I was able to attend a FAZE (Florida Association of Zoological Educators) at the Jacksonville Zoo. It's great to be able to meet talk with people with venues extending from Disney World to small town zoo/museums. We had three round-table discussion--how to offer premier/VIP programs (to bring in money), how to present to large audiences (to get the message/education out) and adult programs (how to get them to come in even if they're not bringing kids). Brainstorming with others is always good.
And then the really fun stuff. Tim Lawrence, one of their volunteers with a background of creating sculptures and special effects (sculpting for the Shrek movies, among others) talked about making life casts of some of the museum animals. When they have to be anaesthesitized for procedures, he works with the vets to quickly take molds of faces, hands, feets, shells, whatever). The casts can then be used as study aids, props, or cast into metal. For instance, you get to see exactly how big a gorilla's hand can be. This process can also be used for functional items as well as art. One of the zoo's little wading birds had lost part of his leg in an accident. Tim took a mold of the remaining leg and was able to sculpt a little prosthetic leg for him (it works). And, as a favor for coming to the conference, we each got a casting of a lion's teeth (how cool--you normally get a pencil or bookmark)
In the morning after breakfast we were able to hand-feed stingrays (they have very soft flexible lips that can create quite a vacuum to suck the food up. The big thrill of the conference came after the morning round-table discussion: we were able to watch (up close!) the gorilla training.
Gorillas can be big--really big. And strong. And intelligent. In order to keep them healthy, zookeepers do have to give regular checkups and sometimes medication. Traditionally, the animal has to be darted, hauled inside (and they can weigh 500+ pounds) and anesthetized . This can be pretty rough on any animal. Instead of this, they work with the gorillas to get their cooperation. We watched the keeper put the big male silverback through his daily routine. He comes up to a (very sturdy) fence, and, upon request, will push his chest up to it (they've even given him ultrasounds this way), hold up his hands or feet, turn an ear to the wire, or open his mouth wide. Now if a vet needs to give him a shot or check a sore spot on his foot, Qinto (the gorilla we watched) will simply put his shoulder or foot up to the fence. Far less traumatic for both him and the vet than the old "knock him out" routine.
Here's a couple more pictures. The first one shows the conflict I have about zoos. I love being able to see the animals, and learn about them--but no matter how well they're cared for, and how nice the habitat is, it's still captivity. But the other one shows his editorial comment about the guests.