Meet The Lemurs!

Lehigh Valley Zoo Animal Care Department – Here at the Lehigh Valley Zoo you can see our two resident mongoose lemurs, Develyn and Voangy! Mongoose lemurs are indigenous to Northwest Madagascar and have been introduced to the islands of Comoros. They can be found in dry deciduous forest and secondary forest. Mongoose lemurs usually weigh between 2.5 and 3.5 pounds and are about 2-3 feet long including their tail. In the wild, these lemurs eat fruit, flowers, leaves, and nectar. Because of this diet, mongoose lemurs play an important role as pollinators. Here at the zoo Develyn and Voangy are fed leaf eater biscuits, primate biscuits, and assorted fruits and veggies. Their favorite fruit is grapes and they love sweet potatoes!

    Develyn and Voangy are brother and sister, respectively. They were born at Roger Williams Park Zoo and now call the Lehigh Valley Zoo home. You can tell them apart by looking at their cheeks. Develyn has the rust colored cheeks while Voangy has white colored cheeks. All young are born with white cheeks, but the males change coloration and get the rust color when they are about 6-8 months old. Mongoose lemurs reach sexual maturity between 2.5 and 3.5 years of age and can live to be about 18-22 years old in the wild and about 30 years old under human care. Develyn is the younger sibling and is 22 years old; Voangy is the big sister and is 23 years old. Even though they are getting up in age, they are still very active and curious. You can find them up in the trees most of the time. This is because they are an arboreal, or tree-dwelling, species.

At the LVZoo we provide Develyn and Voangy with daily enrichment to keep their minds and senses stimulated, to keep them active, and to promote natural behaviors. Enrichment could be things like puzzle feeders to promote foraging behaviors. It could be novel scents to promote the use of their sense of smell. It could be new structures or things to climb on in their exhibit to promote locomotion and exploration. Providing enrichment is very important in their care and you can often see them interacting with such enrichment on lemur island.  Training is also a form of enrichment for the lemurs. Chris, our primary trainer for the lemurs, has been weight training, station training, and target training them. She has also been working on voluntary injection training so that during vet check-ups and when they receive vaccines, the lemurs will be less stressed. Recently, we have started doing paintings with the lemurs where Develyn and Voangy will paint on canvas! So far they have been very curious about the painting and get very excited to make masterpieces.

    The IUCN Red List has classified mongoose lemurs as Critically Endangered. Their habitat is being destroyed to create pastureland and to produce charcoal. They are also hunted throughout their range and are occasionally trapped for the pet trade. Luckily, organizations like the Lemur Conservation Foundation manage mongoose lemur breeding programs to help try and stabilize the population. In addition, zoos like the LVZoo are caring for and protecting mongoose lemurs to ensure the survival of the species. Mongoose lemurs are an amazing species and play an important role in the environment. To learn more about mongoose lemurs and their conservation and to see Develyn and Voangy first-hand, come visit the Lehigh Valley Zoo today!

Written by Chris Rizzo
Animal Keeper
Lehigh Valley Zoo | Schnecksville, PA

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Being a Zookeeper

Lehigh Valley Zoo Animal Care Department – Hi, I’m Natalie from Emmaus PA. I’ve been in the zoo and aquarium field for the last nine years! Ever since I was three I’ve been obsessed with animals and wanting to help and save every animal I could!

   I’m proud to say today I’ve continued that passion and now teach my daughter the importance of animals and their purpose in this world. I graduated Kutztown university with a bachelors in marine biology and minor in psychology. Since being in this field my favorite animals to work with have been sea turtles and penguins. The most rewarding part of being a keeper, besides the overall welfare of the animals, is seeing the guests acknowledge everything we do for these animals and understand the importance of zoos.

My advice for a future keeper is to never give up. As cliche as that sounds, it’s true. This field is not easy and every little bit helps. If that means you need to volunteer, intern, or shadow a related job in order to get experience – do it. Experience goes a long way in proving that you are a serious and passionate candidate. Because if you don’t put in the effort to learn and care for these animals, who will?

Written by Natalie Hildebrand
Animal Keeper
Lehigh Valley Zoo | Schnecksville, PA

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My Experience

Lehigh Valley Zoo Conservation Education Department – My name is Michaela Rubenstein and I’m from the Washington state. According to my parents I wanted to “swim with Shamu” ever since I was five years old and went to Sea World for the first time. After that, I was obsessed with zoos and aquariums and always insisted that we visit them when traveling to a new city. After a brief stint as a Pre-Med/Pre-Vet major in college, I changed majors to Ecology and began volunteering at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. After that, I did a few research projects at the zoo, an internship at the Seattle Aquarium, and worked in Conservation Education in both Costa Rica and here in the US at Wildlife Safari in Oregon.

     My favorite animal to work with hands down was Bandit the Badger from Wildlife Safari in Winston, OR. He had such a fabulous personality and always brightened my day. He was curious, surly, loveable, and cunning all at the same time and that always kept me on my toes! Ever since beginning here at the Lehigh Valley Zoo, I have truly enjoyed working with our African Crowned Crane, African Gray Parrot, and Groundhog.

     The most rewarding part of being a zookeeper/Conservation Educator is when I get to change a little kid’s mind about an animal. A lot of little kids are scared of the snakes, the cockroaches, and the tarantulas, but when I get to show them these animals up close and see their faces change from fear to curiosity…those are the moments I LOVE!

     The most challenging part is when I spend hours remodeling or changing an enclosure to make it better, or researching to make a great enrichment item for them, and they completely ignore it! It’s such a bummer and always makes me feel like I didn’t try hard enough. But that’s part of the job and only allows me to do better the next time around.

     To a future zookeeper I’d say get as diverse an experience as you can. Work with as many animals as you possibly can and travel around. Things are done differently in different parts of the country and in different parts of the world and the more knowledge you have, the more you will be able to apply your knowledge to any situation or animals, new or old. Don’t think you’re going to be the tiger keeper or lion keeper and only stick to that. You’ll never know if it’s actually the frogs and toads that you really like to work with!

Written by Michaela Rubenstein
Conservation Educator & Ambassador Animal Keeper
Lehigh Valley Zoo | Schnecksville, PA

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Being an Educator

Lehigh Valley Zoo Conservation Education Department – Hi everyone! My name is Hannah Beville and I am a full-time Educator and Zookeeper at the Lehigh Valley Zoo. I grew up here in the Lehigh Valley but left after high school to pursue a Biology degree from Millersville University in Lancaster, PA. After college, I worked with the Department of Environmental Protection and Penn State Extension with their West Nile Virus program. I took an internship at the zoo in hopes of getting a better understanding of AZA accredited facilities & the role a zoo plays in a community. My career started there as I found a position that allows me to blend all of my interests, passions, and skills at the Lehigh Valley Zoo. I am now the Ambassador (education) Animal Coordinator & Internship Coordinator in the Education Department.

            One of my favorite parts of my job is getting to work with so many different taxa. I work with & get the privilege to educate groups on everything from tarantulas to sloths. My favorite animal to work with would have to be our resident Two-toed sloth, Bean. He is a truly unique animal & doesn’t require much work on my end to make people love and care about him & his species. Bean is a great way to spread the message about small consumer changes people can make to help the environment. His name is even related to his conservation message of purchasing Shade Grown coffee with the Rainforest Alliance seal. He does private programs here at the zoo & they are some of my favorite programs to run.

            There are many rewarding aspects to my career. I am honored to wear my Lehigh Valley Zoo staff shirt & represent a facility that helped shape my interests and passions at a young age. It is so rewarding to give back to my community through teaching our younger generations. To be a part of a lightbulb moment with a child about indicator species while presenting a frog is one of my favorite teaching moments. To have a conversation with kids about how they can reduce or eliminate the amount of single-use plastic they are using can bring me to tears somedays. I am continually impressed with the foundational knowledge our guests come to the zoo with & excited to get the chance to help expand that for the sake of conservation.

            I was the little girl that when asked, “What do you want to do today?” I would say, “Go to the zoo!” but I had never really considered working at one. In college I pursued more “mainstream” career paths before following my heart and landing in my dream career field/ job. There are a lot of good people out there working toward the same mission of protecting animals & habitats with great intentions but, sometimes our perspectives get muddled and opinions are strong. If you are one of those people confused on your opinion of zoos, like I was before my internship, I encourage you to go & visit. Form your own opinions, do your own research, and keep an open mind. AZA accredited zoos & aquariums are leaders in the field of conservation & education. We care so deeply about wild places, wild & captive animals, and conservation of all living things, we have devoted our lives to the mission. Come visit & we will show you!

Written by Hannah Beville
Conservation Educator, Ambassador Animal Coordinator, Internship Coordinator
Lehigh Valley Zoo | Schnecksville, PA

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Getting that Perfect Zoo Photo

Lehigh Valley Zoo Animal Care Department – Hi all! My name is Katie and I am currently an intern with the Animal Care Team at the Lehigh Valley Zoo. Photography has been a hobby of mine since I was a kid, and after I got my first ‘fancy’ camera (a Canon 70D for anyone who is curious) I more seriously started trying to figure out how to perfectly capture all the beautiful, interesting, fun, captivating moments around me. I’ve played around with shooting pictures of family, friends, landscapes, portraits, objects, movement and had plenty of other random shots that I took just to see if I could. However, my favorite subjects, by far, are animals. I love trying to capture a bit of their personality and their majesty; I do my best to do justice to both the species and the individual in every shot. Over the past couple years I have gathered a lot of practice capturing photos of animals in zoo settings, and I am excited to share with you all some of the tips and tricks that I have figured out for getting great zoo photos!

Tip #1: Be patient.
You don’t need a top-of-the-line camera or 20 years of experience to get good animal photos. A great shot of a zoo animal comes from a photographer who is patient enough to sit outside of an enclosure, learn the animal’s habits, and just wait for the perfect position, interaction, or whatever else they hope to capture. Behind every gorgeous photo of an animal that you see there are most likely hours if not days or weeks of waiting for the perfect moment. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get the photo that you were hoping for right away. And keep your eye open for special events at zoos near you that might give you a chance to get closer to some of the animals, or to learn more about their behavior. The more you know about your subject the more ready you can be to snap a great photo.

Tip #2: Get to the zoo early.
Waiting for the right shot is generally not something that you as a photographer can control, but you can control when you visit the zoo. Generally speaking, zoo animals are most active in the morning, so getting to the zoo as early as possible will increase your chances of seeing animals moving around, like catching the otters swimming or wrestling instead of napping. Many of the animals at the Lehigh Valley Zoo receive part or all of their diet in the morning, as well as enrichment items like puzzle feeders, mirrors, or novel scents for them to investigate. By arriving early, you will be most likely to witness the animals interacting with these items as they are still new and interesting things for the animals to check out.

Tip #3: Use a high shutter speed and large aperture.
Okay, so onto some more technical advice. If you are using a camera that has a manual control option, it is worth your time to learn how to use this feature. There are slight differences between every camera brand and model, so you will have to do a bit of research to figure out your controls, but doing so will allow you to have much more control over your shots. If you are already shooting in manual mode there are two specific things to consider when taking photos in a zoo setting. First, animals move, and some of them can move very quickly. In order to make sure that pictures of moving animals come out clearly, you need to have a relatively high shutter speed.

Second, while some enclosures use moats or glass to contain the animals, you will inevitably come across a situation where you are trying to take a photo through a fence. This is a tricky one to navigate, and it took me a decent amount of practice to get good at taking photos of animals without getting the fence in the shot. The biggest help for this is a large aperture (or a low f/stop). A large aperture creates a shallow depth of field, meaning that when you focus on the animal, the things in front of and behind the animal are blurry. Additionally, do your best to line up your lens with a hole in the fence if possible; this makes sure that at least the center of your picture will be clear. By getting close to the fence and waiting until the animal is further away from it you can increase this effect and minimize the presence of the fence in your shot. I took this picture of Ephialtes, the bald eagle, through the wire fence of his enclosure using these tricks, and the fence came out nearly invisible.

Tip #4: Zoom in and shoot in the shade.
While not always necessary, having a lens that can zoom in is certainly helpful in some situations. Animals in large enclosures, while visible, will not always be near where the visitor can access. Having a lens capable of zooming in allows you to cover that distance and still capture a clear, close image of the animal. Plus, when you have to shoot through a fence, having the ability to zoom in allows you to wait for the animal to move away from the fence, minimizing the presence of the fence in your shot. One last piece of advice to help you get through that fence: pick a shady section of fence to shoot through. Fence that has sunlight reflecting off of it is more likely to show up in a photo.

Tip #5: Watch your backgrounds.
This probably classifies as a general photography tip, but it is easy to forget while you are focusing in on an animal, trying to get that perfect pose. Even if the animal looks great, a photo can be ruined by the presence of an unnatural or cluttered background. Try to position yourself somewhere that the area behind the animal is clear and natural so that they can be the sole focus of the photo and your viewer doesn’t get distracted by the things around them. Taking the time to analyze the whole frame creates a more deliberate shot which often leads to a much better overall outcome.

These are just a few tricks that I have discovered to improve my zoo photos, and I hope that you have picked up at least one new idea to help you along your photography journey. I seriously cannot emphasize enough the importance of patience in the endeavor to capture those perfect animal moments. Take your time at each enclosure! Getting to know the animals is not only a fun learning experience, but it will also reward you with that perfect shot.

Written by Katie Esbenshade
Animal Care Intern
Lehigh Valley Zoo | Schnecksville, PA

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