The GSC’s Bat Project

October 27 and 28 is Bat Weekend here at the GSC, so we thought it a great time to catch up with the GSC’s VP of Conservation & Research, Lindsey Zarecky, to learn more about bats and how the GSC is working to conserve their populations right here in the Triad.

Lindsey shared with us that bats were her model organism for her master’s thesis back in her college days. Needless to say, she’s a huge fan and is very knowledgeable about these creatures. Today, her focus is on understanding and reducing the negative behaviors and activities that impact the bats’ ecosystems.

Before we get into the specifics, you’ll need to know a little more about how bats travel and find food.

The species of bats found in the Piedmont area are insectivorous and use echolocation for both navigation and hunting. They use ultrasonic (above our ability to hear) vocalizations to help them with locating objects; these sounds bounce off the object and send sound waves back to the vocalizing bat. Interestingly, different species of bats vocalize at different frequencies and at different intensities. These differences help scientists to distinguish between the varying species. Contrary to a somewhat popular belief, bats aren’t blind! Echolocation just happens to be much more efficient for them.

Our resident researchers always have something in the works. Often, these things may go totally undetected by both our guests and even other staff members! So, what’s the deal with the GSC’s Bat Project?

Here at the GSC, we use bat detectors to listen to bats’ ultrasonic vocalizations. Each detector consists of a recorder and a microphone; these detect sounds and record them onto an SD card. The sounds are uploaded to a computer using a special software program, then analyzed by our team. This involves slowing down the recordings and playing them back at a level that we, humans, can hear. Call types we hear include those honing in on prey, social vocalizations and clicking sounds to indicate a bat is simply maneuvering through its environment. As mentioned above, the recordings help us to distinguish the presences of particular bat species.

Lindsey Bat Detector_4730

Lindsey changes the batteries and swaps out the SD card in one of the GSC’s bat detectors.

We have three detectors in operation year-round. Our location is southern enough that bats don’t necessarily have to migrate further south in winter, nor hibernate in caves. Of course, the bats are most active during the hot, humid months of summer. Detectors are placed at varying heights as well as within varying levels of vegetation – one within, one below and one above the tree canopy.

We’re using the detectors to collect information, addressing specifically:

  1. What bat species are present at the GSC?
  2. What is species diversity like throughout the year? Do migratory species tend to stay or leave during winters?
  3. How do different species use the canopy? Do larger bats tend to spend time above or below the canopy while the smaller bats stay within it?

Thankfully, we’re not going it alone when it comes to bat conservation.

Beyond the GSC’s Bat Project, our staff also help with state-wide bat conservation efforts, specifically the North American Bat Monitoring Program (NABat). This program is an acoustic recording program that recurs each summer. With a bat detector attached to the top of their vehicles, staff drive along designated paths to record data along that particular transect during the nighttime. This helps to establish species distribution across our state.

We also assist the NC Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) with their annual surveying. NCWRC has what are called “mist net sites” scattered throughout NC. At sundown, mist nets are set up and opened to receive bats. Bats fly in, and scientists record their information – including species, sex, age (adult or juvenile), and assesses it for presence or absence of white nose syndrome. Then, the bat is arm-banded and released.

White nose syndrome has been present in the United States since 2006 but wasn’t discovered here in NC until 2011. White nose is a fungal disease that thrives in moist, cool environments, where it grows on the muzzles, wings or fingers of hibernating bats. Hibernating bats enter a state of torpor in which metabolic activity dramatically slows, allowing them to survive the cold months without food or water. White nose is an irritant that wakes the bats during their hibernations, costing them critical calories during a time in which insects are scarce. White nose also causes imbalances in blood pH and potassium levels, which can inhibit heart function and lead to fatality (USGS, 2015). White nose is a serious concern, responsible for the deaths of more than one million bats.

Now that you’re armed with lots of information, what can YOU do to help bats?

#BatWeek-Endangered

Want more bats? Visit http://www.batweek.org

Join us for Bat Weekend! During National Bat Week, come out on October 27 and 28 to learn how you can be a bat hero. Many people don’t realize the huge positive impact bats make on our ecosystem and why it’s important we work to conserve them. We’ll show you how to build your own bat box, play games and more – for bats’ sake! Event activities are free with general admission or GSC membership.

 

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Living the Mission: GSC Staff Awarded Conservation & Research Grants

This year, the Greensboro Science Center provided staff a brand new opportunity to apply for what is known as the Conservation and Research Grant. This annual grant offers GSC staff the opportunity to pursue a conservation or research project. Eligible proposals can range from pursing a professional development opportunity, facilitating an existing field project (like mussel surveys or bat acoustic work), creating a conservation project (like a stream clean-up or butterfly garden), or taking on a new research question. After undergoing an extensive assessment by our staff Research Committee, this year’s recipients have been announced.

Shannon Anderson, Zoo Keeper: SANCCOB’s Keeper Exchange Program

Penguin DivingShannon will travel to South Africa to work with SANCCOB staff to refine her skills in bird care and chick rearing; Shannon’s knowledge and passion for penguins led her to pursue this program. On this trip, she’ll have the opportunity to work with field biologists, conservationists and sea bird specialists to expand her knowledge and will share her experience with staff at a presentation following her time in South Africa.

Rachel Rogers, Aquarist: Mote Marine Coral Restoration Workshop

coral 02Rachel, the GSC’s coral aquarist, has a passion for propagating and conserving coral species. At the workshop, she’ll learn the micro-fragmenting techniques used to propagate staghorn and elkhorn corals. She will also visit coral nurseries in the Florida Keys to gain knowledge on the best methods for growing and reproducing coral. She, too, will share her experience with staff at a presentation following the workshop.

Sam Beasley, Vet Tech: Sea Turtle Care Center at the South Carolina Aquarium

Sam Beasly | 36 | EditSam works alongside veterinarian Dr. Sam Young to care for the animals in our collection. Sam has a lifelong passion for turtles and rehabilitation of sea turtles. She will work with the vets and technicians at the Sea Turtle Care Center to rehabilitate sea turtles and care for injured turtles. There, she will learn new skills and receive hands-on training that will benefit her vet career. Sam will also be sharing with staff her experience when she returns.

We’re thrilled to have a team of staff who supports our mission of conservation by putting the “hands” in “hands-on.” Return to our blog in the near future for updates on the good works these team members will be doing!

Our Keepers and Aquarists ROCK!

This week (July 15 – 21, 2018) is National Zookeeper and Aquarist Week, a time when we at the GSC like to show off our team of dedicated zoo and aquarium professionals to you – our members, guests and fans.

These individuals work 365 days a year, doing so much more than feeding animals and scooping poop. They take an active role in ensuring the health and wellbeing of their animals. They monitor water quality. They work with animals on training behaviors that will assist in providing them the best possible veterinary care. They work tirelessly to create stimulating experiences for our animals. They offer enrichment items, treats, belly rubs, head scratches, shell scrubs, and so much more. Most importantly, they care. These animals are their co-workers, and this truly amazing team treats them with the same love and respect they provide their human co-workers.

Their work isn’t all about animal care, as some may believe. It’s also about human interactions! Every day, our team educates guests about our animals as well as the species as a whole. They inspire us to think about how human actions affect wild spaces and wildlife – and offer suggestions about ways we can do a better job protecting our planet. They even help to dispel myths about animals people might have negative associations with.

Zoonado FINAL

But don’t just take it from us… have a look at what our Board of Directors, senior management and members have shared this week:

“Our team of dedicated animal caretakers puts in countless hours doing some pretty difficult and dirty work. Though there are times of true amazement in our field, there are also moments that are very difficult and can take an emotional toll. That’s why teamwork is so important to us and creating a fun and enjoyable work environment is something we value greatly. Whether it is themed lunches, trivia nights, or even costume contests, these folks are always out to create some smiles. And when the going gets tough, each and every one of them is there for one another other to offer support. I know the GSC would not be the same place without them and I’d like to thank each and every one for all they do not just for the GSC, but also for each other.” – Jessica Hoffman-Balder, General Curator

“As a Board member and also a Docent for 10 years, I’ve had the special privilege to shadow keepers in all areas, as well as accompany many folks on some amazing Behind the Scenes tours.  From being able to put meat out for the tigers, hand feed the penguins, transfer fish from one tank to another, and overcome my life-long fear of snakes, I have learned SO MUCH and come to more fully appreciate and be awed by what this incredible group does every day to care for our amazing collection of living creatures. Their dedication, efficiency and teamwork are unsurpassed and invaluable in the success of the GSC.  Sending a big SHOUT OUT of “thanks” to each and every one!” – Betty Barry, GSC Board of Directors

“How can I thank the entire Keeper and Aquarist staff enough? They have been instrumental on every behind-the-scenes tour I give and go out of their way to make our guests’ experiences special. Not only are they informative, but their love for the animals radiates from them. Some of my favorite personal experiences were watching country artist Stephanie Quayle touch the octopus, Keeper Carolyn’s Discovery House tours for younger kids, and the gibbon talks with Keeper Amanda.But every tour has its own uniqueness! Thanks, Keepers and Aquarists!” – Kathy Neff, GSC Director of Development

“[I’m] always so impressed with staff and their sincere dedication to their jobs and to the GSC! We are lucky to have them take on such vital and important roles that definitely contribute to the overall success of the center and to the enjoyment of all who come to visit!” – Jeanne Blaisdell, GSC Board of Directors

We invite you to join us in thanking our keepers and aquarists, whether it be this week or anytime the inclination strikes. Without their hard work and heartfelt dedication, the GSC as we know it wouldn’t be here. And just the same, without your support and patronage, none of this would be possible… so we thank you, too!

Kelli Crawford Receives 2016 Governor’s Medallion Award for Volunteer Service

By Kelli Crawford, Resource Manager of Volunteers and Collections at the Greensboro Science Center

On Monday, July 25, I traveled to Raleigh to receive the Governor’s Medallion Award for Volunteer Service.  It was an incredibly humbling experience, even more so because it came as a result of the support I’ve received from the Volunteer Center of Greensboro, the Greensboro Science Center, and our outstanding volunteers.

Kelli with Governor’s Medallion Award Recipients

With my husband, parents and brother watching, I sat in the capitol building surrounded by some truly incredible volunteers.  As I listened to excerpts from their nominations, I recognized in those twenty volunteers many of the qualities I’ve seen in the volunteers who dedicate their time to the Greensboro Science Center.  These selfless individuals serve their organizations not for an award, but because they believe in the mission and want to be a vital part of helping that organization achieve it.  That’s true of our volunteers as well.

The ceremony gave me the opportunity to meet Governor Pat McCrory for a short time before he had to head out for a speaking engagement.  In his place, Susan Kluttz, the Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, actually gave each of us our medals.  They recognized 21 volunteers total in the following categories:  Senior, Youth, Mentor, Group/Team, Lifetime Achievement, Faith-Based, Disaster, Corporate/Business, Perseverance in Volunteerism, and Director of Volunteers.

Kelli and Susan Kluttz

Just as each of our volunteers does not serve to be recognized, I don’t do this job with that in mind.   I do it because I truly believe in the difference one individual can make in their community.  Our volunteers have shown me that.  Yet with recognition comes positive growth for our program.  In the past few years, we’ve been fortunate to have one of our own, Jim Blalock, win the award for Individual Volunteer of the Year in 2014 for Guilford County.  Our program was recognized as Non-Profit Volunteer Program of the Year in 2015 for Guilford County.  This most recent statewide recognition may be in my name, but it is truly a reflection of the hard work of the volunteers I am blessed to lead and learn from every day.

I often tell our volunteers that they are the face of the Greensboro Science Center.  They’re out on the floor engaging with our visitors on a daily basis.  They’re the ones who get to tell a visitor everything they want to know about that favorite Javan gibbon – his or her name, age, diet, personality quirks, likes and dislikes.  Those conversations can ignite an awareness of that species as a whole.  That’s the fun pa

rt and the part that really gets to the core of our mission.  Yet they’re also the people who may be tasked with telling a visitor that their favorite animal has passed away.  Seeing the care and concern they display in such difficult times makes me incredibly proud.  There are unique perks to being a volunteer at a facility like ours, but it’s not always easy.  The grace they exemplify, their constant desire to improve, to gain knowledge and to serve is inspiring.

I want to thank all of our volunteers for their selfless service, their dedication to conservation and education, and their implicit trust that my team and I are working hard each day for their benefit.  We want them to enter our doors knowing that they’ve got the resources they need to make a difference and leave them knowing that they did.  They make us proud every day.  I’m incredibly honored to have represented all of them in Raleigh and look forward to continuing to work with them to Volunteer.  Educate.  Inspire.

Kelli with Family

Greensboro Science Center Volunteer Program Logo

Meet the Aquarist: Lyssa Torres

Although it’s National Zoo Keeper Week, we can’t forget about our team of aquarists! Without these dedicated professionals, the Carolina SciQuarium wouldn’t be the fascinating place our visitors know and love.

Lyssa Torres gave us the inside scoop about what it’s like to be an aquarist. She’s been in the profession for about three years and has been at the Greensboro Science Center for a little over one year. She has always loved the ocean and sea life, but what pushed her over the edge and made her decide to become an aquarist was a documentary on jellyfish.

Although there are no jellyfish in the SciQuarium (yet; who knows what the future holds?), Lyssa has plenty of other critters and chores to keep her busy. On a typical day in the SciQuarium, aquarists start the morning by checking all of the tanks. They take water samples, clean windows, test the water quality, prepare diets, feed the animals, clean filters, perform water changes, make salt water… it’s a pretty intense list!

And aquarists must know much more than just information about the animals they care for. They have to be proficient in things like plumbing, chemistry and animal medications as well.

Lyssa says the reward is worth it. She loves seeing an animal do well on exhibit, especially when it’s one she hasn’t taken care of before. She also enjoys watching the visitors’ reactions as they interact with animals.

Her favorite part of the job, though, as you might imagine, is getting wet. Whether she’s participating in dives or training the eagle ray, she loves being in the water.

Lyssa with Eagle Ray

Lyssa feeding the SciQuarium’s spotted eagle ray.

So, what’s the worst part of the job?

“Sometimes the cleaning can get kind of repetitive,” she said.

However, the rather mundane task of cleaning is all part of the job… A job which led to a pretty cool story to tell at parties…

“I was head-butted by a whale shark,” Lyssa said. She was feeding them from an inflatable boat as in intern at the Georgia Aquarium. Apparently, she wasn’t feeding them fast enough and one let her know in a rather intrusive manner!

As you have hopefully learned from this week’s blog series, our zoo keepers and aquarists are incredible individuals. They work hard – and play hard – and have some amazing stories to tell. Although National Zoo Keeper Week is coming to a close for 2014, please remember these folks any time you visit and thank them for the work they do to ensure the health, happiness and well-being of our animals.

Meet the Keeper: Lauren Irk

Lauren has worked as a zoo keeper at the Greensboro Science Center for about four and a half years. She knew early on that she wanted to work with animals, but didn’t want to become a veterinarian. The primary reason was that she didn’t want the responsibility of euthanizing animals. “It would be too hard,” Lauren said. “I would cry every time.”

So, she took her passion for animal care along a different route by enrolling in Davidson County Community College’s Zoo and Aquarium Science program. During the program, she became an intern at the Greensboro Science Center and, in her second year, was hired part-time by the Center. Since then, she has worked her way up and is now a full time keeper in the Center’s herpetology department.

Her primary responsibilities include making diets, feeding, administering medications when necessary and general cleaning. Although general cleaning does include the dreaded “scooping of the poop,” she did note that reptiles don’t go to the bathroom as often as mammals… which, um, we guess is a job perk…

But, to Lauren, the real perks are a bit different. She loves talking to kids. “They’re funny,” she said, “especially when they know stuff already.”

She also enjoys it when new animals arrive. It’s always exciting for her to have something different to work with – especially if it’s a new species.

“I like being a female in the reptile department,” Lauren said. It is typically a male-dominated field and people are often surprised to hear what Lauren does for a living. However, Lauren is surprised at the number of female counterparts she has in zoos across the country. So take heart, ladies, if your passion lies in pythons, you’re not alone.

Lauren with a skink

Keeper, Lauren, with one of her charges – a blue tongued skink.

While you might think the danger of a reptile keeper’s career lies in the rattlesnake, copperhead or Burmese python, don’t be fooled. The real threats are tortoises… “I’ve been stampeded by tortoises,” Lauren admits. “If there’s food, they will stampede. They’ll run you over for it.” (Note: no zoo keepers were harmed in the telling of this anecdote.)

Another interesting thing you might not know about a reptile keeper’s job is that they spend time training their animals. That’s right, they can be taught! The Center’s tortoises have learned to target and are now learning to pick up their feet when asked. And Maggie, the rhinoceros iguana, is learning to wear a harness.

All of the keepers in the herpetology department get along great, Lauren said. They each have specific jobs they do and specific animals to care for each day, but they also have a little time to have fun. While they do tend to goof off occasionally, one thing they always take seriously is the health and well-being of their animals.

Meet the Keeper: Rachael Campbell

In honor of National Zoo Keeper Week, we took a few minutes to sit down with some of our amazing zoo keepers and learn more about them and the role they play here at the Greensboro Science Center. As Senior Keeper, Rachael Campbell, explains, there’s much more to the job than scooping poop and cuddling animals.

Rachael and Kisa

Rachael giving tiger, Kisa, medication.

Rachael always wanted to work with animals. In college, she began exploring internships at zoos and was lucky enough to secure a position with Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines, Iowa. During her internship, she worked primarily in the petting zoo area and assisted a bit with the bird collection. Just 3 months after graduating college, she was hired by the same zoo.

And so began her zoo keeper career… and it’s a difficult one.

“So many people want to work with animals,” Rachael says. But the job is much more than that, which is why zoo keepers are college educated, degree-holding professionals.

Being a zoo keeper requires extensive knowledge of animal habitats. It also requires heavy labor as keepers are responsible for building and enhancing exhibits. Keepers also make diets, train animals… and yes, scoop poop.

The schedule is demanding. Keepers are often the first to arrive at the GSC. They work holidays, nights and weekends and in all kinds of weather, from oppressive heat to ice storms.

Being a zoo keeper also comes with its share of difficult moments. Rachael says the most challenging part of the job to her is losing an animal. It’s also tough when an animal gets sick and there’s no obvious reason as to why. Keepers spend their days caring for and bonding with their animals, so you can imagine how hard an illness or loss can be for them.

With that in mind, one might wonder why zoo keepers keep doing what they do. Well, being a keeper has its perks. How many people can say they’ve played “got your paw” with a lioness?

Rachael can.

At Blank Park Zoo, she developed a very close bond with a lioness. The lion would stick her declawed front paws under the fence for Rachael to grab. When she got her paw, the lion would pull her paw back, turn her head to the side, open her mouth, and stick her paws under the fence again for another round!

To Rachael, that’s the most rewarding part of her job: building relationships with exotic species and having them recognize her and do what she asks (8 times out of 10, she qualifies).

From humble beginnings as an intern with the Blank Park Zoo to her current position of Senior Keeper at the Greensboro Science Center, Rachael has worked her way up over the past several years. She credits her success to her willingness to do the grunt work. She understood early on that being a zookeeper has its share of less-than-glamorous work. Her professional attitude allows her to appreciate that you learn as you go in this profession and the only way to succeed is to be open to different tasks and experiences.