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Happy National Zookeeper Week!

In honor of National Zookeeper Week, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute is featuring some of the dedicated professionals who go above and beyond for the animals in our care.

Follow along on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with the hashtag #NZKW2018 and #WeSaveSpecies.

Elephant Trails

“For the first time in more than 35 years, our Elephant Team welcomed an adult bull to the Zoo. To prepare for Spike’s arrival, the keepers worked tirelessly and with great dedication to maintain not only Spike’s health and well-being but also that of our six female Asian elephants. Becky Riley and Kayleigh Sullivan traveled to Tampa to accompany Spike on the trip to Washington, D.C. While they were en route, Paige Babel, Amanda Bobyak, Matt Chambers, Jason Gue, Debbie Flinkman and Becca Spickler continued to provide outstanding care to our females while preparing the Barn for Spike’s impending arrival. Thanks to their efforts, Spike had a successful quarantine and was re-introduced to Maharani, Kamala and Swarna, whom he lived with previously at Calgary Zoo. What is more, Spike and Maharani showed great interest in one another, and we observed breeding behavior! This is a very exciting time for our team and the Zoo; we are steps closer to achieving our mission to welcome a new generation of this endangered species.”—Marie Galloway, Elephant Manager of Elephant Trails 

Elephant Trails

“In their native habitats, male Asian elephants often use their energy and strength in sparring matches. To stimulate that natural behavior, animal keeper Jason Gue came up with some clever enrichment for Spike, the newest member of our herd. To create a toy that would be engaging and durable enough to stand up to the strength of a 14,000-pound elephant, Jason modified two large tires, cut them and overlapped them in such a way that they draped over a large structure in the elephant yard. The tire toy has become one of Spike’s favorite enrichment items, and he spends much of his time and energy sparring with it!”—Tony Barthel, Curator of Elephant Trails

Great Cats

In October 2016, our African lion Luke began walking with an on-again, off-again limp. Once we became suspicious that this was more than a minor muscle tweak, our veterinary team became involved. Through a series of exams and tests—including a CT scan—we discovered that Luke had a lesion on his spine that was affecting his right shoulder. Because there is no reasonable surgical option, staff have been trying diligently to manage his pain and keep him as comfortable as possible. One of the methods suggested by the veterinary team was to implement photobiomodulation, or laser therapy, to reduce inflammation. Ideally, this treatment is administered multiple times per week while Luke is awake. That way, we do not have to anesthetize him. Animal keeper Rebecca Stites trained Luke to voluntarily sit still and present his shoulder so that awake treatments could be administered on this 400-pound patient safely. This video shows how well both Rebecca and Luke have done! Thanks to Rebecca’s outstanding dedication to her animals, Luke’s pain is being managed very effectively and he is under the best care possible!”—Craig Saffoe, Curator of Great Cats, Andean Bears and Kids’ Farm

American Trail

“We received a recommendation to breed our male sea lion, Jetty, with one of our adult females, Calli. We were thrilled when their first pup, Catalina, was born in June 2016! To help veterinary and animal keeper staff better understand pup development, keeper Chelsea Grubb trained Calli to voluntarily participate in X-rays. Now, she will lay still on an X-Ray plate for extended periods of time. Chelsea also trained Calli to readjust her position on the plate so that vets can capture specific angles. This excellence in husbandry training will help us monitor Calli’s health and the growth and development of any pups she may have in future.”—Rachel Metz, Curator of American Trail

Department of Nutrition Sciences

“The Department of Nutrition Sciences Commissary team takes Ivymount students under their wing throughout the school year. Ivymount is a local school that creates programs and partnerships for people with autism. The commissary team provides a welcoming, patient, structured, yet challenging environment where these students can develop interpersonal skills and gain experience one-on-one from keepers. Staff and coaches ensure the students are comfortable and completing tasks correctly as they assist with the operation. It’s a win-win that provides opportunities for the students’ personal and professional growth while enabling the Commissary team achieve specific, measureable tasks on a daily basis. This effort goes beyond excellence in animal care to excellence in caring and compassion; the team shares not only knowledge but also opportunity with the students.”—Mike Maslanka, Head of the Department of Nutrition Sciences

Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

“The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) manages the largest maned wolf collection in North America. This year, our carnivore keeper team—Ginger Eye, Tom Eyring, Marissa Gonzalez, Jessica Kordell, Chris Lemons and Cathi Morrison—successfully bred two of our maned wolf breeding pairs. Between them, they contributed six pups to the North American population! Our team researches maned wolf social dynamics, parent rearing behaviors, and safe and effective restraint for pups during veterinary procedures—all of which give us insight into managing this vulnerable species.”—Juan Rodriguez, Curator of Carnivores at SCBI

Asia Trail

“When sloth bears Niko and Remi were introduced to one another earlier this year, what Zoo visitors didn’t see was all of the hard work that went into planning behind the scenes. The exemplary care and management provided by Mindy Babitz and Stacey Tabellario ensured Niko’s smooth transfer from Germany and successful introduction to Remi. As a result, the bear pair quickly became a cohesive social group, and we are able to pursue the breeding recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan. Mindy and Stacey also developed and implemented new strategies to make the exhibit much more dynamic and engaging for the bears, dramatically improving visitors’ experience, too.”—Michael Brown-Palsgrove, Curator of Asia Trail  

Amazonia

“When we opened our Electric Fishes Demonstration Lab last fall, animal keeper Denny Charlton played an integral role in ensuring that the exhibit provided our eel with an enriching and engaging habitat. Denny took the lead on developing our 1 p.m. feeding demonstration, sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm with every zoo visitor. The result has been a big hit with our guests and a great way to inspire future conservationists!”—Rachel Metz, Curator of Amazonia #NZKW2018 #WeSaveSpecies

Amazonia

“As you can imagine, recalling birds to participate in medical treatments or exams in an open rainforest exhibit like ours is difficult if not downright impossible. Animal keeper Hilary Colton used positive reinforcement to train all 13 of our free-flighted birds to fly to a food pan in a holding area. By acclimating the birds to these areas, we can improve the overall care we provide—from daily health checks to watching for nesting behaviors. Thanks to Hilary’s persistence, accomplishing annual exams and weighing the birds regularly is not a dream, it is a reality!”—Rachel Metz, Curator of Amazonia  #NZKW2018 #WeSaveSpecies

Reptile Discovery Center

“Kyle Miller’s passion for reptiles and dedication to the animal keeper profession reaches far beyond our Zoo. For the second year in a row, Kyle participated in the Jamaican Iguana Recovery Team. The Jamaican iguana was considered extinct from 1940 until 1990, when a small population was discovered in the Hellshire Hills of southern Jamaica. An essential part of the recovery program is to increase iguana numbers by rearing wild hatchlings at the Hope Zoo in Kingston until they are large enough for a successful release. All iguanas are marked and tagged, and some receive radio transmitters to help identify distribution patterns within the habitat. This year, the team released 50 iguanas, marking 399 releases since the program started in 1996. Kyle’s hard work is evident each day; he is quick to help his fellow keepers with managing dangerous animals and other daily tasks that are necessary to care for more than 70 reptile and amphibian species.”—Alan Peters, Curator of Reptile Discovery Center

Bird House

“Imagine packing up an entire exhibit and moving animals, staff and more than 50 years’ worth of supplies! Bird House keepers moved all of that into three new holding facilities in preparation for transforming and renovating the current exhibit into Experience Migration. Doing so required good communication, careful planning and working together to accomplish a smooth transition to new facilities.  All of this was done by the Bird House team while continuing to provide excellence in animal care and welfare for a living collection of rare and exotic birds. We are ready for construction to begin!”—Sara Hallager, Curator of Bird House #NZKW2018 #WeSaveSpecies

Small Mammal House

“Small Mammal House keepers present meet-a-mammal encounters twice a day, showcasing some of our amazing animals to visitors. Keepers form trusting relationships with our animals to ensure they are comfortable during these demonstrations. They share their expertise about the species and individual animals—from the tiny, 50 gram naked mole-rat to the 25 pound two-toed sloth. Between daily demonstrations, special events and Friends of the National Zoo member activities, our keepers complete about 1,000 animal encounters per year!”—Steve Sarro, Curator of Small Mammal House 

Primates

“Primate keeper Melba Brown worked closely with western lowland gorilla Calaya throughout her pregnancy. In the months leading up to Moke’s birth, Melba built a trusting relationship with Calaya. She trained her to sit—often for long sessions—while our veterinarians operated the ultrasound machine. Performing voluntary ultrasounds allowed primate husbandry and vet staff to monitor Calaya’s pregnancy, know when the fetus changed position, and watch for important changes throughout fetal development. This method is stress-free, and the data obtained from these sessions could be extremely helpful to understanding more about the development of gorillas prior to birth. Melba’s ultrasound sessions, as well as other maternal training with Calaya, will be instrumental to accomplishing future training goals since Moke’s birth, such as injection training for Moke’s future immunizations.”—Meredith Bastian, Curator of Primates