Sunday, January 23, 2005

Science & Math Night - January 21

Friday night was my first event of the year for the zoo. Megan Pool, fellow volunteer, and I sat at a critter table at Bowman Elementary for their Science & Math Night celebration. And boy, did they celebrate! They had over 350 people attending! Thankfully, they put us in the "quiet zone" along with the live animal (a frog named Spunky) and the microscopes. One little boy even brought his dinosaur bones to share with the school: he had two claws and a rock with a face in it.

Megan and I set up our table at about 6:00 so we had some time to get ready before the official opening, which was at 6:30. We brought lots of critter stuff with us: bits of fur, horns, antlers, eggs, and quills, as well as a bunch of confiscated items on loan from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife. I also brought my picture album and a picture book from the zoo's gift shop for everybody to look thru.

I took a moment during a bit of a lull and walked around to get a look at some of the other tables. They had things like math puzzles, science experiments, an origami table, even an egg-drop station (I'm not sure what exactly they were teaching at that one, other than just providing an opportunity for the kids to make a big mess). The cafeteria was set up with pizza and pretzels even, but I never got a chance to try any of them.

All the people I saw had smiles on, and the noise levels were quite loud, so I'm going to assume that everybody had a good time out there. I was, however, very thankful to be put in the "quiet zone" for our critter table. With so many small pieces of critter stuff, it's difficult to keep an eye on everything. It's so easy for a child to walk off with something in their hands; most often they aren't even aware that they're doing that!

One little boy, however, was very aware of what he was doing. I didn't catch him until it was too late; he pried off a piece of our musk-ox horn. I talked to him rather sternly about being respectful of other people's stuff, and asked him how he would feel if somebody broke his dinosaur bones (yes, he was the one who was sharing with everybody). He looked rather sheepish for all of perhaps 2 seconds, and then bounced away on to the next table. Oh well.

Megan and I had quite a few kids stop by our table, and we had fun going over all the stuff. I had them all trying to guess what everything was, and was surprised at how well they all did. I guess I shouldn't be so surprised since they were all Alaskan-grown kids. Pretty much everybody has seen a moose or a bear, and even if they hadn't seen one before, they all know what a polar bear is. Megan was in charge of the confiscated items and did a good job telling the kids all about protected animals and the laws that pertain. She talked about why you shouldn't pick up an eagle feather, or why you really don't need a purse made out of seal fur, or a bracelet made of elephant's tusks.

The event that night was over by 8:30 by which time both Megan and I were ready to go home. I love doing events like that but it's so very exhausting, particularly when you've just had 9 hours at work.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Rain, diarrhea, and Dusky

I showed up early for my assigned 2:30 feeding, arriving at the Alaska Zoo about 1:00 that Saturday afternoon. I went to the infirmary to see if anybody had anything they needed me to do for them. Margery, one of the zookeepers, was there fixing up the animals’ dinner.

“Got anything you need me to do for you, since I’m so early?” I asked her.

“No,” she replied. “I’ve got everything pretty much in hand, here. Why don’t you see if anybody else has anything?”

Amber, an intern at the zoo, was also in the infirmary and she called on her radio for me to see if anybody else on zoo grounds needed my help.

“She can clean out the pen behind the infirmary, if she wants to.” Said a voice on the other end. It was Shannon, the zookeeper who is in charge of overseeing wildlife nutrition and health.

Margery laughed and said, "Teach you to ask if anybody needs help!"

I found out why when I went back there to take a look. It was not just raining, it was POURING outside. And Dusky, the sick caribou calf who was living there till he got well again, had a terrible case of diarrhea.

I got a rake, a shovel, and a bucket and headed out the door anyway. The rain really wasn't all that bad, even though I didn't have my raincoat on. I had forgotten to put it into my car so just had to make do with my corduroy jacket. I actually had fun.

The diarrhea was a whole other story. Dusky certainly was a sick little boy. Caribou droppings, affectionately called “Boo Poo” by the zoo staff, are about as sticky as cement; once you get some on your shoes it takes a good scrubbing with a wire brush to get it off. And when a caribou is sick, like Dusky was, it’s a lovely shade of slimy green.

Dusky, however, was feeling good that day. He was really happy to have company, and once he determined that I didn’t have a bottle hiding anywhere, he wanted to play. Apparently a rake can be a really fun toy. He played with it the whole time I was trying to clean up the place. It’s not easy to rake up wet diarrhea in the best of times, and even more difficult when you have “help” like I did.

He'd paw at the rake with his two front feet, head-but it with his little inch-long antler buttons, fling his head around, kick up his hind feet, and race around the pen in circles. He got so excited after a while that he started to run real fast. I gave up on cleaning and just stood in the center of the pen while he did circle-eights around me at top speed for a good 15 minutes. He had to jump over a half-wall each time he went by me; he sailed over it like he was flying!

Those little caribou calves can really move! When a calf is just a few days old, it can run faster than a wolf. This is a useful talent when you live out on the tundra. Not so useful when you’re trying to clean out their pen.

Teddy, an injured moose calf who was in the pen as well, was terrified by all the activity. He had been abandoned for quite a while before the Fish & Game rescued him and brought him to the zoo, so he was very weak and malnourished. He also had a blind eye, which may be the reason his mother abandoned him in the first place.

Dusky was so rambunctious he ran right over poor Teddy several times, knocking him completely off his feet. At one point, Dusky even tried to climb up on top of him! Teddy ended up cowering in a corner, crying. A baby moose can sound so pitiful; they have a high-pitched voice that is just like somebody stepping on a dog’s squeaky toy.

When I finally got the place cleaned up, hauled two very heavy 5-gallon buckets full of muck out, and got the rake & shovel put away, it was time to get ready for my scheduled feeding.