Diversity: The feathered and the blubbery.

So this week I’ve been mainly stationed at Flamingo Land zoo, assisting the at the Parrot and Sealion Department.

As I started my placement mating season had just begun. Flamingo Land have four male sea lions of rang in ages. Clive, the alpha male who weighs roughly 42 stone, struggles with the basic trainings of a sea lion in captivity, such as ball balancing which they carry out with their whiskers and catching hoops using their binocular vision. Having thought about this, I figured that Clive would not be able to compete in “survival of the fittest” out in the wild, hence why I would like to questions whether the animals in captivity are being bred to their natural standards, as in Clive’s case he does not display natural survival characteristics which would allow him to breed offspring that have good adaptations needed in their natural environment.
Once fed, the water in the three pools is tested, this ensures the water is acceptable for the sea lions, as unlike seals they are not dependent water dwellers they simply use the pools for cooling down as in the wild it is safer on land. The water tests include pH, chlorine and ammonia, all of which are vital in keeping the water at its highest quality. Only one of the pools contains salt water, due to its corrosive properties. Chlorine pools however, can cause ulceration to the eyes of sea mammals and so a salt water pool is essential for cleansing their eyes and skin. Cleaning their enclosures is extensive and extremely wet! Sea lion snot, with its maroon colouring, is notoriously difficult to remove, especially from white walls.
Each sea lion is taught basic skills needed incase of veterinary treatment, such as clearing their nostrils on command for sampling, and placing their head between the keepers toes for a full body exam.
Like the sea lions, parrots are taught using a method known as positive reinforcement this means that they are given a treat (peanuts), a whistle/ bridge or a clap from the audience, these all work as a reward. However, those who show negative behaviour, such as showing predictive instincts towards humans, is not tolerated and can lead to he bird not being flown for a period of time, this is something I struggled to stomach as I feel zoos restrict animals in a way they are punished for their natural characteristics, but I am sure this is not always the case.
Parrot diets consist of fruit, parrot seed and also feed supplements for vitamin balance. Sea lions receive a diet based on fish with added salt as frozen fish loses this vital mineral, also iron and other vitamin supplements are given. Harry the trumpeter hornbill also receives ground insects as he is an insectivore, due to live insects prone to escaping he is given the protein he requires through this method. Larger birds of prey, such as barn owls, vultures and eagle owls receive meat based diets with day old male chicks making up the majority of this diet with capling (small fish) and beef also added. I was shown how to de- yolk defrosted chicks, which I cannot say was my favourite task here but it shows how the audience are given only the best show in terms of reward cleanliness. I also had the opportunity to feed and fly kookaburras and barn owls. The barn owls are used in weddings as ring bearers and so test flying them in different environments is essential.
In terms of medicines and treatments, the need for a vet is a rare occasion as the animals in this department are treated usually by over the counter treatments, such as Aloe Vera for dry feet as the enclosures can cause the birds to develop scabs on their feet. The vets do however prescribe a Frontline spray to kill fleas and ticks and Metacam for beak ache, both of which are used in domesticated pets. The sea lions generally suffer from manly respiratory and eye issues, such as ulcers but also other nose and throat conditions.
I have learnt a lot whilst working here, especially during the hands on experiences such as a sea lion encounter, but also listening to the show scripts. Despite their best efforts I am not yet convinced that I agree with captivity of all animals species, however those that have been bred in captivity no little different and they are all treated to excellent standards. Without the work of zoos, species would be lost due to endangerment and research into their field would be minimal, so I can understand the importance, the economy and business associates with zoos does sometime leave me to question their true reason for existence.
So, as you can see I have been a busy bee even in the holidays, now for a bit of personal statement writing, getting ahead for A2 and hopefully some milking very soon.


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  1. Pingback: The Spice of Life | The Wannabe Vet

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