Monday, May 23, 2005

Zoo Update - May 23

I got to give a special tour last Thursday night. About 200 people from the ACVB (Anchorage Convention & Visitor’s Bureau) came over to review the construction going on at the zoo. Yes, I really mean 200 people! We had 5 volunteers (myself, Chris, Carol, Carie, and Heather) stationed at different points throughout the zoo. The people came in waves, brought by big tour busses, so at least we didn’t have all 200 at once. They wondered around where ever they wanted to, and were able to talk to the volunteers about the construction going on.

These people were all involved in the tourist business, coming from lodges, B&B’s, cruise companies, all kinds of businesses, and were there to check out what we have to offer so they could refer us to the hordes once they start showing up. So, needless to say, we were all on our best behavior and really talked the zoo up for them. Gave them all kinds of information to pass on, in hopes of attracting more customers.

I have to admit I was not in a very good mood that night. I have some personal stuff going on right now that has me really depressed, added to which my old cat Floyd is getting worse, so I will have to say goodbye to him soon. Thankfully, Heather stood by me and helped me out with the crowds, so it went alright.

Sunday afternoon was my family’s 16th annual Zoo/Picnic Day! We all met at the zoo at 2:00, as usual. This year our crowd was rather smaller than usual: Stan & Grandma Dorothy were both in Minnesota, and Danny & Gareth had to stay home to take care of their Grandpa. Also, Laurel was doing her weekend-warrior thing with the Army, so she was only able to show up for the picnic, after the zoo thing was over. All in all, we only had about 19 people (normally, the number would be around 25). And ass usual, half my family was late, and as a result they ended up missing the first of my behind-the-scenes events: the polar bear enclosure. But, I told everybody to meet up at 2:00; it’s not my fault they can’t do that.

We met up with Liz, one of the zookeepers, who took us in to Ahpun’s den area and showed up her filtration system and all the equipment required to keep her environment just perfect. Ahpun’s pool is 14 feet deep and the creek that runs thru her enclosure is 4 feet deep. Add in the two waterfalls, and that’s a lot of water. About 55,000 gallons total, and all that water runs thru the filtration system every hour of the day, so the tanks to accommodate all that are quite large. Rather than use chlorine to treat the water, which is bad for the animal (not to mention the fact that it smells funny) they use an ozone system: it’s actually called an "ozonation system" which sounds to me like something out of Star Wars!

After visiting Ahpun for a while, Liz led everybody over to the infirmary where she introduced us all to Max, the orphaned fox kit. He is an absolute doll! Such a cute little thing. He was found recently out on the tarmac at the airport, hence his name. Everybody enjoyed hearing his story and asking questions. Liz even let us pet him, which really surprised me. Normally, they don’t do that; but since he is going to be one of our educational animals, I guess they want him to get used to being in a crowd and being touched.

Smitty, another one of our zookeepers, took over after Liz was done and led us all over to meet up with Steve & Al, the Siberian tigers. Or, as is the correct terminology, the Amur tigers. Technically speaking, they don’t come from Siberia at all – they come from an area nearby a river called Amur, near the Chinese/Russian border. Way back in the early 1900s people thought it sounded more exotic to call them Siberian tigers, so that’s what they got stuck with. Scientists are now trying to get the name put back to what it should have been all along, but changing hundreds of year’s worth of name-calling is easier said than done!

Anyway, Smitty led everybody to the back of the enclosure so we could get a good look at them. He is a talker, and loves nothing better than to talk about his cats – and my family is more than happy to ask questions, too. We ended up spending quite a bit of time back there, till I finally got everybody moving again. We headed on over to the snow leopards, with Smitty in toe, and spent an equal amount of time there, asking all kinds of questions and listening to Smitty some more.

After finishing up at the snow leopards, we eventually ambled back to the entrance of the zoo. We were all hungry by that time, so headed on to the picnic: this year it was held at Reed's girlfriend's house. She has a very nice place, and is kind enough to let all of us crowd in and take over. Those of you who know my family know that we can be a bit overwhelming at times. We mean well, but it's pretty much chaos when we're all together; everybody talking all at once.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Zoo Update - May 2

There's been a lot going on at the zoo this past month; I'll get you all caught up here, since I haven't been doing it as things happen.

I attended an awards banquette with several zoo personnel (Tex Edwards, Sammye & John Sewell, Shannon Jensen, Beth Foglestadt, Brian Moore, and volunteers Elizabeth Maciariello and Carol Morgan) on Wednesday, April 14. The luncheon was sponsored by BP and was to honor volunteers in and around Anchorage. The AAVA, or the Anchorage Association of Volunteer Administration, gave out 6 awards: three Outstanding Volunteer Program Awards recognizing agencies for their volunteer programs (Alaska Legal Services, Clare House, and Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis), a Community Service Award recognizing a Youth Volunteer (Stephen Arendain – 16 years old, 200 hours volunteering for KCI Head Start), a Community Service Award recognizing an Individual Volunteer (Sallye Werner – volunteered for CASA helping abused and neglected children), and a Community Service Award recognizing a Business or Corporation (Davis Wright Tremaine).

That Friday night was the second to the last of the girl scouts programs. I wasn't feeling very good that night, so only ended up doing half of it. It was a good program, focusing on Birds. I unfortunately missed hearing Kaleigh's presentation - she's our mentor student who worked all semester on Bird Anatomy, and that night was her formal presentation, with somebody from her high school there to grade her on it. She did very well, I hear, but we knew she would.

Saturday, April 16th, was National Kid’s Day in Anchorage, with several businesses around town offering special events for kids. The Alaska Zoo offered free admissions to kids under 12, and had all kinds of activities throughout the day. I was to have given a Naturalist Tour at 2:30, but nobody wanted one. So I ended up just helping out wherever necessary. I helped Shannon feed the otters (actually, I just stood there and watched while she fed them). I helped close up shop at the critter table, carrying the tub full of items back to the office. I helped Jim while he presented Tula, the Bactrian camel (again, I basically just stood there – but I would have helped out if it had been necessary). I even helped Liz when she got Trini, the silver fox, out to show people. The whole day was a great success, with over 1,800 people attending.

The last of the girl scouts programs was on Friday, the 22nd, but I had come down with a serious chest/head cold that weekend and had to call in sick. I also missed the Woman’s Show at the Sullivan Arena. The Alaska Zoo had a booth there, to pass out information on our volunteer program as well as all the other programs we have. I felt really bad about missing my commitment because I knew Shannon was having a hard time getting people to work the table. She ended up having to do the whole day all by herself! I wasn’t thrilled with the whole idea to begin with, but I had said I would help out and I usually try to do what I say I will.

By the following Tuesday, April 26, I was finally well again, and was able to attend the monthly volunteer meeting. We’re getting really good at the whole monthly meeting thing; it’s really a worthwhile two hours. Not only do we get to hear all the latest news and up-coming events, but we also get to work out problems and get caught up on all the latest gossip. I am, as you might know, in charge of typing up the minutes to be sent out to everybody, so I won’t go in depth here.

This past weekend was also busy for me. I gave a tour to the American Travel Writers club on Saturday, April 30. It was a small group, with just 6 people, but I have to say it was one of the worst tours I’ve ever given. The group was very hard to handle, wouldn’t listen to me so I had to repeat everything about 5 times, and one man was so slow it took 2 hours just to get to the elephant exhibit! I didn’t even get to do over half the tour, and they had to go back to the hotel. I know the zoo was really hoping to get a good write-up from them, but I don’t think it will be that good. I tried, but one can only do so much.

The next day was much better, although it was raining. I met up with one of the new volunteers, Heather Doncaster, to go over the Naturalist Tour information. It was very nice to have somebody with me, because I tend to learn things better when I teach it to somebody else. It has been a long time since I last went over all the plant information! I have forgotten a lot, so it really helped reviewing it all with her. She plans on giving the tours all summer, and will be able to do them on weekdays since she is a schoolteacher, with the summer off.

On April 21, Ginger (our female caribou) gave birth to a beautiful baby! We don’t know what the sex is just yet, since Ginger is a very protective mother, but I’ll let you know as soon as we figure it out. He/she is a very cute little one, sticking to mother like Velcro.

We received three alpacas on Thursday, April 28, two to be housed in the old llama enclosure and one headed to the petting zoo. They are really cute animals, let me assure you. Very different from the llama, which I understand we are still in the market for.

And, last but not least on the list of new arrivals, is a young red fox that was found near a runway at the airport. We are unsure of whether this fox will stay permanently at the zoo, but for now he is comfortably housed in the infirmary till a decision can be reached. He is a tiny little thing, but the zookeepers assure me he is not only quite healthy but is also probably 5 weeks old!

All of the new arrivals can be seen on our web site at as well as on the zoo photographers web site at

Summer is finally here: there are leaves and grass and everything! I am so happy to see the last of the snow, as are all the migratory birds at the zoo. Since all the birds we have are injured in some way (that’s the only reason we have them) and are not able to fly, we have to take the migratory ones inside the infirmary for winter, to keep them warm and healthy. After 6 months being cooped up inside, I am sure that they, too, are very happy to see green again.

Sister, our oldest river otter, has an injured foot (seems the wolverine objects to having river otters as a next door neighbor) and has been moved to the infirmary till she can heal properly. She is "a weenie", to quote her handler, and complains quite loudly to anybody who will stop to listen. She holds out her paw, leans up against the bars of her cage, and whimpers. If that doesn’t get the sympathy she’s after, she will actually start to cry (loudly) even! She is getting the best of care possible, however, despite what she thinks, and will no doubt be back with her two companions in no time.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Special Tour - April 2

I got to give a very special tour this Saturday, to a group of new volunteers. It was to have been a thank-you tour for the Iditerod people who helped us out with our second annual IditaZoo celebration (which went very well, despite bad weather) but since none of them showed up, I had just the new volunteers. That was just fine with me, except that I was a bit more nervous than usual. I hadn't actually done a tour in a while, and to give a tour to fellow volunteers is a little strange. I kept expecting them to contradict me on my facts. That actually did happen once, at the silver fox. But now I have my story straight, and no harm was done.

I was excited to be able to see the two snow leopards, Kaz and Molly, together on one side of their enclosure finally. They have been getting used to each other lately, in hopes that a mating will actually occur so we can get busy with the raising of kittens. The two leopards are still not interested in each other except maybe as a sparing partner, however. We watched Kaz approach Molly and get a whopping for his efforts. He actually got his paw hurt, and had to go suck on it in the corner for a while. They certainly are magnificent animals.

The river otters have been relocated over next to the wolverines pen, in anticipation of their enclosure being renovated. However, when we got there we couldn't see them. I was really disappointed, as the pictures in John Gomes website sure looked cute. I had hoped to be able to watch them playing in the snow.

I found out just last night that Turbo, our big male river otter, bit his handler Liz. River otter bites are serious things, as they have a mouth full of very sharp teeth. Also, their diet - consisting of raw fish and other small animals found along the shores of a river - tends to make their mouths a great place for all kinds of germs and other nasty stuff. Liz was taken to the emergency room right away, so they could clean out the wound and get her started on antibiotics immediately. Both Liz and Turbo will live thru the incident, but it does remind us all that these animals are wild ones, no matter how "cute and cuddly" they may appear.

I had also hoped to be able to see the two new lynx kittens, but was again disappointed. Not only did we not see the two of them, we also did not see Mary Ellen, our own three-legged one. Marry Ellen is very rarely seen, though, so that's nothing new. But again, the pictures on John Gomes website are so cute, I really wanted to see them in person. For your own perusal of his website, check out:

Last but certainly not least, I found out that Jenny, our female wolverine, is recovering from surgery. She had a tumor of some sort on her leg that had to be taken care of, as well as some routine "well-baby" stuff. She is reported to be recovering nicely, and should be back out on display soon. Jenny was born in 1998 and arrived at the zoo in 2000, from a wolverine farm in Washington state. She was born in captivity and was hand-raised by people, so is a little bit more social than Wilbur, our male. Here's a little bit about wolverines, taken from the Alaska Zoo's web site:

General Description

Wolverines are members of the weasel family. They are the largest terrestrial members of the family, which also includes river otters and mink among others. They have dark brown fur on their back, a pale brown stomach and a light stripe down their sides. Their teeth are large with powerful jaws to tear meat and break bones. They have five large, non-retractable claws on each paw, with paws being large to support movement on top of snow. Males can reach sizes of close to 50 pounds, with females being smaller at around 30 pounds. Wolverines in the wild can live to be 13, however most die at around age 7. They can easily live to be over 20 in captivity.


Wolverines are symbols of wilderness and usually live in very remote areas. They require large ranges to move as they search for food. Their range extended down through Canada and into to eastern United States at one point, but numbers have declined in these areas and their range has become smaller and more northern. There is a healthy population of wolverines in Alaska, although their true numbers are not known due to difficulty in surveying such an elusive animal. They are thought to be found in Alaska throughout the mainland and even on some of the islands. Many people spend their entire lives in wilderness areas and are lucky to see a wolverine even once.

Food Habits

Wolverine are powerful animals that prefer to scavenge instead of hunting themselves. While they are capable of capturing larger prey, they usually feed from kills of other predators or hunters. They will supplement this food with capturing small mammals and birds when they can, making them opportunistic predators. Their large teeth, strong jaws and powerful neck allow them to break bones and tear frozen meat in the winter. They will sometimes drag carcasses of animals three times their weight to areas where they can feed or store their food for future use. They have also been known to dig pits in which they can store food for use in winter months. Stories tell of pits found with incredible numbers of animals, such as 20 foxes and 100 ptarmigan carcasses. Wolverines are also adept at gorging themselves when food is available, leading to their scientific name "Gulo gulo". This name means "glutton". By gorging themselves, they are able to survive long periods where food is scarce.


Wolverines breed during the summer months, usually between May and August. The egg is fertilized during this time by the male, however it retains the ability to free-float in the uterus. It will implant when and if the female's body is in good condition, meaning food supplies will support the pregnancy in her body. If this does not occur, the fertilized egg does not implant. This phenomenon is known as delayed implantation. This is a characteristic found in many members of the weasel family.

The gestation period or pregnancy lasts into the fall and early winter, with births usually occurring in dens between January and April. Litters are usually no larger than four kits, with size of litters determined by the female's body condition. Kits are born blind, white, toothless, and only 4 inches long. They are weaned at around 8 weeks and are on their own by 6 months.
Wolverines are solitary creatures that rarely stay in one place for long. They can roam an average of 40 miles per day in search of food over home ranges of up to several hundred square miles. This is an incredible indication of their strength and endurance. Males and females are solitary all year, except for brief encounters during breeding season.

It goes without saying that wolverines are also shy of people. They prefer a solitary existence away from humans and development. This is contrary to what most people believe of wolverines. They are generally seen as fierce and aggressive predators that will attack humans, but this is false. They avoid humans at all costs and usually only attack smaller prey than themselves. Because they are opportunistic, they will take advantage of easy food such as animals caught in traps. In cases where they are cornered or trapped, they are very aggressive (as any animal or human would be). But these cases are not indicative of their overall shy and reclusive manner.


The dangers wolverines face in the wild include other predators such as wolves and human trapping. They are also susceptible to starvation if food supplies drop off. While their population in Alaska is believed to be healthy, they are very difficult to survey for accurate numbers. The best way to protect them is to protect large areas of wilderness for them to inhabit, as this is one species that will likely never adjust to living in close quarters with humans. Alaska Department of Fish and Game also closely manages harvests of wolverines annually to ensure that over-harvest does not occur.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Volunteer Meeting - March 29

Boy, we're getting good at these monthly meetings, let me tell you! Not only was this one shorter (from 6:00 to 7:30, just like it was supposed to be!) but we covered a lot of ground! Here's the basic run down - if you have any questions, feel free to give Shannon Jenson a call.

First on the list, Shannon informed us that the BP Energy Center is closed early on Wednesdays, so even though we had decided at our last month's meeting to move them from Thursdays to Wednesdays, we decided it would be better to move them once again to Tuesdays rather than pay an extra $100 to get BP to open late for us. So, from now on (till next time it changes) our monthly volunteer meetings will be on the last Tuesday of each month, at the BP Energy Center.

Treats this time were provided by Elizabeth. She brought us ham rolls, olives, cheese, crackers, and oranges, along with leftover chips and sodas from our last meeting. Shannon supplemented the fare with bottles of water from the zoo. Next month's treats will be provided by Kim, who just may end up bringing cake since it will be on her birthday! Also, I should remind people (since I forgot it myself) there is a can into which you can put donations for these treats: a dollar or two from each of us would go a long way towards saving money needed more elsewhere.

We had some new volunteers attending this time. Heather, a biology teacher; Jamie, a student (undeclared at this time); and Kirk, who will be gone all summer but will return to us in the fall. We also had new people at last month's meeting, but I neglected to introduce them (I apologize). If anybody knows any other potential volunteers, bring 'em on!

There were a few new forms introduced this time. Shannon handed one of them out at the meeting, where we indicated our preferences in volunteer duties, as well as listing our birth date (possible opportunities for more cake!) and contact methods (phone/email). Also mentioned was a new sign-in/tracking form giving the zoo more information as to the activity to which you are signing in for. Again, the sign-in sheet is not to monitor the volunteers per-se, but to prove to the public that the zoo has support from the community, thereby enabling them to receive "in-kind" donations (i.e.: more money!). These forms are located in several places throughout the zoo: at the admittance booth, in the education building, and I think in the infirmary. If you forget, you can always pop an email off to Shannon letting her know what you did and she'll fill one out for you.

Several "critter table" events had been held this passed month (one at the military base and one at the Imaginarium - possibly others I'm not aware of) and a suggestion was made to include a disposable camera in the critter-table tub. The thought was that pictures could be scanned and placed on the website for public display. John Gomes, our official zoo photographer (who does NOT use a disposable camera!) stated that as long as you get at least a 400 speed film, it would do well enough.

Speaking of the website, Shannon mentioned that she intends to convert the monthly volunteer newsletter into an electronic format soon. She is working on learning all about that, and hopes to have all the kinks worked out by next month. If you do not have access to email or the internet, a paper version can be mailed to you as usual, with no problem.

The job descriptions still need attention. These are intended to be a helpful tool for getting more volunteers interested in the zoo. If you are at all acquainted with any portion of the zoo, please help Shannon out in filling in all the descriptions!

One of the new opportunities available is the Animal Behavioral Observer. There will be a training session soon to teach all those interested in how to properly record all that you observe. These observations will be crucial in ensuring our animals get the best care possible. Sounds very interesting to me: I just hope they have some observations taking place on the weekends, so I can help out!

We went over the schedule of events next, with a suggestion put forward of adding the actual day to the list so we don't have to try to count our fingers and toes to figure out which day what event falls on. I noticed tonight that Shannon has already implemented this idea: much better now!

Some of the bigger events coming soon: on April 16, the zoo will hold a Kid's Day event which will be all day long and will need several volunteers to fill in all the time slots available. The Alaska Women's Show will be on the weekend of April 22-23, and the zoo will have a table all 3 days. We still have timeslots available for this event, which may include live animal presentations even! The Alaska State Fair is a long way off, but keep in mind that we plan to have a critter table and live animal presentations on the first weekend, and will need volunteers for that as well.

Apparently, there has been some fuss about petting zoos in the news lately. I must confess I've missed all that, but from what I gathered from conversations at the meeting, it mostly centers around the hand washing issues. Shannon has promised to try to get her hands on the official guidelines on how to run a petting zoo, but in the meanwhile it was stressed that whoever is in charge of the petting zoo needs to insure that everybody, adult and child alike, must get a squirt of hand-washing foam both on entry and on exiting the petting zoo. Also, you should encourage everybody to visit the toilet rooms to physically wash their hands as well, since the foam can only get rid of just so many germs. We want everybody healthy and happy, not sick and miserable.

A lot has been happening on a personal level at the zoo lately. Katie Larson, the education director, had an emergency appendectomy recently! This, on top of her neck injury last year. This just isn't her year at all. I'm sure you all join me in wishing her a speedy recovery. Also, Herb the bee guy is scheduled for surgery (I'm sorry, I don't know what kind) and has pulled all of his bee stuff out of the hexagonal exhibit. He will be out of commission for the rest of the year, so whatever it is he's having sounds pretty serious. He says he will try to get a replacement bee guy (as if that were possible) to fill in for him during his absence, and also adds that he still has lots of honey sticks if anybody is in need! And last, but certainly not least, long-time volunteer Terry (I'm sorry, I don't know her last name) is moving to Guam soon. We will all miss her, I'm sure (certainly her birds will!), and there has been talk of a going away party for her. More will be forthcoming on that as we formalize our plans.

And here's an interesting little tid-bit for you. You all know that John Gomes is a retired cop, right? Well, back in the mid '70s, he worked airport security = with my father, of all people! Talk about a small world.

As for the animals in the zoo (heck, that is what a zoo is all about, after all!) there's been a lot going on there, too. The river otters have been moved to their temporary holding pen next to the wolverine. They will live there for about a month or so while their side of the exhibit gets a face-lift. Once their side is done, the harbor seal will be moved to the new side while her side gets the face-lift. And, at that time, a male harbor seal named Snapper will move in with her! Snapper will come to us from the Seward Sea Life Center to make room in their exhibit for younger pups. I'm sure Chloe will enjoy some company again; harbor seals are not meant to be solitary animals.

The two young lynx moved into the big pen with Mary Ellen to make room for the river otters. The kittens and Mary Ellen are still divided by a temporary fence, but the hope is to have all three of them together in one exhibit. It will be good for Mary Ellen to have company, whether she knows that or not. It might just "wake" her up a bit, and give her someone to play with.

The snow leopards have had an interesting month. They got "introduced" a few weeks ago, meaning the got put together in the same side of the exhibit. Unfortunately, it did not go well. Kaz attacked Molly at his first opportunity, so now Molly really wants nothing to do with him. They were separated again, but have been switching sides lately in order to get familiar with each other's scent. They were introduced again just recently, and this time it went marginally better. No blood was shed, although Kaz took a tumble down the cliff after Molly made her intention to remain singe known in no uncertain terms.

The subject of babies was brought up at the meeting, and Shannon informed us that more than likely we would not be getting any baby moose or caribou again this year. I do so love babies, but I guess we'll just have to make do with the bear cubs and whatever else comes our way.

Last year, about this time, we got two red-tailed hawks from Oregon. I don't know about the rest of you, but I have had the hardest time trying to find out what their names are! Finally, Shannon told me that the one out on exhibit is called Phoenix, and the one behind the infirmary is called Raj. I still don't know why they're not both out on exhibit. If anybody knows, please tell me!

Ike, the bald eagle, is till recovering from his amputation and is still out behind the infirmary. He tried to go on exhibit but messed up his healing process, so he got pulled back again. Hopefully, he will be well enough this summer, and can go back out. Perhaps with a little rearrangement of the exhibit, to make it less dangerous for him. He is such a beautiful bird!

Best of all, the US Fish & Game people have promised us some wolves this year! They will be yearlings, most likely, and possibly a family of 5-6. We want them young enough to adapt to captive life, but old enough to survive without their mother. Unfortunately, their family will most likely be shot, since that is the current policy on wolf management, but at least we will be able to save the pups.

Well, that about covers it. If I have missed anything or gotten my information tangled up, I apologize.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Girl Scouts - March 11

The program this time was titled "Wildlife" so we geared most of our program towards that. I have to admit, this is one of our easier programs: how difficult is it to speak of wildlife while at a zoo? We had a good group of girls: 17 juniors (ranging in age from 9 to 12) with plenty of adult supervision to help us out. There were three of us from the zoo there: Amber Mount (the education director's assistant), Mike (one of the board members who likes to help out occasionally) and myself.

Introductions went around the table, with each person stating their name and their favorite animal. Favorites ranged from horses to dolphins, tigers, monkeys, snakes, bears, and leopards. One little girl even stated that she liked muskrats! That was a first for that particular animal.

Since we were focusing on wildlife, Amber took the time to introduce our education animals to the girls, most of which I'm sure you've already "met". I'll go ahead and list them out anyway, for those of you who have not. We have an African Ball Python named Yaz; three Eastern box turtles named Leo, Mercy and Scruffy (unfortunately, Leo chose this particular evening to mate all night long with Mercy, giving the girls a rather unexpected lesson in animal propagation); 9 degus, which are South American rodents and whose names I do not know; about 25 baby millipedes (the adults have all died off, so we're down to just the little ones) whose names I also don't know although I told one little girl that the millipede I had crawling over my hand was named Fred (and she believed me); 1 lizard named Garry (I have probably been told a hundred times exactly what kind of lizard Garry is, but darned if I can ever remember it); and 1 Mexican box turtle named Goliath.

I was very impressed with how the girls handled their first activity of the evening. We passed out a slip of paper to each girl that had the name of an animal or insect on it. Amber then read off a list that paired the animals and/or insects up into groups of two, and each girl had to go find her "partner". Once the new seating arrangements got settled down, Amber put up a poster with three "relationships" lined out for them to study. COMMENSALSISM: is a relationship where one organism benefits and the other one does not, but is not harmed either. MUTUALISM: is a relationship where each organism benefit, and PARASITISM: is a relationship where one organism benefits while the other one does not. The girls then talked amongst themselves for a few minutes to figure out which type of relationship they had, then we went around the table and told us all what each pair had decided.

Unfortunately, I can't remember any of the animals and/or insects, and Amber never sent me the email she said she would send that was to have listed them all out. But I’m sure you get the idea, and I’m sure you are also impressed with the girls being able to grasp the whole concept and apply it to animals they were familiar with (as well as some they were not.)

Our second activity of the evening was a really fun one, and had everybody in the room laughing. We divided the girls into 4 groups and then gave one group a bunch of scissors, another group got a bunch of tweezers, and the final group got spoons. We explained that the girls were now birds and these utensils were their beaks; the scissors represented a meat eater's sharp and pointy beak, the tweezers represented a seed eater's small pointy beak, and the spoons represented a fish eater's bigger dull beak.

We then put a pile of marbles, representing snails, in front of them and told them to pick up as many as they could, using only their "beaks", and put them into a cup. At the end of about 2 minutes, we counted to see which group got the most. We found out that the spoons did the best at this activity, since a bigger beak would be better suited for scooping them up.

Next, we put a pile of washers in front of them, representing crustations, and reminded the girls to use ONLY their beaks (I’d noticed several hands in use the last time). We discovered that the girls with tweezers did the best at this, even though they are "seed eaters".

Our final experiment was a pile of pipe cleaners, representing worms, which ended up being consumed by the scissors the best, although some of the "worms" got cut in half accidentally.

We got finished with our two activities quite a bit earlier than scheduled, but figured that extra time spent outside was not a bad thing at all, so we got the girls geared up and headed on out the door. We took the usual route passed the polar bear, around the wolverine, passed the crows and musk ox, but then decided to head over to the snow leopards to see what they were up to.

Once we got there, Amber decided to play her game again, where the girls are divided up on two sides of the trail, and have to form whichever position is called out. The last to get into the proper position is "out" and has to give a reason as to why their assigned animal might go extinct. The girls were really rambunctious, and had to be shushed several times. I didn’t really enjoy playing with them since they were so rowdy, but I guess that’s one of the things kids do best. By the time we got the game over (taking out two or three animals at a time, even) we were way behind schedule, even after having been ahead of schedule earlier, and had to hustle back to the education building for a quick snack.

We didn’t have time for the other activities planned for the program, unfortunately. Instead, we just did my creature feature portion and then got out a few of the animals for the kids to meet in person. My creature feature this time was one that I’m particularly intrigued by: the Giant Pacific Octopus. Those of you who have been to the Seward Sea Life Center have no doubt met the two that lived there. J5 was the male (he’s gone now, but not before he was able to produce some offspring) and Aurora their female (who is currently tending her nest of 80,000 eggs, and who will soon pass away herself).

They are one of the strangest creatures I’ve ever encountered, although they are surprisingly intelligent. Studies by scientists have found that octopus can figure out mazes and other such puzzles with surprising speed. They can also open jars and mimic their surroundings, changing not only their color but their texture as well. They have a very well developed brain and have excellent eyesight, as well. They also happen to be escape artists; J5 and Aurora both have been found in tanks other than their own on many occasions.

The giant pacific octopus is the largest of over 100 different kinds of octopus. They average about 50 to 90 pounds and can reach up to 16 feet from the tip of one leg to the tip of the opposite one. The largest one ever recorded was a whopping 600 pounds and measured 33 feet! Considering the fact that they have no bones and are basically just a bag of jelly with eight legs, that’s pretty amazing.

Their most noticeable feature is of course, their eight legs covered with suckers. All totaled, they have roughly 1,600 suckers in all, and can actually taste things with them! An Octopus’ normal diet consists of crabs, clams, snails, small fish, and even the occasional octopus (yup, their cannibals). They use their sharp beak, located at the center of their legs, to either drill holes into the shells of their prey, or to crack them open and eat the insides.

As we’ve seen from the Seward Sea Life Center, the male dies very shortly after mating. The average life span of the giant pacific octopus is only about 4 years anyway, even though they do have the longest life span of them all. The female sticks around just long enough to tend to her nest, which takes up to 6 months to hatch. At birth, the octopus is barely the size of a grain of rice! What an amazing growth rate: from a grain of rice to 33 feet in just 3.5 years!

As I said earlier, we just had a few minutes left in our program, so we got out some of the critters for the girls to meet. These girls were pretty exhausting for me, so I had to admit I was pretty happy to see them all go home, but we did have a good time.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Math & Science Night - March 9

Wednesday night was Willowcrest Elementary's Math & Science night, and they invited the zoo to participate in the activities with them. Actually, they specifically asked for me, by name, since they are familiar with me volunteering there all the time. That is the place I go to on my lunch hours (once a week for the past 3-4 years) to read stories to the kids. I had another one of the zoo volunteers, Joyce Smith, helping me out with the critter table, full of all kinds of critter stuff. We even had a humongous moose antler that weighed at least 45 pounds!

The room they put us in was called the "Animal room" which we shared with a Bearded Dragon, two Hedgehogs, two Ferrets, a baby Corn Snake, and several Dwarf Hamsters. Needless to say, ours was a very popular stop in the program that night.

I didn't get a chance to see the rest of the program, but I'm told they had 8 stations run by teachers highlighting math & science activities as well as the school Nurse doing Health Fair related activities. They had people from 21st Century providing the food, and helpers from the local PTA helping out wherever needed. All in all, roughly 90 kids with their families showed up. Not quite as good a turnout as was had at Bowman Elementary a few months ago, but those that did participate had a good time.

This was the first time I had done anything with Joyce, so it was a good opportunity to get to know her. She is a very nice lady, who's husband Hal is typically found at the Petting Zoo supervising the little ones.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Girl Scouts - March 4

This week’s program was one of the best ones we've ever had. The girls were Brownies, which are pretty young, but they were very well behaved and very much in to the zoo. And there were only 13 of them, which is considerably easier to handle than our normal 25. We had plenty of help, as well, with 6 adults and 3 zoo personnel. It's so refreshing to have a group of girls who are so excited about being there, and yet will actually listen to what you have to tell them, ask intelligent questions, and then actually listen to the answers.

By way of introducing each other, we had everybody tell us his or her names and give us a favorite nature item. A lot of the girls said things like Mountains or Trees or Animals. There were a few specifics, like the one girl who liked Giraffes, and myself who likes water.

The focus of our program this time was "Earth is Our Home" so we talked for a while about things that are Endangered –vs.- things that are Extinct. We asked them to come up with a list of things people do that harm the Earth, like "cutting down all the trees" or "leaving garbage on the ground" or even "hunting".

After our discussion, we divided the girls into 3 groups and gave each group a subject from off the list they just made. We gave them a list of questions to fuel their discussion ranging from "Does it harm the Earth? And How?" to "Is it appropriate? Is it beneficial?" Then let them talk it out amongst themselves for a few minutes.

We passed out the paper and crayons next, and asked them to draw a picture of an alternative to the subject they had just discussed, then had them tell the whole class about their picture. The group that talked about cutting down trees drew a picture of an artificial Christmas tree and told us that we didn’t have to cut down a tree each year, we could just buy a fake one and reuse it over and over again. The group that talked about the garbage problem drew a picture of a group of girls picking up trash from the roadside, and told us that organizing a group clean-up day was a good way to have fun and clean up the place all at the same time. The girls who talked about hunting drew pictures of people with cameras and notepads, and told us that taking pictures and writing stories about the animals you see is a much nicer way to show off the animals than killing them for their skins or horns.

Keep in mind, these girls were only about 7 years old. I thought they did such a good job with the whole concept, and really came up with all these ideas on their own. There were a few issues with sharing the crayons that didn’t go over very well (one little girl ended up in tears because the other girl was using the black crayon), but all in all, they really did a good job.

By the time we finished up with everybody’s picture it was time to gear up to head outside. The temperatures are so much warmer now-a-days, we really don’t have to "gear up" quite as much as we used to, but it still takes time getting 13 little girls into their boots, hats, gloves, coats, and scarves, not to mention going potty in advance! But, eventually we got everybody out the door and headed on our way.

We stopped to visit with Ahpun, the polar bear, but she wasn’t really interested in company so we headed on to the wolverine, then to the ravens, the goshawk, the musk ox, and the eagle.

Once we got to the eagle, Amber Mount (the education director’s assistant) decided we were to play a game. We divided the girls into pairs and assigned an animal to each pair. Then we split the pairs up, with one girl on one side of the trial and the other girl on the other side of the trail. Then, Amber called out the name of a position (6 or 7 of which she and I demonstrated earlier) to the girls, and they would run to each other and get into position. The last pair to assume the required position was "extinct" and had to give a reason why their animal might have gone extinct, like loss of habitat or over-hunting. The positions were all funny names, like Lover’s Leap, or Monkey on your Back, or Reading on the Toilet, and the girls had to remember the proper position to assume while in the middle of a giggling mass of 7-year olds.

The game was a lot of fun, but it really wound the girls up. We kind of had a bit of trouble getting them calmed back down once we resumed our nocturnal tour. I’m glad we played that game outside, however. I can’t imagine trying to do it inside, particularly in our tiny little temporary education building.

Snacks and hot tea were waiting for us back in the Ed. building, so we trudged back inside. One of the troupe leaders had sailor bread and almond butter as a snack, and I couldn’t resist trying it out when she offered it to me, especially since I hadn’t had dinner yet! It was quite tasty and went very well with my usual cup of tea, which Amber was kind enough to get for me.

The next item on the agenda for the night was a craft project, so we passed out more paper and crayons and had the girls draw pictures of something they could do to make the world a better place. I, unfortunately, didn’t really pay attention to the pictures, but I do recall that all the girls were quite happy, chatting with their neighbors and coloring away. Since they didn’t have to share this time, there were no tears involved.

After about 15 minutes of drawing masterpieces, it was time for my Creature Feature portion of the program. I do love doing these, and this time I chose what I thought was a very interesting creature: the Daddy Long-legs! I get a lot of people asking me if it’s true that the daddy long leg spider is the most poisonous spider on the planet, but its fangs are too weak to bite human flesh – and I found out in my research that this statement is actually false, on many different levels.

First of all, they aren’t actually spiders at all! It’s like saying a wolf is not a dog, or a tiger is not a lion. They’re both canines and felines, but different classes of canines and felines. It’s the same with the daddy long-legs: they are arachnids, but a different class. By the way, crabs, scorpions, and ticks are arachnids, too – and most definitely NOT spiders.

The daddy long-legs is actually in a class all their own, called Huntsmen. They differ from spiders in a few very obvious ways, such as the fact that they only have two eyes and spiders have eight, and they have only one body part as opposed to the three parts that spiders have. They also have no fangs at all, and therefore can’t bite. Even if they could bite, they have no venom what so ever, and therefore are not poisonous. And last but not least, they have no silk, and cannot create the webs that spiders are so famous for.

There are about 1900 species of huntsmen world wide, but only about 60 or so can be found in North America. Most types winter over as eggs buried underground. They eat decomposing vegetation as well as the occasional aphid, caterpillar, leafhopper, beetle larvae, mites and/or small slug.

The most interesting thing I learned about them is this: if a humans legs were in the same proportion to our bodies as the daddy long-legs is, our legs would be 40’ long! Wow. Imagine trying to find a pair of jeans that fit!

We had just a few minutes left before the parents came to pick up their kids, so we got Mercy, one of our in-house box turtles, out to eat some bugs (she’s always up for eating bugs, no problem there!) for the girls while Liz (one of our zookeepers on duty that night) brought Trini, the silver fox, over for a visit. Trini loves to visit with the kids, but she doesn’t take the heat very well (she worked hard on her winter coat, and can’t take it off just yet) so we had the girls put their own coats on and go outside to see her. By the time everybody had a chance to pet her and talk to her handler, it was time to send them all home.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Bowman Book Bash - February 25

Bowman Elementary had their annual book bash event last week, and invited the zoo to participate. The Alaska Zoo and Bowman Elementary have what they call "a partnership" which basically means Bowman does a lot of things for the zoo, like their web pages; and the zoo does a lot of things for Bowman, like attending their book bash. It is a mutually beneficial relationship, and both partners are well satisfied with it.

The book bash was quite an affair. They had several guest readers attending: Halene Petersen Dahlstrom, author of "Raven Cove Mystery" (a battle of the Books selection) was in one room; Anna Bondarenko, an Iditerod musher, was in another room. They even had The Cat in The Hat reading books, as well as the entire Fire Engine Crew from Fire Station #9 (off Hufman) reading stories! And of course, zookeeper Brian Moore and myself were in our own room reading stories.

The plan of attack for the night was for kids to pick three rooms they wanted to listen to stories at. They were given 15 minutes in each room with a 5-minute break in between for them to shuffle off to their next room of choice. After all the reading was done, they were to gather in the Multipurpose Room for treats, prizes, and a book signing.

Brian and I met up at the front door and headed on into our room at about 6:45, giving us a few minutes to settle in before the kids started to arrive. We each brought our books with us: Brian had "Stellaluna" by Janell Cannon and Jewell Cannon (Stellaluna, a little brown bat, is accidentally dropped by her mother. The helpless baby falls smack into a nest of bird fledglings, and is immediately accepted as one of the family. Stellaluna tries to fit in, but keeps acting unbirdlike; hanging upside down and wanting to fly at night. By chance Stellaluna is reunited with her mother and finally learns to be proper bat.) while I brought "Edward the Emu" by Sheena Knowles and Rod Clement (Tired of being an emu, Edward decides to try being like other animals at the zoo, but he soon discovers that being himself is the best after all.) and "Last Night at the Zoo" by Michael Garland (A quiet zoo evening turns into a wild tale as animals plan a night on the town and get decked out in zany disguises to achieve their goals. A rollicking rhyme accompanies pages of detail on their lavish night out and encounters with humans in this highly recommended, different story with its bright color drawings). I actually had a few others with me as well, but didn’t read them.

The reading sessions went really well. Brian had never read to children before, at least not "officially" like we were that night, so it was a learning experience for him. He discovered that it’s not quite as easy as it looks, although it is very rewarding. The kids enjoyed all of our stories, and we enjoyed the kids as well. The staff at Bowman Elementary is very nice, and I must say their librarian smells really good! I don’t know what perfume she’s wearing, but I liked it.

After we finally read the last sentence in the last book, we closed up shop and followed everybody into the Multipurpose Room. There, they had a huge table laid out with milk and cookies, along with grapes and strawberries, to munch on. Brian and I helped ourselves to the food and then tried to squeeze into one of the tables along with the rest of the crowd. It’s been a long time since elementary school, and I for one have grown more than double since then: and those tables are mighty small!

But, we finally got situated and ate our snacks while listening to Ms. Dahlstrom read from one of her books. They had their drawing once she was done, and gave away copies of her books to the names they drew from their hat. Brian and I didn’t stay to the very end, but it looked to me as though everybody was going to get one of her books, which means that every child went home happy!

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Volunteer Meeting - February 24

Thursday was our second monthly volunteer meeting, held again at the BP Energy Center. Shannon Jenson, our volunteer coordinator, took an informal survey at the beginning of the meeting and it was decided that we would continue our monthly meetings at the center, but would change the day to the last Wednesday of each month rather than the last Thursday. Apparently, the television shows are better on Thursday than they are on Wednesday!

We had pizza and snacks to munch on while participating in the meeting, with more than enough for all 15 people to have seconds or thirds even. It was decided, however, that food was not really necessary, so next time there will be only some munchies. Our budget is limited, and we don’t want to blow it on unnecessary expenditures. Also, Shannon mentioned the fact that she was always in such a frazzle getting ready for the meetings that she would really appreciate somebody else picking up the snacks. Elizabeth volunteered to bring something to our next meeting, and somebody else can volunteer for the following one. There will also be a "kitty jar" into which we all can put a buck or two to help defray the cost.

The city is going to have a luncheon, called the Golden Hearts Awards Luncheon, sometime in April to honor community volunteers. Shannon asked if anybody was interested in attending. It will be held at the Captain Cook hotel from 11:30 to 1:00, and will be sponsored by BP. If anybody is interested, please let her know as soon as possible since she has to reserve seats for us. So far, just Shannon and myself are going.

One of the new procedures that Shannon has implemented is the volunteer sign-in sheet. She explained a bit more about the thoughts behind this procedure in an effort to make it less objectionable, since it kind of feels like we’re back in kindergarten again. The zoo is eligible for grants and other "in kind" donations only if they can show that they have the support of the community. One very good way to show this is to document how many hours volunteers donate to them. Shannon said that just since the sign-in sheet started, we’ve had over 74 hours logged – if you multiply that out we could conceivable have well over 850 hours for the year. That could amount to a lot more money for the animals!

So please remember to sign in each time you go to the zoo. There are sign in sheets located at the admissions booth as well as in the education building. If you forget, or are unable to at the time you are there, you can always either call or email Shannon and let her know what you did, and how long you did it.

The next topic of discussion was Volunteer Job Descriptions. Shannon is planning to have a list of all the things that volunteers are able to do, along with a description of each activity, posted on the website. This will again aid the zoo in obtaining grants and/or "in kind" donations, as well as help future volunteers know what they’re getting into. Shannon has come up with a preliminary list of "jobs" but has asked for help in filling it out a bit. Each job will need to have the following: Position Title (like: Tour Guide), Description of position, Responsibilities, Outcome/Goals, Training and Support plan, Reporting to, Time commitment (hours per week), Qualifications Needed, and Benefits. She has blank forms available and would really appreciate some help in this endeavor.

One of the benefits of volunteering for the zoo is a new Volunteer Jacket! After one year of volunteer service, the zoo will give you a jacket with the zoo’s logo. The order for the jackets, and for t-shirts as well, has been turned in and they should be available soon.

These jackets and t-shirts will help identify the volunteers at the zoo, so please be sure to wear them. At the very lease, make sure you always have your badge on, particularly if you plan on going off the public trail system for any reason. The people who go to our zoo are fiercely loyal, for the most part, and will defend "their" animals anytime they see somebody do something they shouldn’t. I, myself, was accosted once by a very large man who did not see my badge. He took it upon himself to "teach me a lesson" and I have to admit it was rather frightening.

The IditaZoo is coming up really soon (March 12) and we still need volunteers for the day. There are quite a few positions still open, so please contact Shannon and let her know you can help out. She will make sure you get the information packet pertaining to the checkpoint you’ll be working at. Make sure you read thru the information so that you will be able to answer any questions that may come up throughout the day!

The final activity of the day was a demonstration of the critter table. Shannon had asked me to tell everybody how to "do" the critter table, and brought a tub full of stuff for me. I arranged it all out on the table and went thru some of the basics. Typically, I’ll arrange things in groups: the bear stuff all together at one end of the table, and the deer stuff grouped together at the other. I usually don’t use pictures, although we have some really nice ones available. I like to have the kids guess at the items, and see if they know their animals. If they seem interested, I’ll talk to them about the differences between black bears and brown bears, or the differences between an antler and a horn. Always, they have stories to tell, so I typically encourage them, adults too! Basically, you give them as much information as they can take in, which may be a lot one day and hardly anything the next. Each event is different, so you have to tailor your presentation techniques to suit.

After the critter table demonstration, we all just sat around and talked for a while. Shannon had sign-up sheets available for both the IditaZoo and for the Women’s Show coming up in April.
Of interest to some of you: John Gomes, our volunteer zoo photographer, got one of his pictures published in the National Geographic Kids magazine! They did a blurb on Maggie’s new treadmill and used his photo superimposed onto a treadmill at the gym. It’s a very cute picture; you’ll have to check it out if you have a chance.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Girl Scouts - February 18

Friday night was another girl scouts program, and as usual it was both well attended and a lot of fun. This time, we had 4 staff members, 6 other adults, and 17 girls between 9 to 12 years of age. The focus of the program was on Watching Wildlife, so most of our activities were aimed in that general direction.

Amber Mount, the education director's assistant, started off by telling the girls a little bit about the zoo and their philosophy on life. The mission of The Alaska Zoo is to provide homes for arctic and sub-arctic wildlife in a natural setting for the enjoyment and educational enrichment of Alaskan residents and visitors to the state. They are a non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of all wildlife species through education programs and rehabilitation. Since their incorporation in 1968, the Zoo has successfully rehabilitated and placed many orphaned and injured animals in good homes at other zoos and wildlife parks throughout the United States. They are one of the most visited attractions in the state, with an annual attendance of close to 200,000 visitors.

She then spoke a little bit about herself and how she got to be working at the zoo, but I won't go in to that here since I've already covered that in previous postings. It was then time to introduce the other staff members, myself included. We all basically just explained who we were and what we do at the zoo, with perhaps a little information about our personal lives thrown in for good measure. We then had each of the girls, and the adults too, give their names and tell us what their favorite animal is. It's always interesting to hear what they come up with. This group seemed to be made up of "followers" in that they all just repeated the same animals over and over again, with no real new or interesting ones being added. It seemed like they all liked either Horses, Bunnies, or Monkeys. One lady did say her favorite animal was a Caribou - that was unique in the crowd.

Our first activity of the night had Amber talking about personal space and ways to communicate to others to let them know if they've invaded your "space". You can tell them to go away; you can tell them to stop; you can scream; you could even run away. She then applied it to the animal world, asking the girls to come up with a few examples of what an animal might do if you're too close to them. We had a lot of suggestions, anywhere from scratching, growling, and biting, to running away. One little girl talked about what might happen if you were out hunting with an ax... she didn't get any farther than that in her story because all the adults started laughing at the thought of hunting for bear with an ax!

Talking about our Basic Needs was next on the agenda. Amber had the girls come up with a list of things that are necessary for life, either an animal's or a human's life. The girls were able to come up with just about all of the major ones: water, food, heat source, air, protection, and shelter. Once our list was written down on the drawing board, we passed out crayons and paper and had them draw a picture of their homes, listing where each of their basic needs were met (ie: in the kitchen for food, in the bedroom for sleep, that sort of thing). My house that I drew had bookshelves in each room - that's definitely a necessity of life for me! On the back of their pictures, they were to come up with a shopping list of items they'd need to buy. Most of them had things like ice cream, mild, and bread, but oddly enough, allot of them listed tomatoes as well.

We then handed out another sheet of paper; this one with an animal's name printed on the upper right-hand corner (like: polar bear, musk ox, wolf, eagle, that sort of thing) and had them do the same thing for them. It was hard for some of the girls, particularly the ones who got "alligator" or "anaconda". I think Amber should have stuck to animals the girls would be familiar with!

Finally it was time for the main event of the night: the nocturnal tour! The nights are not quite as cold as they had been lately, but we still had them bundle up. It's no fun if you're cold, so we erred on the side of caution. We did, however, take away their flashlights, for the most part. It really isn't necessary for them, and the girls just can't seem to resist the temptation to shine the light in our eyes all the time. For those of you who get migraines, you will understand when I tell you that I really don't like a flashlight shined into my eyes! We stayed out on zoo grounds for a good hour, visiting the polar bear, the wolverines, the ravens, the goshawk, the snowy owls, the Sitka black tailed deer, the arctic fox, the musk ox (my personal favorite), the eagle, and the moose. We always get one or two girls who ask if we can go see Maggie, our African elephant, but unfortunately she is asleep at night and really gets cranky when you wake her up, so we always avoid her area of the zoo. By the time we got back to the education building, we were all ready for some hot tea, hot coco, and snacks. Nothing like a brisk hike out in the cold night air to work up a hearty appetite!

While the girls ate their snacks, Amber handed out an evaluation form to the adults attending the program. This form is intended to help us create better educational programs, asking for any advice they might have, and for an evaluation on our performance that night. We always get good reviews, so I’m never sure exactly what good the form does for us. But it’s always nice to know you’re appreciated, even if they never really have any suggestions for us on how to make it better.

Finally it was my turn, and I got to do my Creature Feature portion of the program. The animal I chose this time was actually a group of animals rather than just an individual one. I talked to the girls about Crocodilians, which includes crocodiles, alligators, caimans, and gharials. There are 25 species total in the group: 2 species of Alligators, 13 species of Crocodiles, 13 species of Caiman (which are actually a sub-group of alligators), and 2 species of gharial (a relatively rare type of crocodilian that lives over around India).

One of the most important things to know about the crocodilians, in my opinion, is how to tell them apart. The gharial (sometimes known as gavial) is an easy one to identify because its snout is extremely long and narrow. The males have a big fleshy lump at the end of their snout, so they are easily differentiated from the females, as well. The caiman are not so easily identified because they look pretty similar to an alligator, except they have small bony scales, called osteoderms, embedded into the skin of their bellies.

However, there are two major differences between alligators and crocodiles. First, the alligator has a broad, flat, rounded snout – pretty much a "U" shaped snout – while the crocodile has more of a "V" shaped snout. (Don’t you love that word? "Snout" meaning: the projecting part of a vertebrate’s head, consisting of the nose and mouth.) Second, the teeth on the lower jaw of an alligator are not visible when its mouth is closed, while they are visible in a crocodile when its mouth is closed, particularly the 4th tooth on each side. Of course, if you’re actually close enough to an alligator or crocodile to see its teeth, you probably won’t be wondering whether or not the teeth on the lower jaw are visible or not! At least, I wouldn’t be.

The crocodilians are the world’s largest living reptile, and used to live along side the dinosaur, back 110 million years ago. In fact, scientists have recently dug up a skull of a Sarcosuchus Imperator (better known as "SuperCroc") that was 6 feet long. Estimating it’s entire length by the length of its skull puts the SuperCroc at over 40 feet long! Nowadays, of course, they aren’t quite so big. The largest one on record today is a salt-water crocodile measuring 23 feet long, while the smallest one is an African dwarf crocodile measuring only 5 feet long (I got to see one of these just this weekend at a reptile show in Anchorage! Very cool!)

A very important thing to keep in mind when observing the crocodilians is: NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THEIR SPEED! They look very lumpy and awkward on land, but are actually capable of short bursts of speed, up to 10 mph even! They are unable to maintain the speed for long, so can be easily outrun if you’re paying attention. They actually have 3 main gaits: The first is called the belly crawl, which is fairly slow and used mainly in the mud where it’s easier to drag one’s belly down to the water’s edge. The second is called the high walk, where they pick their bodies up off the ground and walk just like a dog or cat would. They use this gait mainly for navigating obstacles on their way to the water’s edge. The third gait is the most unusual, and puts the funniest picture in my head when I think about it. It’s called a gallop, and is used for those short bursts of speed I spoke of earlier. In this gait, the gator is actually running, using both front legs first then both back legs (similar to a cheetah or a bunny’s hop) and at times the entire animal is airborne!

The crocodilians are unusually attentive parents. They typically build a nest on land consisting of mud and vegetation, where they will lay from 25 to 80 eggs. Oddly enough, the sex of the babies is determined by the temperature of the nest: warmer temperatures produce females, while cooler temperatures produce males. Both parents protect the nest quite vigorously, and when the babies are ready to hatch out of their shells, the parents actually help them by taking the eggs into their mouths and gently crushing the shells so the babies can crawl out. They then take the babies to the water and protect them for another two years, till they are big enough to defend themselves.

While I passed around the photos I had (thanks again to my friend Cyrinda who donated pictures of her Everglades vacation), Amber actually left the building and went to get a special guest visitor for the girls. She came back just as I was ending my talk, and had Liz and Trini with her.

Liz is a fellow zookeeper and Trini is our silver fox! Trini is 7 years old and came to us as a pup when she was confiscated from a family who was trying to raise her as a pet. It is illegal to own a fox as a pet so the Fish & Game not only took her from them, but also fined them rather heavily for it. A silver fox is actually the same thing as a red fox; they just have a different color variation (like I have red hair, and you might have black or blond hair, but we’re still both humans). In fact, a red fox vixen (or female, as they are called) may have a litter of pups with both red and silver hair colors, although they are typically regional – meaning that reds are typically found in one area, while silvers are found in another area.

Liz spoke to the girls for a bit about foxes, but then had to take her back outside due to the heat inside the building. The girls got to go outside in groups of 5-6 to pet Trini, while the ones inside waiting their turn got to meet Yaz, the ball python, and some of the millipedes we have. And that was our show for the night.

In other news around the zoo, the three porcupine (Daisy, Petunia, and Porky) have been moved into their new enclosure and are happily coexisting finally. Porcupines are normally a solitary animal, so I really wasn’t sure how they would take to living together, but they seem to be adjusting well. They haven’t figured out that two porcupine don’t fit thru the doorway at the same time yet, however. I went to visit them the other day and found both Daisy and Petunia trying to stuff themselves into the door to their shelter (they have 3 shelters in their enclosure, but of course they all want to use the one the other guy is using, whichever one that happens to be at the moment), and let me assure you: they don’t fit. But give them credit; they were certainly giving it a good try! How they didn’t stick each other with their quills, I don’t know.

Ike, the new bald eagle, had to go back to the infirmary a while ago. He had been out in the exhibit with our female for a while, but ended up aggravating his amputation to the point where it got all "goobered up" to quote their handler. Ike is a very impressive bird, but has not adjusted well to not being able to fly yet. He keeps trying but ends up in a tangled heap on the ground, which is not good for his healing wounds. The zookeepers are actually planning to train him to the glove so they can get him out and about soon. I can’t think of anything more intimidating! Can you imagine a HUGE bald eagle on your arm, staring you in the face just waiting for a chance to bite your nose off?

And last but certainly not least; the zoo has acquired three sugar gliders! Sugar gliders are tiny gliding opossums from Indonesia, New Guinea, New Zealand and Australia. They also happen to be illegal to own in Alaska, so they were confiscated from their owners and given to the zoo. We don’t know yet what we will do with them, but we are hoping to add them to our collection of critters in the education department. I will let you know more about them as I learn more myself!

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

IditaZoo Training - February 12

Saturday was the training session for this year's IditaZoo program. Last year was our first attempt at the idea, and we realized that a lot more organization needed to take place before hand. I think we're on the right track, although I still see some areas that might fall thru the cracks again. We were supposed to have everybody who wanted to help out with this year's program attend the training session, but only about 10 people showed up - and that's not nearly enough. I hope the people who were not there are fully prepared this time. Last year, not only did they not know the information they were supposed to know, they didn't even know anything about the zoo!

Anyway, the training session was interesting. Shannon had tables set up around the education building with all the information that will be at each "station" so that we could see what the whole idea was to be. We read thru everything, and then signed up for the station & time period we wanted and took the information packet that pertained to what we signed up for. Earlier, I had asked Shannon if I could get all of the information packets rather than just the one that went with whatever table I signed up for (I seem to be a glutton for information!) so she had made me a special booklet and had it setting off to the side. Everybody else just got the smaller version.

The basic idea of this event is that people will be given a questionnaire sheet at the admissions booth that they are to fill out as they go to each station. The stations represent the eight checkpoints along the Iditarod sled-dog race (station #1: "Knik", station #2: "Finger Lake", and so on). Each station at the zoo will have different information about the race as well as information about the zoo (station #1:"Knik" will have information on Race History and Snowy Owls, station #2: "Finger Lake" will have information on What is a Sled Dog and Polar Bears, and so on). The people will answer one question on their questionnaire form for each station. Once they have answered all 8 questions correctly, they will receive a special "behind the scenes" tour of the polar bear's enclosure as a reward.

Throughout the zoo will be lots of other things going on as well. We will have a board up at the front gate (or maybe over by the coffee shop) giving the latest up-to-date information on the race (ie: which team is where along the route, and who is in the lead at that time). We even plan to have a dog team there to give short rides to the kids. And, I'm working on getting Jon Van Zyle to set up a table offering his latest book "Iditerod Memories" - that will be pretty exciting, I think.

Shannon offered a tour of the zoo after everybody had a chance to look over the tables, but since I’ve been there before (understatement of the year, there) I just took my information packet and went home. I have a stack of papers about an inch tall to read thru and memorize by March! If you go to the IditaZoo (and I hope you do) you can visit me at station #4: "Ruby" from 2:00 to closing time. I can tell you all about the Iditarod race as well as all about the zoo.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Setting the record straight

Now that I know real people are reading my blog, as opposed to just family members, I feel morally obligated to point out a few things. The postings labeled "Science Questions" and "Nature's Extremes", as well as a few others, were not written by me, exactly. I typed them out, but I was getting the information from other sources.

The science questions are from my Page-a-Day calendar, and the nature's extremes come from a deck of cards I bought at the zoo's gift shop.

I truly believe that one can never learn too much, so hopefully the actual authors of these sources will not mind that I have copied them in my blog. Please let me know if it is otherwise!

Friday, February 11, 2005

I'm reading a great book right now

Decipher, by: Stel Pavlou

Here's what it says on the back cover:

For 12,000 years, the messasge has been burried

In a frozen Antarctic wasteland, in the depths of the Amazon River, in a chamber beneath the ruins of the Sphinx, sometghing has surfaced: a cluster of crystalline artifacts composed of an energy source unknown to modern science and inscribed with ancient hieroglyphs. Between them a strange signal courses through the oceans, emanating from a source that has stunned mankind. The lost city of Atlantis has been found.

It is the meaning of civilization.

Now, two of the world's most powerful armies stand on the brink of war to gain control of the most powerful force known to modern man. But a group of scientists struglling to decode the message of the primeval network fears that it is already to late.

And its end.

Solar fires ignite the surface of the earth, and a worldwide cataclysm of biblical proportions begins. Now as Atlantis rises, so do its secrets - along with a terrifying prophecy that is coming true.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Women of Science - February 5

This Saturday, I attended the Women of Science seminar for the Girl scouts of America, giving 3 seminars of about 45 minutes each to groups of girl scouts ranging in ages from 6 to about 12. The program is intended to give the girls examples of the many different roles women can play in the field of science. The Alaska Zoo has participated in this program for several years, and is always happy to be a roll-model for the girls of our city.

Even though I have done this program several times before, I have to admit I was somewhat less than prepared for it this time. I had slept thru my alarm that morning (or, more truthfully, had forgotten to even set the darned thing) and ended up with only 5 minutes in which to get dressed and warm up the car (it being 6 below that night, the car needed a good 15 minutes of warming up - which it unfortunately did not get). Needless to say, the whole rest of my day was rather frazzled, because you just never get your balance back after a start like that.

I did make it to the Ed Building in time to meet up with Amber Mount, the education director's assistant. She and I loaded up my car with all the stuff we were bringing with us, a live snake included in the load, and headed on down to U.A.A. to sign in and get set up.

Amber took Yaz, the ball python, in to the warmth of the room while I made several trips hauling all our other stuff in. It wouldn't have been that bad, except that a mother moose and her yearling calf had taken up residence right at the front door of the building, which made me have to take the long way around just to get to my car and back. By the time I got everything brought in I was thoroughly frozen and dehydrated, and didn't have time to warm up before our first group arrived. So, once again, I was a bit frazzled and off center.

Imagine my surprise when Amber started off the seminar by introducing me and saying that I was going to talk to them for the first half of our program! I hadn't had anything prepared, and had absolutely no idea what to say. Not to mention the fact that my vocal chords were still frozen from traipsing thru the wilderness hauling heavy boxes up to the classroom.

But, I somehow managed to fill up the time with stories of how I came to be a volunteer at the zoo: about 5 years ago, after an injury to my lower back, my doctor told me the best thing I could do was walk. So, I thought to myself, "What's the best place in the world to walk, but the zoo?" and got myself a season pass. After going to the zoo every day for a few months, the workers there finally told me I should just work for the zoo, since I'm there every day anyway. So I signed up, and here I am!

I told the girls about some of the things I do as a volunteer: I give classes, like this one. I give tours to special groups at the zoo. I even get to take care of the orphans that come in, which requires a lot of man-hours for all the formula mixing, bottle feeding, and cleaning up that is needed for the babies.

Next, I told them about my day-job, and what it means to work for an architect. I explained about the new buildings being designed for the zoo, and told them all that they should keep watch on our progress; within at least a year, there should be a noticeable difference in the zoo!

I was then finally able to turn it over to Amber, who told them all about how she came to be working at the zoo. She started out in the High School Mentorship program: if your grades are up to snuff, there is a program where you can spend several hours a day at a job site, learning the skills required to be whatever it is you want to be when you grow up, and even get credit for it! Amber mentored in the education department with Katie Larson for a year. After she graduated, she interned at the zoo as a zookeeper with Shannon Jenson, which gave her enough experience to intern in Hawaii, during her college years, at several wildlife preservation companies (she got to work with sea turtles! I'm so jealous). Now that she’s back in Alaska, she hired on at the Alaska Zoo as the education director’s assistant, and is happily advancing her life-goal of educating people about animal preservation.

The next portion of our seminar consisted of Amber telling the girls all about the Ridley’s Sea Turtle, which is one of the turtles she worked with in Hawaii. The zoo has a confiscated corpse (I know of no nicer way to put it; the animal has been killed and shellacked into some kind of demented table piece) of a young Ridley’s Sea Turtle that she could show the girls while she talked. She told them about the dangers they face, both as young hatchlings trying to make it from the nesting site to the ocean (not only are there dangers from sea birds and rats eating them, but also from human encroachment) and as adults out in the open sea (from sharks eating them to garbage dumped into the waters). Only about 1 in 5,000 hatchlings will survive to breeding age. That is a very low percentage, so the turtle really needs our help to survive.

Finally, the girls were able to come up and take a look at our critter tables. We split each class into two, with one half going to the critter table that I manned, while the other half went over to Amber’s side and got to meet the snake. My table was full of pictures and critter pieces, and we all got to talk about animals native to Alaska. The girls, as always, each had stories to tell of their encounters with wildlife, and had fun sharing them with everybody.

I have to say Yaz stole the show, however. A live snake is NOT something you see every day up here, and all the girls enjoyed meeting him. Well, all but one, that is. That one little girl was so afraid that she ended up bawling at the table. She didn’t realize that she didn’t HAVE to be there. She calmed down once they sent her over to my side of the room, thankfully. I assured her that it was ok to be afraid of snakes – many people are, but that this particular one was really just a the teddy bear.

In fact, Yaz did exceptionally well that day. We had 3 classes within 4 hours, each one with about 10 – 25 girls attending. And all of those girls (minus the one) spent a good 15 minutes petting him on his back. Thru it all, Yaz was so calm and relaxed! He did very well.

Finally it was time to pack up and head on home. I hadn’t eaten yet, and was eager to get home to a bowl of homemade soup. But, I think both Amber and I had a good time, and I hope the girls did, too.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Animal Update - February 3

There are a few things to update you on at the zoo. First would be Ahpun's birthday party, held this weekend (she turned 7). Everybody loves our polar bear so she had quite the party, although it was really cold. I suppose that's good for a polar bear, but for humans it was downright chilly, to say the least. Even so, roughly 350 people showed up and even participated in the ice-cream eating contest! There were three age groups in the contest; children, young adults, and adults. Because of the cold weather, I know they had difficulties filling up all the spots; however, in the end they had three very cold winners, each of whom got a gift certificate to the gift shop. I was not able to watch the contest because I was manning the critter table, full of all kinds of bear stuff, which was thankfully located right next to the big bon fire we had going!

In other news, we finally got the go-ahead to breed our snow leopards! We are very excited about this, although we are somewhat apprehensive about putting the two of them together. They are an endangered species, and the whole point of a breeding program is to propitiate the species. So it would definitely be counter-productive if they kill each other in the process, because as you probably know from past updates, our Kaz & Molly don't exactly get along. If all goes well, we just might see some kittens later this spring. I've included some information about snow leopards at the bottom of this notice, taken from the Alaska Zoo's web page.

On a sad note, the zoo had to euthanize Collee, our llama. Collee started showing symptoms on Christmas: not eating and weak in the hind end. With in a week he was not using his front legs and has been down ever since. They tried giving him antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, acupuncture, ultrasounds, etc… but there was no improvement. Maybe in death they will finally know what happened to him. I, for one, will miss him, even though he was never the friendliest fellow at the zoo. You could tell he wanted to come over and visit, but he was just too afraid.



Our snow leopards arrived in September of 2002. Kaz came from the John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Molly arrived from the Denver Zoo in Denver, Colorado. Both leopards were born in captivity as part of the AZA Species Survival Plan for the captive breeding of endangered snow leopards. This plan ensures that a genetically viable population of captive breeders will continue, ensuring the continued survival of this species.

Physical Description

Snow leopards are a medium-sized cat, with an average body length of six feet from the head to the tip of the tail. They weigh an average of 90 pounds, with males being larger than females. Their life span in the wild can reach 13 years, while captive snow leopards can reach ages of up to 20 years.

Snow leopards are native to cold, high altitude mountain ranges in central Asia. They spend much of their time traveling over steep and rocky terrain. As a result, these leopards have adapted many unique physical characteristics that set them apart from other cat species:

Short front legs and long back legs to jump distances of over 50 feet

Enlarged nasal cavity for breathing in thin air

Long tail, almost equal to the body length, used to balance while jumping

Fur is marked with black rosettes and spots for camouflage with rocks


These leopards may have territories of up to 700 square miles. Their territory size is dependant on the availability of prey, with less prey meaning larger territories. They usually live above tree line between 7,500 and 18,000 feet. Their habitat at these elevations consists of rocky, treeless slopes.


Snow leopards prey on ibex (wild goat), bharal (blue sheep), small mammals, and birds. They are able to capture and kill prey weighing over three times their body weight. In captivity, their diet consists of red meat and Nebraska Brand (a commercially-made exotic feline diet).


Snow leopards are solitary, except during the breeding season. Their primary form of communication is marking. They scrape the ground with their hind legs, spray urine against rocks, or leave feces as a sign. These markings allow leopards to define their territories and advertise for mates during breeding season.

Snow leopards breed between December and March, with cubs being born from May through June. The births occur in "birthing dens", which consist of rocky caves lined with fur from the mother. Cubs will eat solid food at two months and learn to hunt by the time they are three months old. Females are responsible for raising the cubs, with no assistance from the males.

Fast Facts

A snow leopard has spotted skin, just like a tiger has striped skin.

Unlike other large cats, snow leopards cannot roar. They vocalize during the breeding season by mew calls, hissing, growling, and screaming.

Snow leopards have never been known to attack humans. If a mother has cubs and feels threatened, she will defend herself and her young.

Threats to Survival

Snow leopards have become endangered primarily through conflicts with humans. As farms expand into snow leopard habitat, livestock compete against wild prey for food. As the prey populations decline, leopards are forced to hunt livestock. This leads to the loss of leopards due to “retribution hunting”, or herders killing leopards that have killed livestock.

These leopards are also poached for their fur and bones. Snow leopard bones are now being used in place of tiger bones in some traditional Asian medicines. Tiger bones have become rare due to the success of tiger conservation programs.

Another factor in their decline is their slow population growth rate, with females usually giving birth to just two or three cubs every other year. They cannot recover easily from sudden population declines, making them particularly vulnerable to extinction.


There are approximately 4,000 snow leopards remaining in the wild. They are difficult to research due to their solitary habits and remote mountain habitat. Their exact numbers in the wild are unknown.

Snow leopards are listed as an Endangered Species and have protection through CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. This law prohibits the trade of snow leopards or their parts between countries.

There are organizations such as the International Snow Leopard Trust (ISLT) that work with local communities in snow leopard regions to enforce protection laws and educate the public on snow leopard conservation. The efforts of ISLT include providing financial incentives for local people to conserve leopards, as well as prevention of livestock losses.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Girl Scouts - January 28

At the monthly volunteer meeting the night before, I sorta mentioned the fact that for the past year or two we've had almost no help what-so-ever at the girl scouts programs. Several people came up to me afterwards to apologize, saying that they would have loved to help but hadn't known help was needed. So, this Friday night we had more help than ever! We had 3 volunteers; Myself, Megan, and Mai (she's visiting us from Japan for a month, but is helping out while she's here), our high-school intern (who's name, I’m sorry to say, I’ve forgotten) and Amber, the education director's assistant. All 5 of us, just to handle the 18 little girls and 12 adults who showed up that night. I admit, the girls were rather rambunctious, and the adults were only slightly better than usual at helping out - but still, that's a lot of people to cram into our tiny little temporary education building! We all had a good time, all the same.

One of the troupes that attended the program this time was a repeat from just a few weeks ago. I recognized the troublemaker right away, just as soon as she walked in the door! I also recognized my ex-husband's little girl, Kaitlen. This time, her mother brought her to the zoo, but just dropped her off so I didn't have to worry about any awkwardness from that corner of the room.

The repeat troupe was only a portion of the girls attending, however. The other troupes that attended had trouble finding the building, so were trickling in by ones and twos for almost an hour after the program started. The Girl Scouts Council is supposed to send the troupes maps showing how to get where they need to be, as well as instructions on what they need to bring with them. Seems they have been neglecting to do this, however. Thankfully, they all brought treats for the girls, so at least we didn't have to have some of the girls eating treats while the rest of them just sat and watched, as has happened in the past.

We started off the show by introducing ourselves, giving a brief description of what we do at the zoo. Amber then asked each of the girls to state their names and to tell us what their favorite animal was. There were a lot of cats, dogs, horses, and the like, with a few dolphins, giraffes, and moose thrown in for good measure. One lady, also from Japan, said that she didn’t know what her favorite animal was yet. I guess there’s just too many to choose from.

Amber then spoke about Animal Misconceptions. She showed the girls pictures, like a spider, a bat, a wolf, a snake - that sort of thing, and asked them what they thought of each one. A few of the girls squealed in mock-fright at the spiders and snakes, but that was obviously pretend. Most of them just identified what the picture was and said either, "Ooo!" or, "Ug!" depending. Amber told them that each animal has good qualities as well as bad reputations, and that you really should get to know the animal (or person) before judging them by appearance alone.

She also spoke about reptiles in particular, showing them several snake skins (provided by Yaz, our in-resident Ball Python, who was having a bad day so did NOT come out to play with the girls) and empty turtle shells (not from our in-resident turtles, who are still using their shells). She took Mercy, one of our Eastern Box Turtles, out and fed her some mealworms for the girls to watch. Mercy will eat mealworms till she bursts; she just loves them! She started at one end of the row of tables, and about every foot from beginning to end she got another worm – so she just worked her way down the table eating one after another.

The Japanese lady who didn’t have a favorite animal yet came over and got my attention in the middle of all this, and said, "I think I just found out what my favorite animal is!" So I said, "Great! It's the mealworm, right?" That rather startled the poor lady (I really shouldn't tease the foreign people) but then she assured me it was the turtle she was talking about. She had all kinds of questions about turtles, so we talked quietly for a while, before it was my turn to speak to the whole group.

Since the girls were so "attentive and well behaved" (not) I shortened my creature feature bit considerably from what I’d planned on. But I still had fun with it, and I think the girls did, too. Zieh, Heather's sister (Heather being my brother's girlfriend, for those of you who don't know her), had loaned me a stuffed SpongeBob Squarepants toy, and I used him to begin my talk about Sponges. I held him up and asked the girls who it was. "SpongeBob!" they all yelled. "Is he real?" I asked. "No!" they replied. "Ah, but he's based on something real. A sponge, from the ocean." I replied. I just about fell over laughing when one little girl piped up and said, "I thought he was made of cheese?"

We then talked about sponges for a while, and I got to show them some really cool pictures taken by my friend Cyrinda, who is a professional diver and photographer, who travels the world over taking spectacular pictures everywhere she goes. Cyrinda also loaned me an actual sponge, so the girls got to see a "live" dead one as well as just photo's. Megan, one of the other volunteers who was working the program with us that night, had also brought in an actual sponge; this one being a bath sponge, so the girls could see that there really isn't that much different between a real sponge and a man-made sponge.

Just before my Creature Feature portion of the program, Amber had conducted a science project with the girls. She had taken a pair of gloves, one with the fingers tied off and one with the fingers left loose, and filled them with water. She then asked the girls which one they thought would loose heat the fastest when placed outside for 15 minutes, and talked about heat conservation in animals, such as the giraffe as compared to the musk ox. The gloves got placed outside on the steps while I gave my little talk about sponges.

Once I was finished, the gloves were retrieved and the temperatures were taken. The glove with fingers had a temperature of 54 degrees, and the one without fingers had a temperature of 56 degrees. Since the gloves had each started out at the same temperature of 71 degrees, the girls got a first-hand look at how surface area effects heat-loss. But, then it was time for the nocturnal tour, so I'm sure all thought of heat-loss and surface areas just went "Whoosh!" right out of their heads.

Our nocturnal tour is always the best feature of the program, and no matter how cold it is they always want to go out there. We always give them the option to stay indoors and do crafts if it is below zero, but oddly enough no troupe has ever taken us up on that offer! The temperature was pretty cold that night, but we bundled everybody up and headed on out the door anyway. We really didn't stay out very long, but got to visit with a couple of the animals before the lure of hot coco pulled us back into the building. Unfortunately, we had no coco to offer! We'd run out... Oh well, the girls had their snacks and juice boxes, so were happy enough.

The first craft project of the night involved crayons and paper. Amber talked to the girls about different ways they can help protect the environment and asked them to draw pictures of either something they should NOT do or something they SHOULD do, depending on their moods. There was only about 15 minutes worth of time for them to create their masterpieces (and boy, some of them were certainly doing just that!) before the next item on the agenda, so we told them they could finish them up at home.

Once we got all the crayons cleared off the tables, we handed out the Animal Bingo boards. This is just like regular bingo, except with pictures of animals rather than numbers on the boards. We have apparently misplaced the chips used to mark places on the boards, so Amber passed out macaroni pieces instead. She then would describe an animal till somebody called out what they thought it was. Once the animal was named properly, then everybody could see if it showed up on their boards. Sometimes, the animal in question would show up more than once, so they had to look very carefully to make sure they got as many pieces of macaroni on their boards as they could.

The winner of the game got a surprise: I gave the lucky young girl the SpongeBob Squarepants toy I had brought for my creature feature program! She was VERY excited about winning him. The other girls were very envious, to say the least. By that time, however, it was time to send them on out the door and out to their parents, so we said goodbye and locked the door behind them.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Volunteer Meeting - January 27

Thursday was our first Monthly Volunteer Meeting for all the zoo volunteers. The Alaska Zoo has appointed Shannon Jenson as Volunteer Coordinator, helping out the education department. Katie Larson is still the Education Director, and Amber Mount is still her assistant, but with everything going on they felt it would be best to have somebody else coordinate all the volunteers.

Shannon has implemented quite a few changes in the way volunteers are handled; some of which are good changes, some of which will take a bit of getting used to. The most obvious change is her plan to have these monthly meetings; a thing that was once tried, but it never really got off the ground.

Thursday's meeting was held at the BP Energy Center, since they have room for everybody (and the zoo currently does not, although that will change once their new entrance building is built) and the cost is within the zoo’s budget (as in: it was free). Speaking of budgets, the zoo really does have one set aside for the volunteer program: $100.00 a month. With this, Shannon is expected to handle not only the volunteers she now has (about 25 or so) but also the 25 of so more she wants to recruit!

Anyway, back to the meeting: it was a success in that a lot of people showed up (about 17 in all), but I do think the whole process will need some fine-tuning before getting it exactly right. First, Shannon spent quite a bit of her budget on munchies: chicken wraps, Cheetoes, Doritos, trail mix, and soda. At first thought, this was a good idea: give the volunteers something to munch on since you’re asking them to give up 2 hours of an evening when they could be at home eating a home-cooked meal (yeah, right). But in actuality, hardly any of the food got eaten so there was quite a bit of leftovers. I’m sure the food eventually got eaten (just take it to the zoo; the keepers there will eat it in no time), but there’s no point in blowing your budget on food that no body wants.

Second, Shannon intended to show a video that she and John Gomes, the unofficial photographer for the zoo, are working on for recruitment of new volunteers. However, she neglected to see if the video player provided by BP would work, so she ended up spending a good 10 minutes fiddling with it and never did get to show us the video!

She did have a lot of good ideas, like I said. One thing was to hand out new badges to everybody. They’re real spiffy badges, too. Much nicer than some of the badges I’ve had in the past. She also told us that the zoo is planning on giving the volunteers jackets with the zoo logo, as well as t-shirts with the word "Volunteer" written across the back to identify us while we’re at the zoo. Not too shabby! She also implemented a sign-in sheet again. The zoo needs to track the hours that volunteers spend so they can claim it correctly on their taxes. They also need to see how many hours we spend, so they can better appreciate the job we do! This is, however, one of the ideas that will take a bit of getting used to. I’m not in the habit of checking in each time I do something for the zoo.

Shannon’s worst idea by far, at least in my humble opinion (and it may just be that I am not one for change: I like things just the way they are!), is the new Volunteer Opportunity Sign-up sheet. No longer will I be getting the occasional phone call from Katie, Amber, or Shannon asking me if I can help out with a special tour or a critter table off site. Now, I am expected to check their Volunteer Opportunity Sign-up page on the website, and actually volunteer for the events I’m interested in on my own initiative! The nerve of them! As I said, this will take a bit of getting used to.

For a special treat that night, we got a visitor in the middle of our meeting. Liz, one of the zookeepers, brought Trini in to see us. Trini is our silver fox, and is one of the education animals. This means that she goes out to schools and whatnot to help educate people on animals. She was very excited to be out and about that night. She’s been on medical leave recently, due to an injury to her hind leg that is being treated by our vet, Dr. Riley, and this was her first time out in several months. She is a cute little thing, that’s for sure. She is only about 7 years old, much younger than I had thought. Liz told us her story

Most of the rest of the time was spent getting to know everybody, and talking about some of the opportunities available to zoo volunteers. We talked about different techniques used on-site or off-grounds, about how to handle difficult people, or just some of the different experiences we’d each had. Eventually, we broke up and headed on home.