General Session Papers Abstracts

Zookeeper’s Guide to Healthy Habits

PJ Beaven, ZooFit
Tuesday August 20th, 8:00am – 8:20am

Working with animals is a dream come true for many of us. We spend years studying and learning all we can to ensure we can give creatures in our care the best life. But do we consider how we take care of ourselves into the equation? As a zookeeper for 15 years, PJ Beaven loved her animals, and wanted to do more. Her ah-ha moment came when she realized she couldn’t give great care to her animals if she didn’t take basic care of herself. PJ went on to develop a fitness program utilizing the principles of an animal care specialist. Using operant conditioning through positive reinforcement, PJ changed her life and habits for the better. She named her program ZooFit and helps people achieve their fitness through the principles of zookeeping. Learn how to breaking healthy habits into small, achievable steps makes lifelong behavior change to improve our own well-being. Whether you want to lose weight, pick up the extra large boomer ball, or increase your energy, PJ’s revolutionary fitness program will help you be the best version of yourself you can be. Improve your fitness and give better care to the animals.

Zoo Keeper Talks, Public Engagement and Professional Development

Caitlin Kempski, North Carolina State University
Tuesday August 20th, 8:20am – 8:40am


Each year over 190 million visitors go to zoos and aquariums, and so there is enormous potential to educate people about wildlife and conservation. Unfortunately this potential is often not fully realized with visitors, especially those who are not on guided tours. One potential avenue to addressing this is through Keeper Talks. Zoo keepers are highly knowledgeable about and deeply invested in the species that they care for but this alone may not be enough. Knowing a subject and knowing how to teach that subject are two different things but keepers generally do not have formal training in education. This study examines how keeper talks are currently given, the professional development that is currently available, and proposes ways to improve the effectiveness of keeper talks at educating the public and changing their attitudes and behaviors to be more conservation minded.

Working in an Active Construction Zone: A Lesson in Safety and Communication

Joseph Nappi, Wildlife Conservation Society & Bronx Zoo
Tuesday August 20th, 8:40am – 9:00am


In August of 2017, it was discovered that a portion of the thirty-five year old concrete board drop ceiling of the Bronx Zoo’s Carter Giraffe Building had collapsed overnight. While no animal holding areas were compromised, swift action was essential to ensure that no animals or staff would be at risk for potential further ceiling deterioration. Over the next three months, keeper staff worked around an active construction zone as the majority of the building’s drop ceiling was removed. Several species were moved to other areas of the zoo during the project, and the zoo’s herd of giraffe and zebra were managed in their outside holding yards and exhibits. Teamwork and communication were essential to keep all personnel and animals safe throughout the process. In addition to managing the animals and building in a completely different manner, the keeper staff also had to desensitize the animals to the new ceiling once the construction job was completed. Ultimately the ceiling project would successfully be finished just before the cold weather would begin set in.

Going Green Saves Green: Reducing Operating Costs With Sustainable Constructed Wetlands

Kathleen Gries and John Ferris, Ochsner Park Zoo
Tuesday August 20th, 9:00am – 9:20am


Stretched to the limit taking care of their 3.5 acre zoo and the adjacent 15 acre park/picnic area, keepers at Ochsner Park Zoo, in Baraboo Wisconsin found it challenging to find the time to dump and fill the pool in the Black Bear (Ursus americanus) exhibit the required two to three times a week just to keep it suitable for the animals. In addition to the hundreds of dollars spent each year for potable water to fill the pool and the associated sanitary sewer charges each time the pool was drained, approximately $6,000 to $9,000 was spent every year for labor.

In an effort to save costs and create a more sustainable exhibit, the Ochsner Park Zoo constructed a 7.0 square meter Mesic Prairie Constructed Wetland Treatment System within the narrow unused landscaped area between the exhibit enclosure and the viewing rail. In this type of constructed treatment wetland, water from the pool flows horizontally through a bed of gravel. Mesic prairie plants grow in a thin layer of soil covering the gravel bed take up pollutants broken down by the microbial film growing in the gravely bed. Analysis of water quality showed many nutrients are below detectable levels and other well within the range of acceptable levels.

The full installation cost was recovered by the avoided maintenance costs of the exhibit in the first two years of operations. This is vital for a free, city owned zoo and an educational opportunity for many other zoos in similar situations.

Keeping Mable Able: Welfare Assessments Assisting in Animal Care

Steven Ok, Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium
Tuesday August 20th, 9:20am – 9:40am


In the summer of 2015, Mable, a two-year-old female Nigerian dwarf goat, began to show bilateral forelimb lameness. Various treatments were tried including medication, therapeutic walking, and laser therapy, but her lameness and osteoarthritis continued to progress. A last treatment was attempted using custom leg braces to stabilize her carpal joints. As is common when approaching end-of-life decisions, we began an ethogram to document her declining mobility in conjunction with radiographs and goniometry. The behaviors set included negative indicators (lying down and leg lifting) along with positive indicators (interacting with guests and playing). Her twin brother, Bentley, was observed for comparison. The ethogram revealed that Mable was more active while wearing the braces. Repeating the study semi-annually for two years has shown consistent positive behavioral indicators. Mable’s osteoarthritis continues to progress and goniometric data shows that her joints are losing range of movement. Where these trends intersect will likely require us to make difficult yet necessary choices. The data alone does not define quality of life, but aids with quantitative decision-making; when we come to a determination it will be through a combination of scientific, behavioral, and emotional data that will facilitate making an end-of-life decision for a young animal with a serious, chronic, slowly debilitating health condition.

Kinesiology Taping Flamingos: “They’ve Got Legs…But Sometimes Don’t Know How to Use Them”

Joy Kotheimer & Deana Cole, Columbus Zoo & Aquarium
August 20th, 9:40am – 10:00am

Kinesio tape has become more prominent publicly as athletes sported it during the 2012 Olympics and various sporting events. If athletes use it to prevent injuries and increase healing time, then animal care professionals could also utilize kinesio tape for animals. Since 2010, Deana Cole, a licensed massage therapist certified in kinesio taping, volunteers her time and resources to work with animal care and veterinary staff at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium with particular patients to compliment medical treatment. Although Deana regularly works with people, horses, and dogs, her most consistent zoo patients are long-legged birds, notably Caribbean flamingos. Because leg injuries can be serious for flamingos, both veterinary and animal care staffs work with Deana to kinesio tape individuals to compliment any necessary medical care, avoid surgery if possible, increase healing time and decrease inflammation to injuries- most often to the ankle. Several chronic injury cases are preventatively kinesio taped during winter and breeding seasons as risk of injury increases with flock behaviors. Assessment for effectiveness of kinesio tape treatments include subjective observations of lameness/gait and joint swelling by keepers and veterinarians and more objective assessments of presence or growth of foot lesions and radiographs. Preventative kinesio taping also stretches to the realm of flamingo chick rearing by providing corrective treatment for flamingo chicks and juveniles with splaying or abnormal rotation of their legs and feet. The effective teamwork of zoo staff and Deana continues to provide higher quality of welfare assessment and treatment for animals.

Choice and Control in Training a Nile Hippopotamus

Shawn Danner, Adventure Aquarium
Tuesday August 20th, 10:30am – 10:50am


There are many methods of behavioral conditioning that are commonly used to successfully train animals. These typical methods, however, may not always be the best options for every individual animal. Using new methods that introduce more choice and control into the animal’s training routine may be a way to overcome obstacles in training. Choice and control was introduced to our female Nile Hippopotamus Button. Button has had many successes in training but has always been quite cautious in certain situations. One behavior that she has shown particular caution with is entering a restraint chute. Over the years Button has learned the precursors to being closed into the chute. After having increased success in her daily training when she was given more choice, we set out to give her complete control of this behavior. We developed a system using different visual targets to allow her to make choices. One target was rewarded with a low value reinforcement while a second target was rewarded with a high value reinforcement but came with a consequence. If the high value target was chosen, a door was moved somewhere in holding to simulate the chute being closed. If she felt uncomfortable about the consequence she had the low value reinforcement option to choose over leaving the session all together. This enabled clear and consistent communication between the animal and trainer, increasing Button’s participation in the chute behavior. All it took was giving up some control and working together with the animal to accomplish a goal.

Ready, Set, Goat! Using Training and Enrichment to Increase Guest Involvement

Nikki Maticic, Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute
Tuesday August 20th, 10:50am – 11:10am


The Smithsonian’s National Zoo’s Kids’ Farm is home to several domestic species (cows, alpacas, hogs, goats, donkeys, and chickens) that can choose to be pet by the public along fences. The ability to touch animals can create deep connections to wildlife, an important feature of the Kids’ Farm. In 2016, our 1.3 goats tested positive for E. Coli stx1. Even though this is a common bacteria found in ruminants, out of an abundance of caution, we stopped public interaction with goats. This was challenging since the goats were accustomed to visitor interaction. We wanted to keep them active while also keeping the public invested in them. Keepers increased training, like various agility and medical behaviors to keep the goats physically and mentally active while making them easily visible and helping keepers educate guests about domestic animals. Keepers often discuss the basics of training and enrichment during demonstrations, frequently using pets as a comparison (e.g., training dogs to sit). This helps guests better relate to animals and inspires them to enrich their pets using similar activities.

Since implementing these methods, we expanded our training and enrichment program to create a larger public impact with all of our species (e.g., chicken petting demos, themed enrichment, painting, animal walks/baths). These demonstrations have been crucial in helping us promote the importance of animal care to guests and reinforcing the idea that there is more to domestic farm animals than meets the eye.

Building Confident and Resilient Animal Ambassadors: A Binturong Case Study

Heather Shields, Downtown Aquarium – Denver
Tuesday August 20th, 11:10am – 11:30am


Training an animal ambassador to be comfortable with highly variable situations requires structured, consistent training; adaptability to the individual nature of the animal; creativity and persistence to address any issues that may arise. Many animals are chosen as animal ambassadors due to the reliability and nature of their disposition. Others, such as binturongs, are known to present more challenges and require a bit more structure, imagination, and persistence to continue their role as ambassadors.

The Downtown Aquarium Denver received Yuni, a 5-week-old binturong, as an animal ambassador in 2014. She has become a confident ambassador and is capable of working in many different settings from small, intimate meet and greets, to an outdoor walk with children running past, to being surrounded by dozens of guests at special events. Teaching Yuni to be confident in all situations has had challenges, some of which include revamping what our guest interactions looked like as she grew and crating breakdowns. Addressing challenges sometimes requires starting at the basics and working through small approximations to find where the behavior broke down, or creating a new way to push past the breakdown to something new. Yuni’s behavioral changes have required the team to continuously assess her training and adjust where necessary. As a result, Yuni has continued to be a shining star at the aquarium in her role as an ambassador and gives guests great memories.

Storm the Gates! Using Off-Exhibit Training Strategies to Expand Habitat Experiences

Dr. Rafael Sanchez, Dolphin Adventure
Tuesday August 20th, 11:30am – 11:50am


Vallarta Adventures utilizes birds, primates and Pinniped species as ambassador animals that leave their exhibits to have contact with guests. These outreach programs provide education and conservation opportunities as well as mental stimulation for the individuals, improving animal welfare.

Animals in Zoological environments have long been conditioned for off-site outreach programs. Our Sea Lion family are conditioned for open ocean interactive programs including snorkel, diving and beach walks. Macaws and birds of prey are trained for free flying and guest interactions. And Squirrel monkeys are utilized in guest interactions, all outside of their exhibits.

Off-exhibit training strategy challenges mostly revolve around fear of the new environment. Providing daily opportunities to experience the immediate environment outside of the normal exhibit with countless natural stimuli has helped condition animals to reliably leave and, importantly, return to their habitats.

Starting a Successful Behavioral Enrichment Committee

Abbie Doan, Indianapolis Zoo
Tuesday August 20th, 11:50am – 12:10pm


Enrichment plays a key role in the welfare of the animals in our care. Oftentimes, new staff learns about enrichment strategies from fellow keepers or by trial-and-error experimentation on their own. It is easy to perpetuate ‘bad habits’ in enriching animal collections because keepers often don’t get a formal lesson in proper enrichment techniques. Having a Behavioral Enrichment Committee (BEC) at an institution can help keepers learn strategies in effective animal enrichment via collaborative learning and knowledge-sharing between staff of varying expertise zoo-wide. A BEC can help by establishing an overarching enrichment philosophy which can assist keepers via goal-oriented planning, proper implementation and careful evaluation of environmental and behavioral enrichment. The aim of this presentation is to give insight on how to start a successful Behavioral Enrichment Committee at an animal institution.

Live, Learn, and Then Get Dirt: One Okapi Calf’s Struggles

Loren Berry, Denver Zoo
Tuesday August 20th, 12:10pm – 12:30pm


A male okapi calf (Okapi johnstoni), was born at Denver Zoo on 4 December 2017. After initial standing and first attempts to walk, the calf splayed with all four legs, resulting in sternal recumbency, and was unable to correct itself for multiple hours. Due to the inability to stay standing, the calf was unable to nurse within the first six hours. Bovine colostrum was administered within eight hours and the calf was hobbled to keep the him in a more stable standing position and encourage nursing. The stall substrate was also changed to a combination of sand, dirt and pine shavings. After a 24 hour neonatal examination, blood work confirmed failure of passive transfer despite colostrum administration and nursing from the dam successfully overnight. A plasma transfusion was given with donated plasma from an okapi at the Columbus Zoo. Upon a follow-up physical examination, an umbilical hernia was identified. Although the umbilicus was within normal limits on the initial neonatal examination, it is probable that the malformation was exasperated by the long duration of splaying and attempts at standing within the first 24 hours. The malformation worsened as the calf grew, resulting in the need of surgical correction at one month of age. Despite the multitude of initial complications, the calf prospered with its dam. He participated in relationship building with animal care staff through positive reinforcement training and with the recommendation from the Okapi Species Survival Plan®, he was successfully transported to the Sacramento Zoo in November of 2018.

Across Borders: AAZK’s International Outreach Committee

Noah Shields, International Outreach Committee
Thursday August 22nd, 8:00am – 8:20am


The American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK) International Outreach Committee (IOC) was established to provide training, resources, and opportunities for international animal care professionals to better provide for the animals within their care. With a current focus in Latin America, the IOC’s goals of improving and increasing resources and training provided to international animal care professional is an on-going process involving several initiatives. These initiatives provide expanded access to the American Association of Zoo Keepers with translated resources, a travel grant program, and a sponsorship program. The headlining program the IOC has developed is a teaching program that is currently available to Latin American animal care professionals three times per year. These teaching programs currently are hosted at different zoological institutions across Mexico and are designed as mini-conferences with goals to expand to other Latin America countries. Subject matter specialists from the United States travel to these programs to provide lectures and hands-on workshops regarding a variety of zoo-related topics. The programs also provide an opportunity for Latin American animal care professionals to participate as speakers and workshop leaders. These teaching programs have reached over 500 participants.

The IOC hopes to continue this valuable work within Latin America with the development of new programs and expanded opportunities for animal care professionals. With the amount of on-going programming the IOC offers throughout Latin America, there are opportunities for U.S. animal care professionals and AAZK members (especially Spanish speakers) to participate in a variety of ways.

Action for Chimpanzees: Reducing Trafficking in West Africa Through International Collaboration

Lianne Crouthers, Pan African Sanctuary Alliance
Thursday August 22nd, 8:20am – 8:40am


Humanity’s closest relatives are nearer to extinction than ever before. The Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA), the largest association of wildlife centers in Africa, includes 23 organizations in 13 countries that are securing a future for Africa’s primates and their habitat by working to stop the illegal trade in wildlife, protecting wild primate populations and their habitats, rescuing, rehabilitating, and reintroducing great apes and monkeys, and educating and empowering communities. Lianne Crouthers will discuss PASA’s programs and future directions, which include strengthening the capacity of PASA’s member organizations and raising awareness globally about the severe threats to African primates.

Bringing Night Keepers Out of the Dark

Disa Skaff, Denver Zoo
Thursday August 22nd, 8:40am – 9:00am


Night keepers are mysterious. We work alone, in the dark, outside of normal hours, and the work is different from that of day keepers. Even between the few institutions that have night keepers, the role that they play varies dramatically. While Denver Zoo has had night keepers for decades, they historically kept to themselves, fulfilling obligations without drawing much attention. Ultimately, this kept the night keeper team in the shadows. Some people knew what we did for their team specifically, while others didn’t know we existed. As we work with teams and departments across the zoo, any understanding was narrow at best. Boiled down, our job is helping day keepers take the best care of the animals, directly and indirectly. As new night keepers, my coworker and I wanted to do even more to help, but since people did not know what we were doing, they certainly did not know what more we could do. We needed to build trusting relationships with teams across the zoo while unveiling the mystery of what night keepers are doing all night. We made our position available in the keeper shadow program, inviting keepers and curators to join us for an evening and experience our work first hand. I also presented to the entire zoo staff about what night keepers regularly do as well as the many things we may be asked to do. Now Denver Zoo night keepers are better understood and better positioned to help provide our animals with the best care.

Houston Zoo and Rice University: Partnering to Improve Animal Care

Kim Siegl, Houston Zoo, Inc.
Thursday August 22nd, 9:00am – 9:20am


The Houston Zoo and Rice University’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen have developed a unique partnership over the last ten years, in which their students help us create new solutions to help with various aspects of animal care. As engineering students, they approach problems with a different mindset than keepers typically have and will often come up with solutions that we may not. Some solutions are successful, some are not; but whatever the outcome, it’s a great learning experience for our staff and the Rice students. The hoofstock department has worked with students to create feeders for giraffes, a needle holder for blood-draw training, and enrichment for various animals (giant anteaters, tapirs, okapi, giraffe, greater kudu). Rice has also helped the carnivore department develop a motorized zip-line for lion feedings and the primate department with a variety of enrichment items. The paper and presentation will go into further detail on how the collaboration came about, as well as both successes from and challenges within the partnership.

ZRA Training Certificate Program: Professional Education that Benefits You and Your Institution

Heather Terrell, Zoological Registrar’s Association
Thursday August 22nd, 9:20am – 9:40am


The ZRA Training Certificate Program covers terminology, definitions, principles, concepts, professional practices and resources for those working in positions under the zoological registrar role regardless of title. The courses have been developed with comprehension, knowledge and application being at the core of the learning objectives. This presentation will summarize the topics covered and the values and benefits to anyone working in a zoological institution that has one or more of the duties associated with the registrar role. A primary goal of the program is to help those professionals that may not otherwise receive comprehensive training in the core areas of animal record keeping, records management, live animal transport, permits, transactions or biomaterials/biological sample management.

(ZRA partners with AAZK at their annual conferences to increase awareness about opportunities for training and other resources for professional animal keepers that may also have some of the typical registrar duties)

Can Two Non-Sibling Male Fishing Cats Broexist?

Kelsey Eggers, Denver Zoo
Thursday August 22nd, 9:40am – 10:00am


The fishing cat SSP population faces a very common problem; lack of space. Knowing that, perhaps innovative housing strategies could increase usable space for fishing cats. After successfully breeding fishing cats at Denver Zoo, we were left with a space problem. We were unable to place the male offspring, because no zoos had room for a male. Since females were in higher demand, we sent our female to pair with another breeding male, leaving us with a father (Ronaldo) and son (Miso-Chi), who rotated holding areas and the single exhibit. We wondered if introducing the two males would increase the space they had access to and possibly create a more dynamic exhibit. We also discussed how this innovative strategy could potentially consolidate animals in the population and lead to more spaces overall. We created an ethogram and observed both animals before and after the introductions. The introduction went smoothly, and initial mild aggression quickly diminished into curiosity. The male cats have now been housed together during the day for months. They exhibit more behavioral diversity, they are more visible to our guests, and they have more space than they did when they lived separately. If other zoos are in the same position Denver Zoo was in, it might be worth thinking outside the box and trying unique groupings of fishing cats. This could benefit both individuals and the population by providing more housing options.

Beating the Odds; Using a Guinea Pig’s Cancer Treatment to Gain Knowledge and Foster Empathy

Lisa Ranck, Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium
Thursday August 22nd, 10:50am – 11:10am


Guinea pigs (Cavia porcellus) are prone to cancer development but are often untreated due to their relatively short lifespan, financial constraints and poor prognosis from diagnosis. As such, there is little known about successful cancer treatment and survival in the species. Pepper, a guinea pig at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, was diagnosed with malignant lymphoma and leukemia prior to exhibiting clinical symptoms which allowed us the opportunity to design a treatment protocol. Great communication and teamwork between keepers, veterinarians, and veterinary oncologists led to rapid treatment which provided Pepper with excellent quality of life well beyond the original prognosis, which has been reported as little as two weeks. Her treatment consisted of a second-line chemotherapy drug called Lomustine (CCNU) which was administered every three weeks orally. Under treatment no negative side effects were observed from the chemotherapy drug. Physical exams were performed as needed throughout her treatment to assess the disease and her quality of life. As an ambassador animal, this treatment experience provides an example of responsible animal ownership for patrons who may be interested in acquiring a pet as well as an example of the quality veterinary care provided for all species at the zoo, domestic and exotic alike. Featuring the health issues and care of domestic species provides a connection to that animal, generating empathy that can then transfer to exotic and endangered species throughout the zoo and in the wild.

Sheep After Dark: A Fitness and Welfare Journey

Diane Abbey, Woodland Park Zoo
Thursday August 22nd, 11:10am – 11:30am


Since 2018 the Animal keepers at Family Farm at Woodland Park Zoo in conjunction with Animal Health and the Sound Veterinary Rehabilitation Center, have been using FitBark activity trackers to track the activity of two domestic sheep. The FitBark is a small device that attaches to the animal’s collar and syncs through an app to phones and tablets. It monitors activity levels and distance traveled. The sheep were chosen because they are tractable and were above their target weight. The team is working toward correlating their activity to amount of weight lost in order to set an activity target for each animal. The fitness plan includes, walks, running laps and an agility course. In addition to working on weight loss, the 24-hour monitoring has allowed us to monitor their activity in the evening to determine if there may be something affecting the herd (July 4th noise) or a decrease or change in activity for an individual (lameness or injury).

One Step At a Time: The Story of a Young Orangutan and His Adoptive Mother

Megan Buecher and Lisa Smith, Indianapolis Zoo
Thursday August 22nd, 11:30am – 11:50am


In 2018 the Indianapolis Zoo lost one of our female orangutans, Kim, to complications with lung disease orphaning her two year old, Max. Although he was eating solid foods, we knew another one of the females would need to adopt him. Naturally playful and motherly, Knobi had experience as an adopted mother before and was our first choice. The Orangutan Center, where the Zoo’s eleven orangutans call home is a very complex building with a lot of moving factors. Transitioning Max with his new mom in this complex environment was a lesson in patience. While both apes were familiar with the building and all of its areas, they needed to learn the routine as a new unit. Zookeepers started slow and moved forward one step at a time. Even though Knobi never carried him like a normal orangutan mother would, it didn’t take long for her to wait for Max to shift and to check on him when he started crying. Where Kim was an overprotective mother, not allowing her son much room for independence, Knobi is the opposite. Knobi lets Max be independent and play with the other adults. This has been good for Max who has since formed a relationship with our oldest male orangutan. This has been enriching for both apes. Going forward, zookeepers are faced with new challenges as both Max and Knobi grow older. Navigating Indianapolis Zoo’s large outdoor cable system and separation training are the next steps Knobi and Max are working to overcome.