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People say February is the month of love! Well this month we welcomed a very special pair of Japanese red-crowned crane who are part of the EAZA’s European Endangered Species Programme (EEP). Japanese red crowned cranes are armed with a long pointed bill designed for jabbing into mud in search of food. As its coming into breeding season we now expect them to become territorial and defensive so our keepers need to be extra vigilant! But so far over the past few weeks they have settled into their new habitat and routine very well. For those of you who are interested in learning a little bit more on EAZA and the breeding programmes they manage, click here.
As keepers, we often get asked “What do you do in the winter?” Well the short answer is “The same thing we do every other time of year!” The animals still need feeding every day, enclosures still need cleaning every day and work goes on as normal - regardless of the weather! Believe it or not zoo-keeping isn’t a glamourous job but is a dirty, smelly and physical vocation! So I decided to ask Rob, a newer member of our zoo-keeping team, why zoo-keeping appealed to him!
Me: Rob, what’s your background and have you always had a love of nature and wildlife?
Rob: I’ve always had a huge interest in nature, bird watching in particular. In secondary school all I wanted to do was learn about native species and biodiversity. So getting to study Wildlife Biology in Tralee IT was a dream course. I learned so much with regard to maintaining a species natural habitat and improving Ireland’s biodiversity and ecosystems but especially conserving our native species such as our golden eagle and white tailed sea eagle in Donegal and Kerry, respectively.
Me: What aspect of zoo-keeping do you love the most?
Rob: Zoo-keeping is physical work and has always appealed to me. As well caring for some amazing animals, I do enjoy the construction side of the job such as making new perches, enrichment items etc.
Me: If you had to pick one species which you enjoy working with the most, who would it be and why?
Rob: It’s hard to choose one species in particular that I like to work with! But if I had to pick one it would be the vultures. I like the diversity in the different species, including their personalities! They have some great adaptations and can digest almost anything!
So there you have it folks – just a tiny insight into the mind of a Tayto Park zoo keeper! To me, one of the many great advancements in modern zoo-keeping is the use of operant conditioning which has a direct positive effect on zoo animal health care. Our operant conditioning routine is based on two fundamental elements. Positive reinforcement and zero physical contact. This means our animals retain safe boundaries from our keepers while always having 100% choice if they want to take part in the training routine. This type of training can be a challenge but here at Tayto Park we love a challenge! Through patience and perseverance we are now at a stage in our training programme where vets can administer routine annual vaccinations to our large carnivores, such as the Amur leopards and Amur tigers, without the need for anaesthesia.
Teaching other professionals in the zoo community and passing on what has worked for us is immensely important. One of our big cat keepers Craig, previously gave a presentation in Fota Wildlife Park at the Shape of Enrichment Conference in 2016, entitled “Implementation and Development of Target Training Amur Leopards in Tayto Park”.
Many of you have probably already witnessed our keepers giving target training demonstrations and know the many health benefits it has but if you haven’t, be sure to come along and ask a keeper during your next visit!
Looking forward to opening again in a few weeks, lots of changes which I hope you all like and enjoy!
Aisling (Head Keeper)