Implementing Conservation into Education

Happy World Nature Conservation Day! The education department wanted to give some updates on what they have been doing to include more conservation into the education programs offered at the zoo.

A conservation education intern holding a snake and giving a presentation to a crowd of childrenThe mission statement for the Lehigh Valley Zoo’s education department is to provide the community with educational opportunities to learn about wildlife and to develop positive attitudes and curiosity about nature and conservation. In the first weeks of the Covid-19 lockdowns, March of 2020, the education department utilized that time to evaluate the programs offered and compare them to the department’s mission. After careful consideration, the department began the process to cut and redesign programs to ensure that each one fit into the mission. Over the past two years, the changes implemented in the education department have expanded the department’s conservation impact and brought us closer to our mission.

The first program to change was the onsite rental events. These programs include parties, weddings, and catered events run by the events team, both during and after zoo hours. The timeline for the education portion of these events is a one-hour mingle with three to four ambassador animals. Education staff stand behind a table and guests can walk up and meet the animal as they move around the event. The animals are changed out every fifteen minutes or as needed. These programs are not meant to be formal presentations but mingles with the guests for short periods. Since the amount of time spent with guests in these programs is shortened compared to our formal presentations, it was important to expand the conservation impact beyond the conservation messages presented during the program.

Bean, the Linnaeus' two-toed slothThe education department decided that 20% of the profits from these mingles would be donated to a conservation organization related to the theme of the animal package. This would increase the conservation impact beyond the educational information given during these programs. There are three different animal packages that guests can choose from. The Rainforest Friends package includes the Linnaeus Two-Toed Sloth and three ambassador animals. This package donates to Smithsonian’s Bird-Friendly Project to help conserve rainforest habitats in South America. The Penguin and Feathered Friends package includes an African Black-Footed Penguin and three ambassador animals, usually birds if they are available for programs. This package donates to the African Penguin SAFE, impacting African Penguin conservation in South Africa. The last package is the Amazing Animal Ambassadors, which includes four of the ambassador animals, generally from the smaller ambassador birds, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrate populations. This package donates to Wildlife Alliance. This organization focuses on wildlife rescue and rainforest protection. The addition of these donations to rental events has helped promote reliable conservation organizations to the public and increased guest and zoo participation in conservation programs around the world.

Bird Friendly SealBean, the zoo’s Linnaeus Two-Toed Sloth, typically books up three months in advance for his weekend private encounters. As the most popular private encounter, this was the first encounter to get a revamp in its conservation messaging. Previously, the staff gave out rainforest alliance-certified coffee bean samples with every encounter. This helped spread the message of shade-grown, rainforest-friendly coffee. To continue with this conservation message to help protect rainforest habitats, the program was adapted to offer freshly brewed Bird Friendly Coffee samples and opportunities to purchase bags of Bird Friendly coffee beans with the encounter. This coffee comes from a new partnership withCalm Waters Coffee Roasters logo a local coffee roaster, Calm Waters Coffee Roasters in Bristol, PA. Calm Waters Coffee Roasters recently underwent the certification process to roast Bird Friendly Coffee. The Smithsonian Bird Friendly Project certifies that coffee and cocoa bean farmers in South America are growing organic, shade-grown crops and that the roasters follow a specific process. This addition to sloth programs has engaged the guests with conservation that directly affects the animal they are learning about. Taking the extra steps of brewing coffee, supplying the coffee with encounters, and selling it in our nature store has helped make conservation for rainforest animals an accessible goal for many zoo guests.

A table featuring Bird Friendly coffee available for purchase along with flyers and infographics about the importance of shade grown coffeeIn addition to education programs, the department prepares pop-up tables to educate about Bird-Friendly Coffee at the zoo’s daytime events. Education staff set up Bird Friendly Coffee sample stations and education tables to teach guests about the coffee and provide samples. These tables educate guests about how easy it is to aid in the conservation of the rainforest. The option to sample the coffee before purchasing has reassured guests of good quality and taste before making the purchase. The department has presented tables out in the zoo during World Migratory Bird Day, Endangered Species Day, and multiple Bean Days. The Bean Days are special meet and greet days for a limited amount of guests to have a short meet and greet with the Linneaus Two-Toed Sloth Bean. There has been a great turnout to these events, increasing the impact of the tables and broadening participation outside of paid education programs.

The Lehigh Valley Zoo’s Know Plastic campaign teaches the community about single-use plastics and has an online pledge for guests to sign and commit to limiting the amount of plastic they use each year. To help inspire that change, the education staff decided to work on a new An educator training Meeko the raccoon to recyclebehavior with the ambassador raccoon, Meeko. Meeko has been learning how to recycle by placing an old crumpled plastic bottle into a small recycle can. This behavior is a great way to get the community involved in learning about plastics and help Meeko express her natural behavior of using her front paws. Once the behavior is fully established, staff can begin to demonstrate the behavior during the training portion of Meeko’s private encounters. While the training process has been slow, guests have been able to periodically follow Meeko’s training with updates posted on social media as she has learned this behavior. She has inspired school students in the local community and even had a book jacket created about her to demonstrate the new and innovative ways to talk about climate change. While Meeko hasn’t finished learning the behavior yet, she is getting very close. The attention she has received from the community throughout her learning process has been inspiring to the education department and a great indicator that the direction the department is heading in will better engage the community.

The changes made to education programming at the Lehigh Valley Zoo have impacted the department’s involvement in conservation. It has elevated the staff Two Lehigh Valley Zoo educators pose outdoors for a photobeyond educating about conservation as they are active participants in it and lead guests to do the same. These changes have had a positive impact on both staff and guest experience during educational programming. Its provided staff with simple solutions for guests regarding complex conservation problems. By clarifying the messages, guests can feel less overwhelmed with the many different opportunities to try and participate in conservation. The education department is excited to look toward the future of programming as we continue to make changes to include more conservation in programs. With each successful conservation change made, the department continues to learn and develop new ideas to progress our work to lead the community in conservation actions.

Written by Dani DiMarco
Education Specialist
Lehigh Valley Zoo | Schnecksville, PA

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Featured in Summer 2022 Ambassador Animal Scientific Advisory Group Newsletter


An Intern’s Point of View

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to work in a zoo? The best way to find out is through an internship! My name is Jessie, and I’m an education intern at the Lehigh Valley Zoo! I currently go to school at Juniata College where I study Wildlife Conservation and Zoology. I have always wanted to work with animals and love learning new facts about them. I grew up in the Lehigh Valley, so I visited Conservation Education intern Jessie posing with a turtlethe zoo frequently and have always been interested in interning or volunteering. After I finished my freshman year of college, I had my first opportunity to intern with the education department this summer. The education department offers two types of internships, animal handling and interpretation. I was selected for the animal handling internship, which focuses on hands-on experience with ambassador animals and educating guests about them.

On a typical day, I start out my morning with some office work. Interns come in before the zoo opens to prepare for the day. This could include writing program outlines about our ambassador animals, working on a blog post, watching online informational zoo courses, or working on special projects assigned by the education department. During this time, we could also be getting an introduction on an animal that we had finished an outline for as well. This is part of our animal handling program that I will touch on later. Once the zoo opens up at 10 o’clock, then we start on our tasks for the day.

Some days I’m scheduled for onsite Animal Kingdom (AK) Programs all day, but there are some days where we’re not even at the zoo most of the day. Animal handling interns have the chance to go on ZooReaches with the education specialists. These are off site programs in which we bring the animals to you! For the education department and the animal handling interns, AK programs are the main way we teach guests about our ambassador animals. These programs are scheduled by schools and groups for field trips to the zoo and birthday parties at the zoo. AK’s are 30 minute programs with three animals. Each program explains the ambassador animal’s habitat, diet, predators, adaptations, and their conservation message. The animal handling program divides the ambassador animals into different colored levels based on the level of difficulty when working with them. As I have advanced through the program to higher levels of animals, they have more complex behaviors and handling requirements for interns to learn about. The first level is green and it includes box turtles, pancake tortoises, milky tree frogs, blue-tongued skink, and sand boa. For each animal, we will write an outline with all of their information which we will then use when talking about that animal on program. Once we complete an outline and it is looked over by the education staff, one of the education specialists will give us an introduction on that animal so we can begin programming. As interns, we need to do three programs with an animal before we are signed off; then once we are signed off, we can present that animal on our own. Until we are signed off on an animal, we will continue to present them with one of our education specialists.

Education staff and interns doing an Animal Kingdom presentationWhen we’re not doing AK’s, you can find interns in the exercise yard with one of the  ambassador animals. Our exercise yard is a place for the ambassador animals to exercise and exhibit natural behaviors. It is a great place for interns to get extra practice on presenting an animal, but it is much less formal than an AK presentation. As guests are walking around the zoo, they can stop at our exercise yard to get some information on an animal they won’t see on exhibit. This interaction can be as short or as long as the guest would like. They can ask us any questions they have about the A conservation education intern doing an animal mingle presentation in front of zoo guestsanimal, or they can just take some time to watch the animal as they make their way around the yard. When I take one of the animals out to the exercise yard, I like to stick to fun facts versus the in-depth facts that we would typically share during an AK. As guests ask questions on the animal, I will then take time to answer their questions with the best answer I can provide based on my knowledge. In order for us to take animals out to the exercise yard, we have to make sure that it is above a certain temperature so we can make sure that it is the more ideal temperature for that animal. That is why you will only find ambassador animals in the yard during the warmer months, which are most ideal for our reptiles and mammals.

A conservation education intern giving a "keeper chat" presentation during an African penguin feedingThroughout the day, you can also find interns giving animal chats during their feeding time. At scheduled times throughout the day, guests can experience watching the otter, lemurs, and penguins being fed. While our animal care team feeds the animals, you can find an education specialist or intern presenting information on that animal. These experiences allow our guests to get in-depth information on exhibit animals. Our animal chats touch on the same topics as our AK programs, bringing up the animals habitat, diet, predators, and adaptations. Differing from our AK’s, interns can give a chat on their own as soon as their outline is approved and they have watched an education specialist give that type of chat.

Conservation education intern feeding a Masai giraffeOne of my favorite things that I get to do as an intern at the Lehigh Valley Zoo is work the giraffe feeds and spend time with Tatu and Joshua, our Masai Giraffes! There are many parts to a successful giraffe feed, such as checking guests in for tickets, going over rules, handing out lettuce, and keeping our giraffe’s focus while switching from one group to another. As interns, we are the ones on the giraffe deck keeping the boys focused and engaged during the feed.  We are responsible for making sure that Joshua and Tatu are in their correct stations for feeding, enforcing the rules for our guests to keep them and our giraffes safe, and feeding the boys some “giraffe cereal” to help them keep their focus and encourage them to participate for the entire feeding. Guests are free to ask as many questions as they like about our giraffes during feedings since everyone that works the giraffe feed has to know some basic information about our giraffes.

With so many things to do at the zoo, being an intern can get you a lot of great skills for life. As someone who doesn’t like to publicly speak, I feel much more comfortable with that now since interning. I have also, mostly, gotten over my fear of snakes and tarantulas. While there is no set schedule for everyday when I come into work, I get to experience things that I typically wouldn’t be able to during my everyday life. Being an intern also opened me up to new job opportunities. Before this internship, I was set on doing field research, but I have since fallen in love with educating people about animals while still getting to work hands-on with them. I now know that animal education is my true calling.

Written by Jessie
Conservation Education Intern
Lehigh Valley Zoo | Schnecksville, PA

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A Labor of Love

Two zookeepers posing with two Masai giraffesThis week across the nation people and animals have been celebrating those brave souls that have chosen to work in the zookeeping field. National Zookeeper Appreciation Week is a chance for people to show a little extra appreciation for the challenging work zookeepers do every day. In honor of that, I wanted to take a little closer look at why on earth anyone would want to be a zookeeper.

To start, let’s examine what qualities make someone a good candidate.

  1. You love to scoop poop. No matter what species you care for, you are not going to be able to avoid this because, let’s face it, everyone poops. And they are going to do it more than once, and it is not always going to be pretty, or easy to clean up.
  2. A Lehigh Valley Zoo zookeeper holding a target trainer device and standing in front of a Mongoose LemurYou don’t mind a one-sided relationship. Let’s be honest, even though we like to think our animals love us as dearly as we love them, unfortunately, animals don’t process human emotions. So sometimes they are a little less appreciative of all our hard work than we would like them to be. Basically, don’t be expecting a thank you at the end of the day for completing all the housework.
  3. You don’t judge a book by its cover. There is no avoiding the cold facts here. Animals sometimes do undesirable behaviors that do not feel very loving. As a zookeeper, however, you know to look past that behavior to see the animal for who they are on the inside and not just how they act. Just like humans.
  4. You have no desire to ever be a millionaire. You enjoy living on the edge and don’t want to have to worry about having too much money laying around. You’re a much less attractive target for a robbery this way, and that’s a pretty big plus in my book.
  5. A Lehigh Valley Zoo zookeeper carrying a large box of leafy vegetation up the top of a rocky hill, with an Aoudad standing atop the hillYou secretly wish you were an extremophile, meaning you enjoy extreme living conditions. Feels like the sun is going to burn your flesh off? You throw on some sunscreen and whistle on your way out the door. Seems cold enough that your toes might fall off? You get excited about a chance to try out your new mukluks. Despite the weather, every day is a walk in the park… or the zoo.

This sounds pretty intimidating. Are there any perks to being a zookeeper? There sure are! Let’s explore what some of those are.

  1. The connection you form with the animals you work with is indescribable. It is no small feat to earn an animal’s trust and to form a bond with them. This requires a lot of research, time, understanding, and above all else, patience. So once you do earn that trust, it is such a rewarding experience, but it is also an ongoing process. We never stop learning from our animals, and we must never reach a point of complacency with them.
  2. A Lehigh Valley Zoo zookeeper reaching out toward an ostrich while holding a target training deviceAt the end of a long day (one of those magical days where everything went at least moderately well and worked out in the end), it can be very satisfying to look back at all the hard work you did and to feel like you made a difference in the lives of the animals you work with. The work is often very physically and mentally demanding. So when you feel proud of the work you did and feel like you are helping your animals live their best lives, it is a very gratifying experience.
  3. The work zookeepers do doesn’t just help the animals they work with directly, however. It also can have a huge impact on animals that live in the wild. By educating guests about the challenges the wild counterparts of our animals face, we can help inspire people to help support critical conservation efforts. As the only humans on the planet, it’s our job to help protect the animals that live here. Zookeepers play an important role in showing people why they should care about these animals and in motivating them to help protect them.
  4. It can be a lot of fun! This isn’t your typical 9-5 day job. There are days that you are going to have unbelievable experiences working with your animals (some good, some not so fun), but every day will be different. Sometimes it can be boring to go through the motions and work a desk job that has no variety. Working with animals guarantees that you are never going to be able to predict everything that will happen during your day.
  5. Two Lehigh Valley Zoo zookeepers sitting down with buckets of fish, surrounded by a colony of African PenguinsBecause you aren’t here for the money, chances are you love your job and that your coworkers do too. This really has an important impact on your work environment and the relationships you have with your coworkers. When you all are working toward the same goals and all want what is best for the animals in your care, it changes how you work together. Zookeepers are often some of the most passionate, nerdy, hardworking people you will ever meet (even if quite a few of them might be introverts).

The zookeeping profession is often underrated and underappreciated. Zookeepers face a lot of challenges in their personal lives because they choose to work at a job that does not have a super high pay scale and requires them to work every day despite weather conditions and often means missing out on holidays and important events with their families. What many people don’t realize is that they face a lot of professional challenges as well. The job can be quite difficult, as we have already outlined, but sometimes people who are not familiar with the field can also be harsh toward zookeepers and the work they have dedicated their lives to. If you take anything away from this, please remember to be kind to zookeepers and to thank them for what they do for the animals. The world is a better place because of them, and our animals would certainly agree with that. Happy National Zookeeper Appreciation Week to all zookeepers out there, but especially ours! We couldn’t do what we do without every single one of you.

23 of the Lehigh Valley Zoo's animal care and education staff posing for a group photo in front of the zoo's African Penguin exhibit

Written by Tara Mlodzienski
Education Specialist
Lehigh Valley Zoo | Schnecksville, PA

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