By Alexa Cushman, Program Intern
A day spent in animal care begins bright and early at 8:00 a.m. . Diets need to be made for the animals on the trail first and foremost. The diets get made and collected; then it is time to hit the trail. Animal care staff doesn’t use the same trails that you use, but instead employ trails behind the exhibits that lead to enclosures where the animals stay in at night. While the animals are still inside, the animal care staff goes into the exhibit where we then clean. We clean the windows, so that you all can have the best view of the animal, and anything else that needs to be cleaned up and straightened out. Once the exhibit is clean, the animal is shifted out into the exhibit. We take this time to clean up their indoor enclosure and to put out their food for the evening. We make sure that all the animal exhibits have been cleaned, the animals have been fed, and are out on the trail by 9:30 a.m.. This ensures that you can see the animals as soon as the Science Center opens in the morning.
Once the trail is open, the animal care staff then moves back indoors to the animal care room, where many of our program animals are located. Cleaning, feeding, and providing enrichment for the program animals then begins. There are two different enrichment areas within the animal care room; one indoor and one outdoors. All of the program mammals spend at least a half hour either in the outdoor or indoor enrichment room every day. Enrichment is extremely important for captive animals. Animals in captivity do not live in their natural environment and to make sure that they are mentally and physically healthy, enrichment is provided to incorporate behaviors that are more natural. In the enrichment rooms we have placed many different logs, tunnels, toys, scents, and other activities to help provide space for the animals to run, climb, jump, and explore; all of the things that these animals would normally be doing in their natural environment.
Another activity that takes place in the afternoon in between cleaning and enriching the program animals is training. Training is very important for both the program and exhibit animals. Animal care staff does not train the animals here like you may train your dog or cat at home; instead all of the training serves a specific purpose. The program mammals are trained to move in and out of a crate onto a table, and are trained to stay there because they are used in many educational programs. When the animals are able to move by themselves, it is a lot less stressful for both the animal and the staff. The program birds are trained to follow whistle signals both on and off the glove. If the bird will easily move onto the glove, it is less stressful once again for the bird and the staff. Some of our larger program animals have been trained to do other tasks such as sit and give paw. These seemingly mundane tasks are important for routine nail clippings or visits from the veterinarian. The animals on exhibit have been trained to move on and off their exhibit so the animal care staff can perform maintenance and cleaning.
When all of the cleaning, feeding, enriching, and training has been completed, usually around 4:30 p.m., the animal care staff goes back to the exhibit trail to shift all the animals into their indoor enclosures for the evening. Eventually the animal care staff also go home, after a long, but rewarding day, ensuring that you were brought a little nearer to nature!