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!

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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.

Meet the Aquarist: Sarah

Although this week is dedicated to Zoo Keepers, we couldn’t help but give a shout out to our aquarists as well. These folks have gone above and beyond the call of duty to open the Carolina SciQuarium on time and have continued to succeed by providing outstanding care to our aquatic animals through weeks of record-breaking attendance.

The Role of Our Aquarists

Senior Aquarist, Sarah, outlined a typical day in the SciQuarium. Each day begins with some general maintenance performed before visitors arrive. The aquarists start by checking each tank to make sure all of the animals are healthy. To ensure their continued health and safety, they follow this visual scan by checking each pump and making sure all life support systems are operating normally. Then, the cleaning begins. Each morning, our aquarists are responsible for removing leftover food, feces and algae from the tanks. This not only keeps the animals’ environments healthy, but it also gives visitors the best possible viewing experience.

Sarah (right) and Caitlyn (left) Feeding Eels and Rays

Sarah (right) and Caitlyn (left) Feeding Eels and Rays

Then comes breakfast… for the animals, of course. The aquarists feed each animal and monitor how much they are eating to make sure their appetites are the same. From there, they take water samples from each tank and perform water quality testing. Once they are sure water is at the optimal levels for each exhibit, it’s time to don wetsuits and get ready for the morning dive. Around 11:00am (keep in mind the schedule is always subject to change), visitors can watch divers clean and maintain the Shark Reef exhibit.

In the afternoon, much of the aquarists’ time is typically spent working on projects, such as building, cleaning and fixing systems. Their day ends much as it began. They feed animals and make sure appetites are still strong, check life support systems, make sure pumps are working properly and check each tank to ensure all animals are healthy and thriving.

About Sarah

Sarah has been an aquarist for about 6 years and came to us from Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut. Her favorite thing about working in the Carolina SciQuarium is working with the animals, particularly the spotted eagle ray. She enjoys the fact that aquarists in the SciQuarium have the chance to do everything! At many other aquariums, she says aquarists’ work is specialized to focus on certain animals or exhibits, but in the SciQuarium they have the opportunity to work with all of the animals, exhibits and systems.

Ironically, Sarah’s least favorite part of her job is getting wet. She’s also not a fan of smelling like fish all the time, but we can’t blame her for that! If she could choose one animal to feature in the SciQuarium that isn’t currently there, Sarah would choose a coconut crab. She said would name him pina colada and walk him on a leash.

A Keeper’s Role: Lauren

The Role of a Zoo Keeper in the Herp Department

Zoo Keepers in our Herpetology Department are responsible for the care of our reptiles and amphibians as well as the insects and arachnids in Bug Discovery. They also play an important role as conservationists and frontline educators. Each day, our Herp Keepers begin with a meeting to make sure staff is all on the same page. They catch each other up on the latest developments regarding their animals and exhibits and go over things to do that day.

Lauren Teaching Maggie To Station

Keeper Lauren Teaching Maggie, the Rhinoceros Iguana, To Station

After this morning meeting, they begin the day by performing general maintenance in each exhibit. Each morning exhibit husbandry such as cleaning waste, adding fresh water, bedding changes, water quality checks, and water changes for aquatic herps are performed,  and enrichment items are also added – even for reptiles!  From there, they move on to making diets and working on projects such as updating or redoing exhibits. They may also spend some time searching the grounds for logs, rocks, etc. needed for exhibits.

Herp Keepers also participate in Keeper Talks, including a special 3:00 Keeper Talk featuring a crocodile feeding on Wednesdays and Sunday from June through August (weather permitting). Throughout the day, they try to take a few minutes to visit with guests and answer any questions they may have about animals in their care.

The day ends with afternoon feedings and a final walk through to check on each animal before heading out for the night.

About Lauren

Lauren is a Zoo Keeper in our Herpetology Department who came to the Greensboro Science Center in December of 2009. Her favorite part of working at the GSC is talking with the public – especially when they take special interest in the animals she cares for.

Her favorite animal is Maggie, the Rhinoceros Iguana. She has been training her to “station,” a process designed to help with food aggression. When Lauren tells Maggie to station, she will walk onto her platform where she is rewarded with food. Lauren is then able to put down her food bowl without Maggie interfering. If Maggie disobeys, she is subjected to a time out which means Lauren leaves the room for a minute. Maggie is learning that when she disobeys, it takes longer for her to get her food. She is also learning to “target” which means she walks to the target (a tennis ball on a stick) and taps it with her nose. When she follows instructions, she’s rewarded with food. This process allows keepers to direct her where to go when necessary.

Maggie Learning To Target

Maggie Learning To Target