Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Vervet enrichment goes viral!

Jay the Vervet with another enrichment example

At Dartmoor Zoo we are always trying to come up with new ways to provide enrichment for the animals that live here. Enrichment is fantastic to stimulate the animals, and promotes the use of natural behaviours and problem solving.

Most people have seen the viral video of the dog playing with a bottle that spins, and when upside-down a treat is released. If you haven't it's one to watch!
Image from www.dogloverstoday.com

It's a great example of a DIY toy that keeps dogs entertained for hours!

One day one of our fantastic volunteers came into the zoo with a modified version made by his dad, and we just had to try it out!

Here's the video of what happened when Kiki and Jay, DZP's resident Vervet monkeys got their hands on it!

Curator Colin Northcott filmed their reaction. They right away knew that there was a problem to be solved and they absolutely loved it. Kiki went straight up to it and immediately started spinning it. It has left Colin wondering who is smarter, Kiki or Jay? Jay watched Kiki, copied her a little, but mostly waited for her to do the work and he took the spoils!

We're really pleased to say that the video has gone viral, and zoos all around the world have contacted Colin saying that they're going to give it a go with their animals, including zoos in Toronto, Denmark, Florida and Hungary! A great example of how social media and the internet help zoo professionals communicate and share ideas

We'll try it out with some of our other animals too, and keep you posted on how it goes...

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Tagging a Lechwe calf

Head Keeper Mike Downman tagging a Lechwe calf
Just like agricultural animals, zoo animals have to be identifiable. One method of identifying an animal is by tagging them with a brightly coloured ear tag. This is especially good for animals such as the Lechwe as they can easily be seen from a distance.

We've added a video which you can watch below to see the process. It is a very quick and painless procedure and also gives us an opportunity to give the calf a health check and determine its sex.

For safety reasons the Lechwe calf is first separated from its mother. You can hear it calling to her through the procedure, which only takes around 3 minutes so they aren't apart for long. The calf's natural response is to lay low, hoping to avoid being seen by any potential predators. This allows us to capture him very easily as he makes to attempt to avoid being captured. Their mothers will often leave them for hours, they lie in the overgrowth, hiding from predators, as it would be too dangerous for them to wander around in the open. At 10 days old they tend to join the main herd in the open when they are less vulnerable.

After we've caught him, and you need at least 2 people to do this, one will hold him while the tag is prepared by the other. In the video's case Curator Colin Northcott has this task. The tag itself is a two sided soft disc containing a unique number. Like an earring it has a pin on one side and a catch on the other and clicks shut when they come together. One in it won't fall out.

In the video you can see Colin checking the ear before inserting the tag. This is essential because the ear has 3 veins running through it which have to be avoided. Once happy at the location he quickly and firmly squeezes the applicator together. The animal is so young that he doesn't feel anything. The other ear is then done as a back-up in case at some pint the animal loses one. It might look large to you at this point, but as the animal grows it looks much more in proportion. 

The ears are checked for bleeding, then the animals is given a quick check and is sexed and it's time to release him to re-join mum. 3 minutes and all done.