Animal Enrichment Program Gives Discovery Zoo Dwellers a More Natural Life Experience

By STEPHANIE HYLINSKI

 

Have you ever looked into an animal exhibit at the Boonshoft Museum or another zoo and wondered what all of that stuff is in there? Boxes, bags, shredded paper, hay, plastic balls,

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Splasher and Diver, North American River Otters in Their Firehose Hammock

why are the animals playing with trash?

 

Well, what’s one person’s trash is another animal’s treasure! Have you ever looked into an animal exhibit at the Boonshoft Museum or another zoo and wondered what all of that stuff is in there? Boxes, bags, shredded paper, hay, plastic balls…why are the animals playing with trash?

In addition to making sure the animals in the zoo have food, water, and clean habitats, zookeepers also provide enrichment for the animals under their care.

The Boonshoft Museum of Discovery is a member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, or AZA. The AZA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, education, science, and recreation. AZA represents more than 200 institutions which meet the highest standards in animal

Malcolm and King Eastern Box Turtles with Browse

care, provide a fun and educational family experience and dedicate millions of dollars to scientific research, conservation, and education programs. This means that even though the Discovery Zoo is not nearly as big as the Cincinnati or Columbus Zoo, the animals receive the same quality of care that they would at a larger institution.

The AZA defines enrichment as: “a process for improving or enhancing zoo animal environments and care within the context of their inhabitants’ behavioral biology and natural history. It is a dynamic process in which changes to structures and husbandry practices are made with the goal of increasing behavioral choices available to animals and drawing out their species-appropriate behaviors and abilities, thus enhancing their welfare. As the term implies, enrichment involves the identification and addition within the zoo environment a specific stimulus that the occupant wants or needs but which was not previously present.”

This is basically a long and complicated way of saying that zookeepers provide our animals with activities to promote their natural behaviors, and to keep them mentally and physically active. Life in the wild is really tough, and animals spend all their time fighting to survive. Most animals spend around 80% of their time foraging for food! Finding food isn’t easy, predators often spend hours stalking their prey, and sometimes they aren’t successful. Many herbivores eat plants that are low in nutrition, so they have to spend most of their day grazing.

Animals in the zoo don’t have to worry about predators, disease, finding food, drought,  or natural disasters. Since life in the zoo is a little easier, zoo animals usually have more free time than they would in the wild, and zookeepers try to fill up this free time by providing their animals with enrichment. Enrichment can be almost anything; mulch, rearranging logs and rocks, scents, snake skins, puzzle feeders, and paper bags are just a few examples of enrichment done at the Discovery Zoo. When providing animals with enrichment, zookeepers take into account the natural history of that animal, or how it lives in the wild. For example, bat-eared foxes have great hearing to listen for insects digging under the ground, so keepers will put crickets and mealworms in paper bags full of hay. The foxes use their huge ears to listen for the bugs and then tear into the bags for their reward.

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Patience Sloth with Browse and Diet on a Skewer

When building exhibits, enrichment will often be built in. In our meerkat exhibit, one of the big termite mounds actually has a network of tubes inside that we can put crickets into. The tubes are like a maze and make it so the crickets take a long time to get out, so they’ll drop out randomly throughout the day. This is a great way to keep our meerkats active since they’ll investigate the termite mound many times during the day to see if any more crickets have fallen out. Wild meerkats spend their days foraging for insects, rodents, and other animals, so feeding them in this way helps them to express that natural behavior.

A good enrichment program tries to stimulate all of the animal’s senses: hearing, sight, touch, smell, and sound. At the Boonshoft Museum, we provide our animals with a variety of different scents; spices, fruit extracts, and even scents from other animals. We play bird calls and other nature sounds for a lot of our animals, and our screech owl Houdini even called to a recording of a screech owl. Something we do for a lot of our animals is put their food in a puzzle feeder or a toilet paper tube. The animal will use its sight and smell to investigate the object, and then use touch to get the food out.

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Luther Agouti Investigating a Snake Skin

Enrichment isn’t limited to animals in zoos, you can also enrich your pets at home. Commercially available puzzle feeders are a great way to slow down a fast eater or to keep your dog busy when you’re away. Catnip is a great example of scent enrichment that can be used for cats at home, and your cat may even like other spices that are in your kitchen. Whenever giving an animal enrichment, it’s important to research and make sure that it is safe for the animal.

Join us at the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery on Saturday, February 18 for our first-ever Enrichment Day from 10am-4pm. See our Discovery Zoo residents get some awesome enrichment, learn more about enrichment at activity tables, and meet some of our ambassador animals! Do you love an animal in the Discovery Zoo? We will have enrichment “Valentines” with presents you can get for your favorite animal!

 

I Say Hedgehog, You Say Groundhog, Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off!

By STEPHANIE HYLINSKI

One of the hardest parts of being a zookeeper is saying goodbye to the animals in your care. The Live Animals Department at the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery was saddened by the unexpected death of our groundhog, Rosie, in October of 2016. Rosie died due to complications from old age, as she was at least six years old. Groundhogs typically live 6-8 years under human care.

Rosie came to the Boonshoft Museum from the Wildlife Center of Minnesota in November of 2011. She had been found in the road running in circles and was taken to the Wildlife Center for rehabilitation. Rosie was not able to be released into the wild because of a head injury, so the Boonshoft Museum became her permanent home. Rosie was a wonderful ambassador for her species and an excellent weather forecaster. She predicted the weather at Groundhog Day for five years, and she was almost never wrong!

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                 Rosie the Groundhog

After the passing of Rosie, we realized that we would need to find a replacement very soon, as Groundhog Day was only a few months away. Rosie, and groundhogs in general, can be very lazy in a zoo setting, especially during the wintertime when they normally hibernate. Because we only have so much space in the Discovery Zoo, the Live Animals Department staff decided that another animal would better engage and educate our visitors. Instead of doing Groundhog Day in 2017, we were going to do Hedgehog Day! A hedgehog would not need as much space as a groundhog, and a hedgehog could also be an ambassador animal. Our ambassador animals travel to schools, senior centers, and other places around the community to educate people about animals, and give them a chance to meet the animals up close.

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                Quilliam the Hedgehog   

Now you may be thinking, “Hedgehog Day? Are you guys crazy?” Maybe! But Hedgehog Day has actually been around longer than Groundhog Day! Hedgehog Day began in the Roman Empire when folks considered the weather on Candlemas to predict future weather. Candlemas is a Christian holiday on February 2, and the saying goes:

“If Candlemas Day is clear and bright,
Winter will have another bite.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain
Winter is gone and will not come again.”

Legend has it that the Romans believed that conditions during the first days of February were good predictors of future weather, and they looked to hedgehogs for their forecasts. These two traditions melded in Germany and were brought over to the United States by German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania. Lacking hedgehogs, the German settlers substituted with native groundhogs, and Groundhog Day was born. Unlike modern Groundhog Day, the Romans watched to see if the hedgehog saw its shadow at night. This makes sense since hedgehogs are nocturnal!

We’re very excited for visitors to meet our four-toed hedgehog, Quilliam, on Groundhog Hedgehog Day! Come to the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery at 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, February 2, to see if Quilliam predicts an early spring!

Sky’s The Limit For Spruce, Cypress, Willow & Sequoia!

All four falcon chicks have fledged!  Spruce, Cypress, Willow and Sequoia have taken their first flights without any reports of trouble.  Daniel is working hard to bring food to the juveniles wherever they are perched.  At this age they are not skilled hunters and still depend on their parents to provide meals and will vocalize loudly if they need food or assistance from their parents. Go this website to hear what the vocalizations of a peregrine falcon sounds like:

http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Peregrine_Falcon/sounds

Within the next few weeks they will be able to capture food on their own.  The young peregrines are difficult to tell apart from their parents but can be seen perching on the Liberty Savings Tower or nearby buildings in downtown Dayton.  This is the first time Dayton and Daniel have raised four chicks.  At this time Spruce, Cypress, Willow and Sequoia have passed many hurdles and this nesting season can be considered a success.  With the state delisting of the peregrine as a threatened species in 2015 the young peregrines are now part of the success story of the recovery of the peregrine falcon population in Ohio.  The Dayton nest is part of a sample monitoring program in Ohio and data from the FalconCam will be submitted to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources – Division of Wildlife including the continued presence of the pair at the Dayton nest, the number of eggs laid, the number of eggs hatched, and the number of offspring that fledge.  As long as none of the young peregrines need human assistance they will stay in the area until the end of summer.  When the youngsters have enough skills they will leave Daniel and Dayton to find their own territories and hopefully one day raise young of their own.

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The FalconCam stream will be turned off soon but if any significant events occur they will be posted.

A special “thank you” to our sponsor for their support with the 2016 Falcon Cam season.

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Summer is a Great Time to Be a Member!

We’re counting down the minutes until summer begins and we bet you are too. There’s so much to do: plan your vacations, summer camps, family outings, activities, and more. The list could go on forever, even though the summer season is only three months long. If your goals is to have some great summer family experiences that keep the kiddos happy — and probably more importantly, keep you under budget — check out a Dayton Society of Natural History Membership!

New and current Members can maximize their Memberships this summer with so many things to do, see, and experience in just three short months:

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The cost of a Museum Membership, transportation, and snacks (because everyone needs snacks!), can get you an entire summer of entertainment, family memories, and fun.

Here are some Dayton Society of Natural History summer highlights you won’t want to miss (bonus: everything listed below is either FREE for Members or Museum Members receive a discount).

New Exhibitions: Both the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery & SunWatch will welcome new exhibitions this summer. On June 4 the Amazing Butterflies opens at the Boonshoft Museum and Johnny Appleseed opens at SunWatch later on during the summer season. Members enjoy a special sneak preview of Amazing Butterflies from 9:00 a.m. – Noon on June 4 before it opens to the public.

Special Events: From Movie Nights at the Museum to the Keeping the Tradition Pow Wow hosted at SunWatch by the Miami Valley Council for Native Americans, there are some stellar events that you won’t want to miss this summer, here are some of the highlights:

Fort Ancient: Summer Solstice Sunrise on June 19, Nature Hike on July 9, Archaeology Day on July 16.

SunWatch: Keeping the Tradition Pow Wow on June 25-26, Kids’ Days throughout the summer.

Boonshoft Museum of Discovery: Movie Nights at the Museum (A Bug’s Life in June and Frozen in August), Red White & Boonshoft on July 4, and our Meerkat Mob’s Birthday on July 30.

To learn more or purchase a Membership, visit www.boonshoftmuseum.org.

 

 

 

Hip, Hip, Hooray!

Awards, accreditations, and knock outs–the staff at the Boonshoft Museum have been up to a lot this spring and we have some BIG news to share! Check out what we’ve been up to:

Hey, Hey AZA!

If you follow our Facebook or read our Member Magazine, you may have heard about our Live Animals staff and the rigorous re-accreditation process they participated in over the winter. The evaluation process is run by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and receiving such an accreditation means our Discovery Zoo, volunteers, and staff maintain the highest quality programming for our guests and the safest and happiest environment for our animals.

Through constant training, implementing best practices, and focusing on conservation and sustainability, we are happy to announce that we have received accreditation by the AZA through 2020. A HUGE congratulations to all of our Live Animals staff, volunteer animal handlers, and our Discovery Zoo crew! Come celebrate with us on Zoo Lover’s Day, this Friday, April 8. We’ll be doing special public programming with all of our endangered and threatened species and guests will be able to visit all of their favorite animal friends in the Discovery Zoo!

What does it take to become accredited? 

Click on the pictures to learn more.

And The Award Goes To…

The Boonshoft Museum! Each year, we make an appearance at the Ohio Museum Association Awards in some capacity, whether it’s an exemplary staff member who has done amazing work or something new and innovative we are doing at the Museum. This year we are proud to announce that our Graphics Department has won an award for outstanding work in graphic design and marketing. Sarah Aisenbrey, the Museum’s Registrar has also won an honorable mention for “Emerging Museum Professional of the Year”!

As a young professional in the museum field, the award of Honorable Mention for Emerging Professional of the Year from the Ohio Museums Association is a great honor. I am privileged to work in my field of choice and to have the opportunity to do what I love; receiving this award just solidifies my decision to become a museum professional,” said Aisenbrey.

Needless to say, we couldn’t be more proud of the hard work and dedication our staff show to their Departments and to the Museum’s mission as a whole!

One-Two Punch for Charity!

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See Mackenzie at Knockout on April 9!

Dayton’s Original Knockout is back and our resident Paleontologist and Educator, Mackenzie English, has thrown his hat (well, lab goggles) into the ring! After training for weeks with the professionals and Knockout organizers at Drake’s Downtown Gym, Mackenzie will be going a few rounds this Saturday, April 9 at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds.

Not only will there be multiple bouts representing some of Dayton’s favorite businesses and organizations, there will be drinks, live music, and more! The best part about this boxing expo is that it packs a punch with a purpose; proceeds from this event are split between the Boonshoft Museum and the Parkinson’s Foundation. So, if you want to support two great non-profits and catch some exhibition boxing, be sure to learn more and purchase your tickets here.

 

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Dayton’s Favorite Falcons On Camera Mid-March

Did you know that the fastest animal on earth lives in downtown Dayton? The peregrine falcon is able to fly at speeds over 200mph making it the fastest animal on earth!

As part of the Boonshoft Museum’s efforts to educate the public about local wildlife and promote conservation efforts, we have always hosted the FalconCam, which provides an up close view, from hatching to fledging, of Dayton’s family of peregrine falcons. From the first glimpses of the fluffy white chicks as they pip out of the egg to the drama of their first flights from the 22nd floor of the Liberty Savings Tower we get an insider’s view on the behavior of this fascinating bird. Over the years the Boonshoft FalconCam has allowed the viewers to learn the details of family life that were previously unseen. Watching the mother as she tears a freshly caught bird and puts it into the gaping beak of her young chick gives new meaning to the word “breakfast”. While we enjoy watching the daily activities of the birds this information is being put to scientific use. As soon as the eggs are laid biologists know that the pair is in good health and can get a count on the number of eggs. Over the past 14 years the chicks have been banded so they can be tracked in other regions and blood has been drawn so the genetic health of the population can be evaluated.

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Peregrine falcons were added to the list of federally endangered species in 1970. They became endangered through the use of a pesticide called DDT that thinned the shells of their eggs preventing them from hatching and a dangerous decline in the population. Wildlife biologists have worked hard to increase the number of peregrine falcons and in Ohio the peregrine was removed from the list of state endangered species in 2015. The recovery of the peregrine population has been a success but biologists must continue to carefully monitor the population. The Dayton nest has been selected as one of the Ohio nests that will continue to be monitored. Data collected form the FalconCam includes the continued presence of the pair, the number of eggs laid, the number of eggs that hatch and the number of chicks that fledge. The continued monitoring and data collection from the nest through the FalconCam will contributed to the success of this majestic species in Ohio.

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Falcon Cam sponsored by:

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To learn about the peregrines at other locations in Ohio visit the ODNR Division of Wildlife’s website: http://wildlife.ohiodnr.gov/wildlife-watching/falcon-cam

Dayton’s own peregrine pair, Dayton and Daniel, can be viewed on the Boonshoft FalconCam starting in Mid-March.

If you have questions about the FalconCam? Email us at falcons@boonshoftmuseum.org.

Happy Bat Appreciation Month: Why Pollinators Are Important!

From tales of vampires to being some of the world’s most infamous “blood sucking” creatures of the night, many pollinators (like bats and honeybees) get a bad rap. October 1 officially marks the beginning of Bat Appreciation Month—and we have some Discovery Zoo residents that want you to know a little more about how important they are!

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One of the Discovery Zoo’s Egyptian fruit bats. Aren’t they adorable?

“October might be the spookiest month of the year, but we promise we aren’t scary—we’re helpful!”

Bats are actually really helpful to ecosystems and humans! With more than 1,300 species of bats around the world, they all play a big role in terms of eating pesky agricultural pests, pollinating plants, and ensuring the growth of fruits and veggies that feed people across the world and support local economies.

“We’re not blind, in fact we have better direction than you!”

Bats may live in dark places, but that doesn’t make them blind. Actually, in some cases, bats can see better than humans. People get nervous when they see bats flying around because the notion that, if they are in fact, blind—they might bump into you by accident. False! Bats have incredible sensory abilities, including echolocation, which allows them to use sound waves to locate objects, kind of like sonar.

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Vampire Bat

“Who is Dracula anyway? We’re not the blood suckers you think we are.”

While vampire bats do exists, they aren’t as scary as you think. Vampire bats weigh only two ounces, and average only three inches in length, meaning they are tiny. While it’s true that vampire bats have been known to bite people in Central and South America, they mostly feed on cattle.

Imagine an overgrown mosquito—vampire bats are the same way! They only lick about a spoons worth of blood and can accomplish this task quickly because they have an anti-clotting enzyme in their blood, much like a leech.

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Bat guano

“Even our poo is awesome!”

Bat poop, commonly referred to as “guano”, is a valued fertilizer. When collected responsibly (with no harm made to the bats or their environment), guano can be used by local landowners and communities to enrich their soil. This means better crops, which means more people are fed and local economies thrive.

“Give us a break, we’re helping to put food on your table!”

Bats are both seed dispersers and pollinators, making them integral to the ecosystems they inhabit and the economy. Bats around the world pollinate things from agave and bananas to cloves, carob, and peaches. Fruit-eating bats also disperse seeds to vital places, including cleared out rainforests—where regeneration of plants is vital. You can thank bats for things like avocado, dates, figs, cashews, and much more.

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Keeper Melissa hanging out with one of our batty friends!

As you can tell, the Museum is pretty serious about our pollinators, from our newest exhibit featuring live honeybees to our friends the Egyptian fruit bats. Each of these special creatures plays a vital role in the world and unfortunately, due to dangerous pesticides and climate changes, our pollinator populations are dwindling.

So, next time you see a bee hive think twice about hurting its residents! After all, honeybees are directly responsible for one out of every three bits of food you eat! During the Halloween season when you see a “spooky” bat you can bust some bat myths and tell all your friends how important bats are to the ecosystem.

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The Boonshoft Museum’s Egyptian fruit bat enclosure inside the Discovery Zoo.

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The Museum’s newest pollinator friends, the honeybees, are on display as well.

Be sure to visit our popular pollinators any day of the week in the Mead Westvaco Treehouse and the Discovery Zoo during normal hours of operation!