Conservation Creation: Animal Valentines

At the Greensboro Science Center, one of the most important things keepers do for our animals is provide them with enrichment. Enrichment is defined as “improving the quality of”, and we apply that principle to the lives of our animals. Two of the primary things to keep in mind with providing enrichment are: provide the animals with choices; and stimulate natural behaviors, both physically and mentally.

Enrichment can be created in a variety of ways, depending upon the type of animal it’s intended for. For example, penguins have excellent eyesight, so providing them with brightly colored decorations in their exhibit can spark their curiosity and encourage them to investigate their habitat. As another example, it’s enriching for our fishing cats when keepers scatter their diets throughout their habitat so that they have to forage like they would do in the wild.

For pet owners, there are many ways to provide enrichment for the animals (dogs, cats, birds, etc.) in our homes without breaking the bank. Check out some of our DIY enrichment ideas below, or get creative and see how many different ideas you can come up with!

What you’ll need: Cardboard or paper materials from your recycling bin + your pet’s favorite treats (we’re using Cheerios)!

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Enrichment Item 1: Forage Box

Step 1: Place your treats in the middle of a piece of paper, then crumple the paper into a ball. Make as many of these as you would like.

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Step 2:  Place your treat-filled paper balls in a small box (like a shoe box), then give the box to your pet and watch them forage through to find their treats. For an added challenge, only put treats in a few of the paper balls so that your pet has to investigate more thoroughly.

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Enrichment Item 2: Treat Tubes

Step 1: Make a small paper ball and stuff it into one end of a toilet paper or paper towel tube.

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Step 2: Place some of your pet’s treats into the tube, on top of the paper ball you just made. Next, place another paper ball on top of the treats. You can give your pets the tube at this point, or continue on to step 3 for an added challenge!

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Step 3: Fold the outsides of the tube inward so that your pet has to manipulate the tube more thoroughly to reach the food. This will be especially useful for birds or high-energy dogs. Give the enrichment item to your pet, or hide a few of them around the house for your pet to find!

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Please remember: Every animal may interact with enrichment items differently.  For safety, items should be monitored to ensure your pet’s safety.

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Goodbye, Nazca

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Nazca, our male maned wolf and the father of the four puppies recently born here at the GSC. Nazca was just shy of his 11th birthday and was considered a senior, as the lifespan of maned wolves in captivity is typically 10 – 14 years of age.

For the last few weeks, Nazca had exhibited a cough that caused our animal care team concern. Over the weekend, staff observed some swelling in his neck. In an attempt to identify the cause, he was brought to our on-site animal hospital where our veterinary team performed an exam. Crackles, wheezing, and wet sounds were observed when listening to his lungs. An ultrasound-guided aspiration biopsy revealed concerning cells. Fluid was found in his chest cavity.

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Due to his age, the advanced state of the illness, and his rapidly declining quality of life, the decision was made to humanely euthanize him. Although the results of a necropsy are pending, Veterinarian Dr. Sam Young says Nazca had an advanced lung cancer. His mate, Anaheim, was given the opportunity to say goodbye and her behavior will be closely monitored in the weeks ahead. Decisions like this are not taken lightly and are vetted through a committee of GSC experts trained in animal welfare. A number of factors are evaluated through our welfare process and include questions such as “how much pain do we believe the animal is in?”, “what is their likelihood of recovery?”, and “how progressive is the disease process? Can we even treat it?”

Nazca will be remembered by many of us at the GSC not just as a truly magnificent animal, but also as a fantastic father. During his time with us, he sired nine beautiful pups through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP). He and his first mate, Lana, had three pups in February of 2011. He was then recommended to breed with Anaheim, who has been his mate since 2015. Together, they produced two successful litters, a boy and girl in March of 2016, and the four pups (two males and two females) born in December 2018.

Breeding recommendations are made based on the best genetic match-ups to ensure a healthy and sustainable population throughout AZA institutions. Nazca carried the most valuable genetics for both of his recommended pairings. His involvement in the SSP has assured that his genes would be passed on to future generations (as evident by last year’s successful birth from one of his daughters). Our staff is comforted greatly by the knowledge that his legacy will continue to live on even though he is no longer with us.

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The maned wolf exhibit has been closed since early December in preparation for the puppies’ birth. The exhibit is scheduled to reopen February 11, when the puppies are a little older. We are grateful for all of your thoughts and prayers as we mourn the loss of our beloved Nazca.

Maned Wolf Pups Born at the Greensboro Science Center

On December 11, 2018, the Greensboro Science Center’s (GSC) 5-year-old female maned wolf, Anaheim, gave birth to four puppies. This is the fourth time she and 11-year-old Nazca (the GSC’s adult male maned wolf) have been recommended to breed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Maned Wolf Species Survival Plan. This litter, comprised of two males and two females, is the second successful litter from the pair.

The maned wolf exhibit has been closed since early December as keepers began “pup watch”. During this time, Lauren Davis, the GSC’s Wolf String Lead Keeper, has worked to ensure that Anaheim’s four den boxes (two inside and two outside) are well-heated and filled with appropriate bedding. She has also installed Bluetooth baby monitors in the outside den boxes so she can monitor the mother wolf from a distance. Closing the exhibit to guests has provided Anaheim with a quieter, calmer environment in which to give birth and raise her new family.

Davis says, “Sometimes, we are able to observe the breeding behaviors, which allows us to count the days and determine a solid window for when Anaheim will give birth. For the last two years, though, the wolves have been very secretive, so it’s up to me to be observant of her body condition and behaviors.”

As a part of their ongoing care, the wolves are weighed once each month. If Davis sees Anaheim exceeding her normal weight range, she begins weighing the animal weekly to get a more accurate estimate for a potential due date. Davis says Anaheim also becomes very pushy when pregnant. During the last half of pregnancy, Davis looks for a round belly and visible teats as milk develops.

“This year, I was about 2 weeks off,” Davis says. “I thought she would have Christmas babies, but when that huge snow storm was rolling in, she started to look very, very round. It is not unusual for animals to give birth during bad weather, so I knew it would be that weekend — and I was right!”

Davis says Anaheim is currently doing well taking care of four hungry mouths and Nazca is a fantastic father. She says, “He is protective and does a very good job supporting Anaheim. Once the pups get older, he will regurgitate for them and play with them, but for now his job is to stay out of the way and make sure I don’t mess with his family.”

The pups received their first veterinary exam on Thursday, January 10. Each wolf was thoroughly examined, microchipped and weighed, and all received a clean bill of health from the GSC’s veterinary team. The pups will receive their first vaccines in about two weeks, followed by routine exams every three weeks until they are 12 – 14 weeks old.

The maned wolf exhibit will reopen to the public on Monday, February 11. The pups may or may not be visible immediately after reopening, as they will continue to spend much of their time in their den boxes until they get a little older.

ABOUT THE SSP

The mission of an Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) cooperatively managed Species Survival Plan® (SSP) Program is to oversee the population management of select species within AZA member institutions (i.e., AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums, Conservation Partners, and Certified Related Facilities (CRFs)) and to enhance conservation of this species in the wild.

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!

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!