Here at the Zoo we currently have a colony of 36 African penguins: 28 adults, seven juveniles, and one chick. With so many birds running around, two of the most common questions I get as a penguin keeper are: “How do you tell all of them apart?” and “How do you keep track of all those penguins?”
Well, for me, telling them apart is easy. Each penguin has a band with colored beads on either their left or right wing. Each mated pair of penguins and their chicks have the same color or combination of colors, with males banded on the left, and females on the right.
When it comes to keeping track of them, it’s more than just being able to tell them apart. It’s about knowing each individual penguin enough to tell if they’re acting in an irregular way. For example, a typically good eater not eating as much as they normally do, or a social butterfly that seems to be separating themselves from the rest of the colony, indicates that something could be wrong. Then again, they could simply be getting ready to lay an egg.
Animals are not good at letting you know if they aren’t feeling well. So, we need other methods besides behavioral observations to keep track of their health. One way we can tell if something might be wrong is by keeping track of weights. At the beginning of every month, we weigh the entire colony. All of the penguins are used to being weighed, so it’s a fairly easy process. Check out the video below to watch the routine.
Don’t forget to visit the Zoo on Monday, October 13th for Penguin Awareness Day! There will be keeper talks, penguin feeding demonstrations, and we have some great silent auction items to bid on that day, too. Hope to see everyone there.
…poop. OK, so it isn’t really a word, but the study of animal droppings is a big part of the Seneca Park Zoo’s animal preventative health program.
Droppings from all the Zoo’s animals are examined annually to help assess the health of the collection. They can reveal a number of things about the animal and requires very little effort on the part of the animal and the staff. When testing animal droppings, there are three main components that are evaluated.
The first is general appearance. Does it look normal? Inconsistencies in appearance can mean a more underlying problem that may require additional tests.
Second: Is there anything there that shouldn’t be there? Foreign objects can sometimes find their way into the digestive tract of animals. Most pass through and are easily identified in droppings. If we know something had been ingested, we can check to make sure it passes through. If not, we can take other measures to help move things along.
Third is a microscopic exam looking for internal parasites. This is the part where we look for worms and other invaders. Parasites can cause additional trouble for our animals and any positive results are evaluated by the veterinarian for the proper course of treatment.
Sometimes it’s as easy as placing some of them on a scale and getting a reading. Others, like our Amur tigers, may need a little convincing.
The staff works hard and can be very patient and inventive. Using barrels or other large objects to create a walkway, a large board is placed in the exhibit and covered with cardboard or leaves. Sensors connected to a scale are placed under the board, and using our tigers’ favorite treats (chicken, herring or capelin are preferred) the animals are walked onto the board and stationed there long enough to get an accurate weight.
Of course this seldom happens overnight, so establishing trust and keeping it positive is the key to it all. Knowing our animals’ weights is a very important aspect of our husbandry program and making it a positive experience for them is paramount.