GSC Leadership Team performs a mock inspection to prepare staff for the upcoming AZA inspectors’ visit.

First, a written application must be submitted. In order to complete this application, staff will spend roughly a year evaluating and updating the necessary information, including protocols, reports and supporting documentation such as records of safety drills or program animal handling procedures.

After the written application is submitted, an on-site inspection will be conducted by a team of AZA inspectors. Teams are made up of voluntary professionals – including a veterinarian, an operations representative and an animal program representative – from within the AZA community. For facilities with elephants and/or marine mammals, an additional inspector with expertise in those specific areas is assigned. To assure the most thorough inspection possible, AZA does its best to match inspectors to facilities that are similar to their home facilities. Once the inspectors arrive at their inspection site, they spend approximately three to four days taking photos and gathering information to determine whether or not the facility is practicing what it described in its application. Not only will they examine the grounds and amenities; inspectors also spend time interviewing various volunteers and staff members as well as the facility’s Board of Directors. Questions can range from “What is your organization’s mission?” to “What is your department’s safety procedure during a tornado?” No stone is left unturned.

The next step is for the inspectors to report back to AZA. Any comments inspectors make regarding items of concern must be tied to a documented standard. Inspectors cannot focus on past or perceived future issues and must focus only on what is happening presently. Although there is a separate section of the inspection report in which inspectors can share their opinions, opinions cannot be used as cause for a write-up. Additionally, although the inspecting team can make a recommendation regarding accreditation, they cannot make that decision.

Following the inspection team’s reporting step, the applicant will receive a resulting document detailing all concerns, if any, and will be provided with three to four months to address those concerns. After this time, the facility will send a representative or group of representatives to a hearing (the one mentioned at the beginning of this writing) with the accreditation commission, and this is where they will find out whether or not their facility has met AZA’s standards for accreditation.

How It Relates to You

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One of our priorities as an AZA accredited institution is to educate the community about our animals and their wild counterparts. Pictured above: a guest meets and learns about red pandas on an Inside Tracks: Zoo Trek.

If all of that sounds intimidating, it’s because it is! But it’s worth every bit of the work that goes into it. AZA accreditation means recognition, but more importantly, it means that we can work better and smarter for both our animals and our visitors. Being a member of a group of hundreds of other facilities means that we have access to great networking and resources, which translates to constant learning and improvement for us. Accreditation is synonymous with community, and all that we do is interconnected and for a greater purpose. Each animal we house serves as an ambassador of its species, telling stories of conservation and science. We want to provide the best education possible for our community, and AZA accreditation makes it possible.

Finally, for the great news. Executive Director Glenn Dobrogosz emailed the team the morning after the hearing to announce that the Greensboro Science Center has once again received AZA accreditation!

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A GSC volunteer guides a guest on how to safely touch one of our stingrays.

Less than 10% of the approximately 2,800 animal exhibitors licensed by the Department of Agriculture are accredited by the AZA. This means that if you’re visiting a zoo or aquarium and spot the AZA logo, you can rest assured that the place you’re visiting is living up to the highest standards in its industry. Don’t get us wrong – this is not to say that a given non-accredited facility does not abide by high standards! Since accreditation is optional, organizations may choose not to apply for AZA accreditation, even if they meet or exceed AZA’s benchmarks. What we mean is that we are certainly proud of our status as an AZA-accredited aquarium and zoo, and you should be, too! Thank you for helping us to rise to the occasion once again.

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The official certificate!

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Where’s Angler?

Angler, the baby fishing cat born at the Greensboro Science Center in February, will be off exhibit for six to eight weeks as he recovers from a broken arm. Last week, keepers noticed the kitten limping, prompting two immediate actions: 1 – our veterinary team performed a physical exam in an attempt to identify the injury and 2 – our animal care team reviewed camera footage to see how the injury occurred.

Upon palpating the animal’s forearm, GSC veterinarian, Dr. Sam Young, found the broken bone and promptly scheduled a visit with the Veterinary Specialty Hospital in Cary, NC.

The forearm is made up of two bones – the radius and the ulna. Radiographs showed the kitten has a broken radius, but the ulna is still intact, which Dr. Sam tells us is good news as it acts like a splint for the fractured bone.

The orthopedic surgeon at VSH inserted a k-wire to align the bones, then plated the fracture, as you can see in the image below.

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Upon reviewing camera footage, our animal care team saw Angler stick his paw under the barrier between his holding space and his father, Mako’s holding space. Although the cats have been separated since birth by this barrier, on this occasion, Mako grabbed Angler’s paw. It appears the kitten broke his arm when he quickly pulled away. Our animal care team has now added an additional barrier – metal sheeting that fills the gap under the wall – to prevent future incidents.

Angler’s arm is being kept bandaged and in a splint to prevent him from licking or chewing on the injury, which could cause additional harm. Our animal care team is changing his bandage daily as well as providing him with pain medications and antibiotics. In order for our team to change his bandage, Angler must be sedated, brought from his behind-the-scenes exhibit space to the hospital, where his bandage is changed, then brought back to his exhibit – and his mom, Tallulah. He is currently being trained to go into a crate to make the transport process easier and less stressful for him.

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As he continues to heal, keepers are ensuring all toys and furniture in his space are kept small or low to ground, so as not to encourage climbing. Keeper Rachael tells us Anger is eating well and taking all of his medications, which will aid in a speedy recovery. We’ll be sure to share any changes in Angler’s condition on our Facebook page, so stay tuned for updates!

 

Saying Goodbye to Ara

Late last week, we said goodbye to Ara, our 33-year-old red ruffed lemur. Based on the information available to us, at the time of her death, she was believed to be the oldest female red ruffed lemur in captivity. During this sad time, we’d like to take a moment to tell you about the tireless efforts of our animal care team as they worked diligently to ensure Ara had the best possible quality of life, through to the end.

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Although Ara had been considered geriatric for the last 13 years of her life, her lead keeper, Lauren, tells us it wasn’t until the last seven months or so that she started to see a dramatic decline in the lemur’s health. In October, Ara began showing signs of neurological distress. She had what Lauren describes as “seizure-like episodes.” Due to the fall risk associated with these episodes, our team decided to retire her from the exhibit and moved her into her blockhouse with access to the side yard, where the heights are less extreme.

Ara began receiving an anti-seizure medication three times each day. She continued this medication for several months until she began to refuse it, at which time our team weaned her off the medication and watched her closely for any additional signs of neurological episodes. None were observed until Ara’s last week of life. In addition to this anti-seizure medication, Ara also received painkillers to keep her arthritic body comfortable.

Despite these medical challenges, Lauren says, “She always kept a perky, interested attitude – even as her body started to decline.”

In addition to arthritis and neurological symptoms, like all elderly animals, Ara began to lose weight as she became more fragile. Ara was weighed every other week so Lauren and our vet team could track exactly how much weight she was losing. In addition to her regular diet (where her veggies were steamed to make them easier to eat and the fruit was cut small enough so that her elderly teeth didn’t need to work so hard at chewing), our team blended up her favorite fruits into smoothies on a daily basis.

To help her gain (or at least maintain) her weight, our team also offered her every type of food imaginable, including pancakes, muffins, popsicles, whipped cream, gummy bears, power bars, and baby food. Lauren tells us Ara was initially interested in these new offerings, but stiffly refused them by the next day. Ara’s taste buds changed on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis, so food items had to be kept novel and exciting.

Lauren says, “I always joked that she liked her food by the colors: one week, she liked all things blue/black (blackberries, blueberries), and the next, it was everything orange (orange, cantaloupe, peaches). She kept us on our toes, and I frequently requested odd, unusual foods from our commissary to keep her happy.”

Lauren tells us Ara’s care took up the majority of her time during the day. “If I wasn’t preparing her food, I was hand feeding it to her or trying to convince her that her medications were necessary and would make her feel better. She always ate best if she was hand fed – me, a servant for the queen. As animals age, they require more time. I’ve always had a soft spot for the oldies, so it wasn’t a burden to me – more of an honor to be able to take care of such a sassy, friendly, old lady who had great demands.”

Throughout all of this special treatment, it’s important to note that our vet staff, keepers and curators evaluated Ara on a regular basis to ensure everything they did was in the lemur’s best interest. Late last week, after seeing Ara’s health continue to deteriorate, our dedicated team of animal professionals decided it was time to humanely euthanize Ara.

Lauren says, “In the end, her body definitely gave out before her spirit, which always makes a quality of life decision harder. We’re with these animals more than our pets at home sometimes. Blood, sweat and tears go into their care on a routine basis to make sure our animals always have the very best. The hardest decision will always be when to let them go, and it is not taken lightly. In the end, I am so grateful I was able to be there with her, to comfort her when the decision was made to humanely euthanize her.”

“Ara was legendary,” Lauren says. “Everyone will tell you she was full of spunk and personality. When she was on exhibit with the ring tailed lemurs, she could often be seen chasing them and keeping them in line. I hope people were awed by her beauty. Red ruffs are a very rare species of lemur, one of the most endangered in the wild. In captivity, the average life span is 25, but she made it all the way to 33 – that in itself is inspiring to me. Hopefully, she inspired people to care about lemurs and look into how they can help them escape extinction.“

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Ara leaves behind her fellow senior lemurs, Jethys, a 26-year-old female red ruffed lemur, and Che, our elderly male mongoose lemur. Lauren says Jethys is going through a mourning period and will be monitored closely. She tells us, “Ara might be gone, but I still have more elderly lemurs to spoil rotten.”

From the Vet Desk: Penguin Procedure

Zookeepers’ and aquarists’ jobs go far beyond feeding and cleaning up after animals. Our amazing team of professionals know their charges intimately and keep a very close eye on each and every one of the animals they care for. By familiarizing themselves with each animal’s tendencies and behaviors, our team is more likely to notice when something is wrong before it becomes a serious issue. Such was the case recently with Tux, one of our female African penguins.

Several weeks ago, keepers noticed that Tux wasn’t eating regularly. At the time, she was fostering chicks, so our team thought that a possible explanation. However, as the abnormal behavior continued, they began to grow concerned.

Our birds have been trained to take food directly from our keepers’ hands, but Tux is one of the few birds in the colony that will pick up a dropped fish and eat it. Because of her ability to do so, keepers suspected she may have picked up and ingested a foreign body by mistake. They discussed their concerns with our veterinary team, who then performed an examination to attempt to identify the problem. However, the bloodwork and radiograph results from the exam yielded no conclusive results.

As a precautionary measure, our animal care team decided further examination was in order. Enter Dr. Dan Johnson from Avian and Exotic Animal Care and Dr. Rik Wyatt from Animal Emergency Hospital and Urgent Care, both located in Raleigh. These experts came out with a specialized scope to examine the path from Tux’s esophagus all the way to her stomach to ensure no blockage was present.

Check out these photos of the procedure:

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A scope inserted in Tux’s throat allows the animal care team to see the entire path from mouth to stomach.

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The scope shows clear pathways.

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Tux’s heart rate is monitored throughout the procedure.

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Tux’s primary keeper, Shannon, is on hand as the bird comes out of anesthesia.

We are pleased to report that Tux is doing well after her exam, and her eating habits are back to normal. We’re grateful to our animal care team for moving so quickly to address a potential health concern, as well as to Dr. Dan and his team for providing a scope and extra assistance during this procedure!

Screaming Hairy Armadillos – Relationship Status: It’s Complicated

It’s Valentine’s Day, and love is in the air! Whether it’s love for your partner or a friend, or it’s love for your own wonderful self, you probably won’t be able to escape thinking about it for at least a few minutes (…sorry!). In the spirit of love, we wanted to use today’s blog to hone in on the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan (SSP), with a spotlight on our screaming hairy armadillos, Lenny and Rizzo.

In captivity, the screaming hairy armadillo population is dwindling. There’s a whole host of reasons for this, but the main ones are that there aren’t enough successful breeding pairs out there, coupled with low reproductive rates. Per the recommendation of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), we’re crossing our fingers that Cupid’s arrow will fly and find its mark with our armadillos. Lenny, who you can find on exhibit in our Discovery House, and Rizzo, our back-of-house armadillo, are a part of a very detailed strategy for successful captive breeding.

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During Rizzo’s ovulation cycle, which occurs during only two seasons of the year, the armadillos are given up to two months together in hopes that the spark of love will ignite. Lenny will even spend his evenings in the back-of-house so that he and Rizzo can have more time together. Since gestation takes from 60-80 days, and if conception were to occur early on in her mating period with Lenny, Rizzo could give birth while still in the company of her mate. This leads to a high level of stress for the potential mother and could lead to her eating her offspring. To avoid these things, a pregnant Rizzo would have to be moved entirely out of Discovery House and taken to a low-stimulation environment in which she wouldn’t even be able to so much as smell her mate, Lenny.

When and if babies are successfully produced, litter size is small – consistently yielding twins. The two are initially quite fragile, as babies are. So along with the obstacles leading up to a successful pregnancy, keeping the babies healthy and sustained can be a trial in itself.

The odds could seem insurmountable, but our keepers are doing everything they can to ensure the possibility of a successful breeding with our screaming hairy armadillos. With the help of AZA and our partners in other accredited zoos, we are learning how best to guide this species to a better future.

Senior Living Community for Lemurs

The Greensboro Science Center is home to a lemur exhibit made up of three lemur species: ring-tailed lemurs, red ruffed lemurs and a mongoose lemur. Both our red ruffed lemurs and mongoose lemur are considered geriatric at this point, so special attention is given to this group to ensure they remain happy and comfortable. Part of this special attention entails efforts to ensure they remain socialized as they continue to age.

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Ara and Jethys on exhibit

At 32 years old, Ara is one of the oldest known female red ruffed lemurs in North America. With lemurs having an average lifespan ranging in the 20s, Ara is very special. Such an impressive status as hers means extra love and care from her keepers, including close monitoring of the temperature in her living space as well as her eating habits. Last year, her caregivers noticed that Ara was exhibiting some health problems which led to her being taken off exhibit. Our keepers knew she could potentially become lonely without the social interaction offered by the others lemurs on exhibit, so they found a solution: Jethys.

Jethys, our second red ruffed lemur, came to us from the Museum of Life and Science in Durham. At 25 years old, she too, is a senior lemur and therefore seemed the perfect pal for Ara. Both ladies lost their original companions but are now strongly bonded together. Since Ara has been off exhibit, she has been constantly accompanied by her BFF Jethys, who has become quite protective of her elderly friend.

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Mongoose lemur, Che

Keepers are now attempting to add a third member to this seniors club, a 26-year-old mongoose lemur named Che (pronounced Sh-ay). In the past, Che spent all of his time with his daughter, Isabella. Due to a tumor that led to Isabella’s euthanization several months ago, Che is now flying solo. Our ring-tailed lemur group didn’t take to him very well, but we’re feeling hopeful that Ara and Jethys can make up for that.

Currently, keepers are helping the lemurs get to know each other via a “howdy” – a process in which the animals are placed in adjacent spaces where they can see, smell and perhaps even touch each other while still separated by a barrier. Although the protective Jethys hasn’t quite embraced this newcomer, we’re feeling optimistic that as the trio continue to become acquainted, we’ll soon see them peacefully occupying neighboring spaces. Much like humans, social interaction is important for all lemurs, providing the mental stimulation they need to stay healthy and happy. Our dedicated team of animal care experts are doing everything in their power to make our lemurs’ golden years great ones.

Life as a Senior Big Cat

More than 10 years ago, the Conservators Center, a North Carolina educational non-profit dedicated to providing a specialized home for select carnivore species, had accepted the placement of 14 lions and tigers that were part of a large confiscation of animals living in unacceptable conditions. Four of the female large cats were pregnant and delivered cubs shortly after their arrival at the Conservators Center. Since the Greensboro Science Center had a new tiger exhibit with no tigers, we and the Conservators Center formed a partnership to provide a home for two of the tiger cubs – siblings Axl and Kisa.

With Kisa’s passing in 2016, Axl now occupies the exhibit alone. While this may sound like a lonely situation for Axl, tigers are typically solitary animals, and ever since his solo stint began, we’ve watched him become more active and exhibit more natural tiger behaviors than before. With Kisa having been the playful troublemaker, Axl has now had the chance to let his unique personality shine.

Captive tigers have an average life expectancy of 16-20 years, with their wild counterparts averaging 10-15 years. Our 13-year-old Axl is considered a geriatric animal, and as with all of our animals experiencing the various stages of life, our animal staff are constantly altering and reevaluating the care he receives.

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Keeper Rachael feeding Axl his morning meal

They’ve noticed that he’s become a little more resistant to eating, so to compensate, his diet has been changed over to a special higher calorie senior diet. His keepers have also been feeding him more whole prey. Some of his favorites include rabbits, beef and deer. In addition, he’s recently been receiving half of his diet in the morning and half in the afternoon, making it more likely that he’ll eat what is offered to him. He’s lost a little of his weight, but this is no cause for concern as it remains on par for tigers his age. Our team weighs him every two weeks to make sure his caloric needs continue being met.

Beyond changes in his eating habits, Axl has exhibited the occasional asthma flare-up. In response, our animal care team is keeping a very close eye on his breathing and treating him as needed. He’s also just received a physical and will continue to undergo those on a regular basis, as always. Keepers have even trained him to present his tail so that our vet staff can easily draw blood to verify continued proper functioning of his organs.

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Axl presents his tail so vet staff can draw blood

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Axl enjoying being brushed!

Unfortunately for us, wild animals tend to hide symptoms of illness until it’s too late, but Axl’s team of caregivers continues to do everything in their power to prevent issues and respond to his needs as they become evident. Meanwhile, he’s enjoying his daily brushings and continues to entertain visitors while on exhibit. Keeper Rachael Campbell, Axl’s primary keeper, describes him as “more laidback than ever!”

You can stop by Animal Discovery Zoo and visit Axl every day between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Just steer clear of the tiger spray zones!