GSC Penguin Keeper Shares South African Experience

IMG_0307GREENSBORO, NC — Shannon Anderson, lead penguin keeper at the Greensboro Science Center (GSC), spent 10 days in South Africa assisting with the rescue, rehabilitation and release of seabirds at the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB).Anderson’s participation was part of SANCCOB’S Animal Professional Experience, an exchange program for penguin keepers wishing to apply their husbandry knowledge in order to assist with the conservation and welfare of wild penguin populations. Her experience was sponsored by the GSC’s Conservation and Research Grant, funding which offers GSC staff the opportunity to pursue a conservation or research project.

Anderson worked side by side with the organization’s bird rehabilitation staff and volunteers, practicing her current skills and learning how to care for sick, injured, oiled, and abandoned African penguins and other seabirds. Most of her time was spent working in the chick rearing unit, where she was responsible for as few as eight chicks and sometimes as many as 23. There, her responsibilities were preparing and administering food and medications – which included tube feeding chicks four times each day – as well as cleaning the pens and reporting welfare checks.

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Anderson says she learned a lot during her time at SANCCOB. The autonomy of the work reiterated how capable she is at husbandry and affirmed the depth of knowledge she has about African penguins. She enjoyed the opportunity of working with wild penguins, which was far different from her zookeeper work. Anderson says, “It was very different working with wild birds. We were encouraged to be rough. There was no talking. We didn’t handle the birds. You didn’t caudle them, you pushed them to meet milestones to keep them on track with their development and growth. In the end, the chicks were going to rejoin the colony and they had to have the skills necessary to survive. We didn’t want them to get imprinted or they’d just end up needing additional human intervention.” Anderson says that this approach has proven successful for SANCCOB, which boasts an 85% success rate of returning birds to the wild following admission.

Anderson’s experience in South Africa greatly contributed to the conservation of wild birds in her care, but it also gave her new knowledge that she was able to apply at the GSC. Shortly after she arrived home in late December, Anderson found a compromised egg in one of the nest boxes. By following SANCCOB’s protocols regarding incubation, humidity, temperature, and timing, she was successfully able to hatch the chick using sterile forceps and precise timing. All the skills applied to make sure this chick survived, she learned during her time in South Africa. She also took the skills learned from working in SANCCOB’s ICU unit to create a new diet for an ill bird, leading to that bird’s quick recovery. Anderson will admit the confidence to take the lead and use those skills also had something to do with her time at SANCCOB.

Anderson was one of three staff members who received project funding through the GSC’s Conservation and Research Grant program. The GSC’s staff can apply for funds to support research projects, conservation work or relevant professional development. Applicants must submit a written application, provide a presentation to the research committee and, if funded, present a program recap to the GSC’s board and staff.

The GSC has long supported SANCCOB via its annual Tuxedo Trot, a 5K and Kids’ Fun Run designed specifically to raise funds for endangered African penguins. The event, which has raised $50,000 since its inception in 2013, will return on Saturday, April 27, 2019. More information about the event can be found online at http://www.tuxedotrot.com.

Lindsey Zarecky, VP of Conservation & Research at the GSC said, “The GSC Research Committee was thrilled to send Shannon to assist with a conservation organization we have supported for years. We receive thank you letters, photos, progress reports, and field updates from SANCCOB, but to see the glow in the eyes of someone who got to experience wild penguin conservation makes our 5K fundraiser so much more meaningful.” When we asked Shannon what her major takeaway was from this trip she said, “In our hearts, zookeepers want to do this, we want to make a difference, and that is why we work with animals. But you never know if you will actually get a chance to use your skills. This trip just made everything worthwhile.”

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!

Sustainable Seafood Sustains Penguins Too

By Alison Manka, School and SciQuarium Programs Manager

A few weeks ago, we welcomed, Pat, the newest African penguin chick to the Greensboro Science Center’s African penguin colony. This special girl spent her first months of life gulping down enormous quantities of fish, first from her parents, then from her keepers. In a mere three months, she grew from a scant 63 grams (about the weight of a C battery) to well over 2,600 grams (over five and a half pounds). This rapid growth in our penguin as well as wild penguin chicks is attributable to the steady and regular supply of fish. Unfortunately, not all wild penguin chicks are as lucky and satiated as Pat.

penguin chickMany wild African penguin parents struggle to feed their chicks. African penguins feed mainly on small schooling fish such as sardines, anchovies, and herring. Adults will travel great distances in search of these schooling fish which follow nutrient rich offshore currents. These fish-rich currents are moving farther and farther off shore as water temperature increases. As a result, penguins are forced to travel longer and farther in search of fish running the gauntlet of oil spills, discarded fishing gear, and natural predators. When the penguins finally reach the fishing grounds, there are far fewer fish to be found. The fish penguins need to survive are being harvested for human consumption at an unsustainable rate.

Seafood WatchThis sounds like a problem too big and too distant for us living half a world away to do anything about. What can we do about fishing around Africa? As it turns out, there is something that each and every one of us can do, it doesn’t cost a dime and will help penguins as well as all other aquatic animals. All we need to do to help is make sure any seafood we consume, whether from a grocer or a restaurant, is being sustainably harvested. The Greensboro Science Center is proud to be a member of Seafood Watch, a sustainable seafood resource created by the Monterey Bay Aquarium that works with government agencies, scientists, and fisheries to recommend which seafood is a best choice, a good alternative, and which to avoid. They provide this information free of charge in a pocket sized Seafood Watch guide or the free app available for iOS and Android devices. Pocket guides are available for the Southeast Region, Sushi, and in Spanish at the Greensboro Science Center. Feel free to pick up a few extra to pass out to friends.

Selecting sustainably harvested seafood is a wonderful way to help aquatic animals including penguins in the long term, but want to do more? You can help by running, walking, or waddling with us in our annual Tuxedo Trot: Run for the Penguins. This 5K race and 1K Kids Fun Run, held on May 21st 2016, benefits SANCCOB, a wonderful non-profit in South Africa that rescues abandoned chicks, helps oiled birds, raises awareness, and works on conservation efforts. 100% of the race’s proceeds will go directly to SANCCOB. This year, with your help, we are striving to raise over $20,000 for SANCCOB to aid their efforts to save the endangered African penguin.

Please help all of Pat’s wild penguin cousins by choosing sustainably harvested seafood and joining us May 21st to run, walk, or waddle in the Greensboro Science Center’s Tuxedo Trot: Run for the Penguins to support SANCCOB. Sustainable seafood sustains penguins too!

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