Lehigh Valley Zoo Animal Care DepartmentHi everyone! My name is Elyse and I am one of the Keepers and Commissary Managers at the Lehigh Valley Zoo! Some of you might be asking, what is a commissary manager? Well I am here to tell you just that!

At the zoo, there are two Commissary Managers – myself and Erika. Our day starts out in the barnyard and goat areas of the Zoo. We are responsible for caring for, cleaning, and feeding all the animals that live in those areas! When all of that is complete, we go to do one of the most important parts of our job. One of our job’s most important part is to make the diets for all the animals at the zoo. We make diets for our smallest to some of our largest animals at the zoo, including our lorikeets, mongoose lemurs, raccoon, and even our lynxes! Most of the diets are made down at the Animal Care Commissary, also known as the ACC. The ACC is where all the magic happens. All the things we need to make the diets is stored down there. This includes grain, produce, meat, fish, rodents, and chicks. All the animals are on a specific diet based on their specific needs. We have different types of grain for different animals. We use 24 different types of grain for all the different kinds of animals as the zoo.  Not all the animals get grain, just like not all the animals get fruits and veggies as a part of their diet. For example, our porcupines, Gavin and Amber, get rodent block grain, apples, carrots, and sweet potatoes! All these items are not only super healthy for them, but the grain and these harder fruits and veggies help maintain their teeth. Porcupines are in the rodent family, so their teeth are constantly growing, and their diets help naturally keep them short. To the right is a picture of Amber’s diet. She gets rodent block grain, leaf eater grain, carrots, apples, and corn. Amber loves corn! Amber gets half her diet in the morning and the rest when the zoo closes. The reason we do this is so that she gets socialized with her keepers. This socialization benefits Amber, because she is the oldest North American Porcupine, and allows for a stronger relationship between her and her keepers.

Some animals that do not receive any produce are the carnivores that live at the zoo. One example is our lynxes! Our lynxes get exotic feline grain, Nebraska feline meat, and a variety of “items.” These items can include rats, chicks, capelin, smelt, sardines, and even mackerel. On the right is an example of the Lynx diet for Sasquatch and Selma. They get the bowl of grain chicks/fish in the morning, and they eat get a bowl of the Nebraska meat in the evening when we close. Our lynxes love chicks but are not the biggest fans of clams.

Some animals get a combination of grain, produce, and meat or items! These animals are omnivorous. One of our most adorable omnivorous animals is our raccoon, Titan. Pictured on the right is Titan’s diet. He gets omnivore grain, a variety of produce including apples, grapes, sweet potato, and carrots. Titan will also get two items every day! He loves to eat capelin and chicks! He also might get a variety of fish, just to change up his diet a little bit! Giving new food items to any of our animals is very exciting because they might love the new food, or they might hate it. Our most charismatic animals, including Titan, will definitely let us know if they love it or hate it! If he is not a fan of a food item, he will hide it somewhere in his exhibit for his keepers to find!

These are only a few of the many diets we take care of at the zoo! I hope you enjoyed learning about the diets for some of my favorite animals! We hope to see you at the zoo!

Written by Elyse Vogel
Animal Keeper & Commissary Manager
Lehigh Valley Zoo | Schnecksville, PA

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Birds of Prey in Zoological Settings

Lehigh Valley Zoo Animal Care Department – Birds of prey, or raptors, are characterized as any bird that eats meat, has talons for grasping prey, and a hooked beak for killing their prey. Common foods include small rodents, fish, small birds and small mammals. Birds of prey fall under two scientific families, Falconiformes and Strigiformes. Falconiformes includings birds such as Vultures, Hawks, Eagles, Ospreys, Falcons and Harriers. The family Strigiformes includes all Owls.

In the United States, birds of prey are protected by law by the National Parks & Wildlife Service. It is against the law to own or care for ANY bird of prey without the proper license. Even people who practice falconry, which is training a bird of prey to hunt on it’s own and then return back to the handler, must own a license for that raptor. In species such as Bald Eagles and Golden Eagles, even their feathers cannot be kept. The eagle feathers, by law, are given to Native Americans which use them in special ways. Owning an Eagle feather can result in a fine up to $250,000.

So how do most raptors end up in Zoological settings and rehab centers? Unfortunately, when a bird of prey gets seriously injured, usually by car accidents, they more often than not cannot be released back in the wild due to its inability to be able to care for itself. This is where Zoos come in to play a pivotal role to care for these birds. The most common injuries of raptors in zoological settings include damaged wings and impaired vision. At the Lehigh Valley Zoo, we have a collection of multiple different species of raptors that are well cared for everyday all of which have very unique characteristics.

Pictured above is one of Lehigh Valley Zoo’s Peregrine Falcons. Peregrine Falcons are the fastest bird and the fastest member of the animal kingdom. Peregrine Falcons can reach diving speeds up to 220 miles per hour. Peregrines can live to be between 7-15 years old, with the oldest ones living up to 20 years under human care.

In the pictures above, we have two different species of New World Vultures. On the left is a Turkey Vulture and on the right we have a Black Vulture. Both of these species are found across the state of Pennsylvania. New World Vultures are categorized by the horizontal nostril slits and bald heads. Vultures eat carrion, which is the decaying flesh of dead animals. Vultures are opportunistic eaters and if they find food, they will gorge themselves until they can’t fly. The reason for this eating habit is due to the uncertainty of when their next meal will be.

Just as the Lehigh Valley Zoo has two Vulture species, we also have two Eagle Species. On the left is our Bald Eagle, and our Golden Eagle on the right. Our Bald Eagle is still young, and you can tell by how he still has some brown feathers on his head. Juvenile Bald Eagles have all brown feathers on their heads and they turn completely white when they reach adulthood. Golden Eagles are characterized by brown heads with a golden brown nape, or back of the head. Bald Eagles tend to be larger with longer wingspans than Golden Eagles.

Written by Erika Reid
Animal Keeper
Lehigh Valley Zoo | Schnecksville, PA

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A Day in the Life of a Zookeeper

Lehigh Valley Zoo Animal Care DepartmentHi everyone! My name is Chris and I am one of the keepers at the Lehigh Valley Zoo. I have been employed at the LVZoo for three years now and I am so blessed to be able to work here.  I have always known that I wanted to work with animals and to play a part in the conservation and care of wildlife.  Being a keeper has helped me fulfill that dream and I work with and care for some amazing species. Being a zookeeper is not a glamorous job, but it is fulfilling and meaningful; it gives me purpose. Every day at work is different.

My day starts at 7 am when the animal care team has their daily morning meeting to go over what is going on for the day and what tasks need to be accomplished.  Then the keepers go off on their routines after getting all of the diets and materials needed for the day. This is when we go thoroughly clean all of the exhibits and animal areas. We check on and feed all of our animals. We also make sure the zoo grounds are well maintained. I take inventories of various supplies and items we use every week so that we can provide the best care possible. Creating and providing enrichment to our animals is also a big part of our job. We give our animals various toys, puzzle feeders, scents, and novel items and foods to stimulate their minds and senses and to promote natural behaviors for each species. As keepers, we observe and provide quality care for the animals that call the zoo home. I also educate zoo guests during daily keeper talks about the various animals at the zoo and their importance and conservation. Educating and interacting with zoo guests is a very important aspect of being a zookeeper as well; inspiring people to action to help, admire, and respect wildlife is a part of our mission.

In addition to being a keeper, I am also one of the enrichment coordinators for the zoo.  This means I submit and approve enrichment proposals, I create and make various enrichment items for the animals, I inventory all enrichment items, and I record all enrichment provided to every species at the zoo. I observe the reactions of the animals to the enrichment items and make sure the items we provide are safe for the animals. Our goal is to provide enrichment to promote natural behaviors for each species that will help provide the most natural environment and lifestyle for them. One of my favorite parts of this job is creating and making my own enrichment items and then seeing the animals using and enjoying that enrichment.

A major part of my day as a zookeeper includes training the mongoose lemurs and the Kordofan aoudads. I train both of these species every day that I work. This training consists first of establishing a trusting relationship with the species and then using positive reinforcement to show the animals that the training is a positive and enriching experience they will want to participate in. Most of my training is for the overall goal of providing the animals with a form of enrichment and to lessen as much stress as possible, such as lessening stress during vet check ups.

I am also the author of the zoo’s weekly Monday Morning Conservation messages. These messages are based on a different species and/ or a conservation issue each week. They are posted on the zoo’s facebook page and are sent out to the zoo’s email list. I write about the specific species, the threats they face, what conservation efforts are being done, and what we can all do to help. I love doing this because I feel like I impact and inspire more people to become involved and to appreciate different species. I can spread awareness this way.

Being a zookeeper is a lot of hard work and physical labor to ensure the animals are receiving quality care and welfare. We make diets, create and provide enrichment, clean the exhibits and zoo grounds, fix and maintain all animal areas and grounds, educate the public, and much more. Being a zookeeper means working long days, working on weekends and holidays, and going to many meetings. But this is all for the animals we care for and for the conservation and continuation of amazing species that help maintain balance in the ecosystem. I love my job and I am truly lucky to be a part of the Lehigh Valley Zoo and to be able to care for these species and to contribute to their conservation. I hope this has provided some insight to what being a zookeeper is like and how important our job is.

I hope you visit the zoo soon to see all of our amazing animals and to learn more about them and to become a part of the zoo family!

Written by Christina Rizzo
Zookeeper & Enrichment Coordinator
Lehigh Valley Zoo | Schnecksville, PA

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Wildlife Rehabilitation Volunteering in South Africa

Lehigh Valley Zoo Animal Care Department – This last summer, I, and a fellow co-worker, were blessed with the opportunity to travel to South Africa to do volunteer work at a rehabilitation center there. Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre is located in Hoedspruit, South Africa was established in 1991 and is run by an incredible man, Brian Jones. He was well known in the surrounding community for all the wildlife work he had done, and already had a rehabilitated Crowned Eagle in his possession, what a perfect way to begin! He, and his staff, have been rescuing and dealing with “problem animals” ever since then.  Listening to him for close to two weeks, was inspiring to say the least.

Upon arriving, Brian mentioned he wanted to sit down with all the new volunteers. Many of the other volunteers snickered and rolled their eyes, suggesting it was a very boring talk and that we would most likely be put to sleep by his droning on.

They were wrong.

Very wrong.

His small speech inspired, challenged, and awed me. His passion for saving animals and teaching everyone and anyone was like an aura around him. You could hear it in his voice, see it in his eyes, feel it with your heart. And it made me want to be everything this man was and more. We stayed awake and alert the whole ~1 and a half hours he talked to us. I can’t say the same for the other volunteers with us.

The biggest takeaway I learned from his lesson was:

Teach the community.

The biggest problem he, and his rehab, faces is the community seeing these beautiful wild animals as nuisances and things that need to be killed in order to protect their crops (aka – they’re only source of possible income). His team is constantly pouring into the surrounding communities and teaching young and old, how to respect wildlife and how to understand them, to understand that these animal are also hungry and searching for food. They do not know what they are trampling or eating is precious crops or livestock. They’re looking after themselves, just as we would. Martial, one of the cheetah trainers at Moholoholo, has been raising ambassador cheetahs for the soul purpose of education. Just like our zoos, they go on outreaches, to schools and towns, as well as offer encounter programs to the schools and guests that visit daily, to educate everyone they can. And because of this mission, they’ve seen a miraculous turn around in their community. Families have begun safely trapping and immediately calling Brian instead of resorting to shooting or poisoning. Many lives have been saved and relocated because of his persistence in changing the perspective of the community. I wanted to bring that mission home.

I was very fired up (in a “let’s change the world” kind of way) after that, and wanted to learn all I could about every animal that was in their care and how I can use that knowledge to educate those around me. The staff there were all very knowledgeable about the species that they had at the rehab, and they were always asking us questions to challenge and teach us.

I, along with another volunteer, were tasked with the “Group 4” routine. The main animals we were able to take care of were their 6 honey badgers (one of which was the famous Stoffel, he’s known as their “Houdini” since he has escaped multiple times (please watch the video, it’s amazing), a few of their owls, and their vultures. All of the animals that they have at the rehab are either currently going through the rehabilitation process, or have long term injuries that have deemed them unfit for release. Unfortunately, a lot of their younger animals have been brought to them because they were taken out of the wild by humans. A lot of species will leave their young in a safe place while the mother goes off to eat and find food. For most, this young animals appears to be abandoned, and so they pick it up and “abduct” it and bring it to the rehab because they think it needs help. It’s the exact opposite. That young one was well taken cared for and now that, at such a young age, it was taken out of the wild and put into human care, it is incredibly difficult to mimic what that young one would be learning out in the wild and now must be hand-raised by humans. Because of this, it will not be able to be released because it will not have the proper instincts to survive.  It was very real realization that some of the animals we have at the zoo, are in the same situation, so it was interesting to hear how they explained that to the public who asked why every animal could not be released. This whole trip, while broadening my understanding and knowledge of wild animals, really helped me see how important education and teaching is in our field.

We, as our group, would prep our animals diets in the morning, walk through the rehab and distribute those diets, while doing daily visual checks on all of those in our care. Once we were all done with our individual routines, we would regroup for lunch and then move on to feed the big cats throughout the property. I can’t begin to describe what a blessing it was to be able to be a part of these animals lives and to hear their stories.

Brian, was actually very willing to teach us all that he could, since he knew we were zookeepers. All of us were able to observe any medical procedure they had to do, as well as the darting of vaccines for two of their lions. A few of their vultures had “bumblefoot”, which we will see in some of our birds throughout certain seasons; seeing how they treated it, being able to ask them questions about their procedure, as well as offering some advice, was a unique learning experience.

I could honestly go on and on about this experience and how I would do it again in a heartbeat, but you would all be very bored! If there’s something that I would love for you to have as a take away from this long-winded story, is to fully understand the animals and where they come from. If you see young wildlife, please consider the circumstances, and don’t interfere. Learn about the common species within your area, and how to protect them. Support your local zoos and their conservation efforts, because this is how we save the species in our own communities. The more we all learn, and the more we can spread that knowledge, the more people can have a better understanding and respect for these species. We don’t have to travel to Africa to make a difference!

That’s all I got for now folks, I hope my experience can inspire you and spark a love for conservation in your hearts!

Written by Kayla Maneval
Full Time Zookeeper
Lehigh Valley Zoo | Schnecksville, PA

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Enrichment at the Zoo

Animal EnrichmentLehigh Valley Zoo Animal Care Department – Zookeepers are responsible for the care and well-being of each and every animal at the zoo. We spend our entire days providing for our animals by cleaning their habitats, feeding them nutritious meals, training them for their medical procedures and encounters, and engaging in positive interactions. One of the most important aspects of animal welfare is physical health, but there is another equally important aspect of welfare: mental health.

One of the most important things we as zookeepers can do to keep our animals happy is provide them with enrichment. Enrichment is any novel experience that the animal can engage in during their day. Some forms of enrichment include sensory enrichment, food enrichment, behavioral and social enrichment, environmental enrichment, and training.

Sensory enrichment is perhaps the most common form of enrichment. These things engage the animal’s senses. Scents are very important because many animals rely heavily on their sense of smell to assess and mark territories, hunt for prey, and seek out partners. Providing an animal with a new smell in their habitat keeps them curious and promotes investigation. Auditory enrichment, such as recorded bird calls, is interesting for animals that rely heavily on their sense of hearing. Many prey species have acute hearing in order to listen for predators. Many species, such as birds or some mammals, also rely heavily on hearing in order to locate a mate. Tactile enrichment can be beneficial for animals with strict grooming behaviors, such as large cats who love to rub against brush boards.

Food EnrichmentFood enrichment is an exciting form of enrichment, when we provide our animals with different food items they may not normally receive. Sugar-free peanut butter in small amounts, sugar-free jell-o items, or even different forms of produce that is seasonal that they may not have in their typical diets, like watermelon. One of our wolves’ favorite food enrichment is the deer carcass feed. Every so often, the wolves receive a deer carcass from the game commission, which is very beneficial because it allows for them to practice their natural hunting and pack behaviors. Food enrichment can also include puzzle feeders, which give an animal a challenge to overcome in order to receive a food item.

Social enrichment entails connections with members of the same species or members of another species to allow novel interactions. One type of enrichment that falls into this category would be the “travelling” enrichment. We allow many of our animals to traverse the zoo to see other species that have a home here. Our sheep, goats, and alpacas all are examples of animals we train to accept a harness so they can be safely walked through the zoo. Social enrichment can also be with a keeper, however.

Environmental enrichment is any novel change to the animal’s daily environment. This can include new perching for our birds, new logs for our lemurs, new permanent structures such as a hammock for our raccoon, different substrates like new leaves for our snakes to curl up in, and even interesting new hideouts.

Giraffe TrainingTraining is one of the best forms of enrichment we can provide to our animals. It helps to solidify the bond between the keeper and the animal, and keeps the animal stimulated through new and exciting activities. Our animals are trained for medical procedures, to reduce any stress that vet checkups can entail. Many animals are eager and excited to train, as they get to work with their keepers, contemplate and complete tasks, and receive positive reinforcement and interactions. All training is one hundred percent voluntary on the part of the animal.

Written by Caitlin Keim
Zookeeper & Enrichment Coordinator
Lehigh Valley Zoo | Schnecksville, PA

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