Another week at the zoo!

Just finished my second week of prac. It’s kinda sad to say goodbye to all the animals but so good to be home relaxing.

I came home today to find a beautiful bunch of flowers waiting for me, along with a card and a welcome home hug from my husband. I have no idea how I got such a wonderful man but hey, no complaints here!

This week I was working with the Asian Small-clawed Otters, the Greater One-horned Rhinos, and the Siamangs. All such different creatures with their own little personalities.

The otters, Harley and Emiko, were the funniest things. Feeding times were always hilarious, with Harley eating like otters are supposed to and Emiko having absolutely no idea what was going on. We gave them a yabby every day (which I had to catch – eeek!) – Harley bit off both claws before eating the rest of the yabby. Emiko would start at the tail end, squealing in pain every time the yabby bit her feet! She also doesn’t hold her food in her paws to eat or wash it before eating, both of which are common behaviours from ‘normal’ otters!

Since the siamangs are primates and dangerous, I wasn’t allowed to do much with them. But I got to sit and watch them for ages and practice my throwing skills with their food. I think Puteri (mama siamang) hates me now – I nearly hit her in the head with a banana! Baby Lima was so adorable – he is 10 months old and learning to climb and play and eat grownup food (when mum and dad don’t steal it off him!) and he is even adding his little squeaks to his parents’ territorial calls! I just wanted to cuddle him! (And perhaps put him in my pocket and take him home!)

The rhinos weren’t my favourite rhinos (black rhinos are definitely cooler!) but they were still awesome. (Until we had to watch them constantly for 3 days! But more on that in a minute.) Poor Dora is actually a male saddled with a girl’s name but it doesn’t seem to affect him. They are pretty similar to black rhinos but these guys graze more and enjoy soaking in mud baths rather than just rolling in mud. They also have to have soft ground for their feet otherwise they get problems. And on my second day there, Amala went into oestrus. Which meant we had to put her in with Dora. Which meant that we couldn’t leave them alone for 3 days. Which meant that someone had to be continually watching them. And because I am just a student I had to stay with keepers at all times. So I was stuck watching rhinos for the better part of 3 days! It was interesting occasionally – a chase here, a confrontation there – but mostly they were just eating or sleeping. And it sent my brain to sleep. (Nearly followed by the rest of me!)

Having breaks to feed or clean up after otters or siamangs was a welcome relief. And it was nice to have plenty of time to chat with keepers and ask questions. (And play I spy, watch youtube clips, and play quiz games!) And yesterday afternoon when we went to cut some browse for the rhinos (while some other lucky soul sat and watched them!), I got to see a cheetah up close! She was just on the other side of a fence, watching us. So beautiful.

And Mummy is coming to visit in 6 days!!!!! (Since the house currently looks like a bomb has hit it will be wonderful to have a mummy around to fix it!) I am soo excited! See you soon Mummy!


A week with the rhinos!

For those who don’t know, I am doing a course in zoo-keeping and this week was my first week of prac at the zoo. It was a really full-on week working with black rhinos and I was looking forward to a lovely sleep-in this morning. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. So here I am!

My brother’s words of wisdom the day before I started prac were, ‘If a rhino charges you, charge it back!’ My husband told me I should take the rhinos dandelions! (You have to have seen Ice Age to understand!) I ignored both of these suggestions and somehow survived without getting tackled by any rhinos!

My first day of prac was like a crash course in zoo-keeping and rhinos. So much information to absorb all in one day! I didn’t know an awful lot about rhinos before I started, but by the end of the day my brain was clogged with rhino information! Somehow I got through it all and by the end of the week I actually knew what was going on!

My husband asked me what I did all day with the rhinos. Well…I discovered that they are eating machines. They get fed first thing in the morning, they get fed at the keeper talk, they get fed after morning tea, they get fed after lunch! And feeding ten rhinos takes a long time! (The keepers also have to cut tree branches for them – 3 branches a day each for ten rhinos = 30 branches! And cutting them takes a long time!)

The next thing I discovered was that they like to make a mess. They move their nice clean hay out of their feeding troughs and drag it through the dirt and then the keepers have to come and rake it up. Some of the rhinos are particularly messy and it looks like a hay bomb has exploded! And cleaning up after ten rhinos takes a long time!

Another discovery I made was that what goes in must come out! Since they eat so much, they also poo an awful lot! I was told the approximate weight of a rhino poo is about 35kg (it varies of course depending on how much they eat). And after shoveling ten times that onto a trailer all week I believe it! Fortunately rhino poo is not the worst kind of poo – it is pretty much munched up grass, so shoveling large amounts of it is not as bad as it seems. However, shoveling ten rhinos’ poo takes a long time!

The other thing I discovered was that rhinos actually get trained. They are taught to do various things – coming to their keepers, leaning against the fence, touching specific targets, putting their foot up on a box (to give access to draw blood), putting up with being touched all over, and one even knows how to move a log on command! Some days they act half asleep and don’t cooperate, but it is all a work in progress.

So that is pretty much what I did all day! At the end of the week, after listening to all the info and all the keeper talks through the week, I did the keeper talk on Friday! It was somewhat nerve-racking, but I was allowed to take notes and the people were really nice and supportive and didn’t leave or throw tomatoes!

In my week with the black rhinos, I learnt to love their cheeky personalities, and their annoying slowness when they decide to be stubborn. (Pretty much everything takes forever with rhinos – they are ridiculously slow until they are angry or scared.) They make funny little noises when they are hungry and when they are frightened they run around in a panic with their tails sticking straight up. They are really cool creatures, but most of all, they are God’s creatures. And they are in trouble.

It is heart-breaking to learn about how endangered rhinos are (there are only about 4,800 black rhinos left!) and how cruel poachers can be. So far this year, 203 black and white rhinos have been killed in South Africa alone! And they don’t kill them humanely either. It is really horrible.

I can’t wait for Heaven, when the rhinos can be cheeky and slow and make funny noises in peace! And when we can all appreciate the true beauty of God’s creation.