Tuesday, 18 September 2012

I am a Zoo Keeper - 12 Sept 2012

Brandon joined the homeschooling group to the National Zoo for the "I am a Zoo Keeper" programme. Becoming a zoo keeper is certainly a labour of love. Zoo keepers are fully responsible for the animals in their sections - they clean, feed, provide enrichment for the animals in their care. Edwina, who is a zoo keeper and our guide for the day took us by trams to the Mammal Kingdom. She educates zoo visitors about the animals in the zoo. 

The children were supposed to do food puzzle for 3 groups of animals, ie porcupine, binturong and the striped hyena. The zoo keepers were supposed to keep these wild animals fit and sensitive to their instincts. Hence, the children would help the zoo keepers to prepare some food for them but the animals would not be spoon fed, rather, they have to do some exercises and use their senses to get to the food.

Brandon's group was assigned to do the meat cage with branches and rope. Mummy helped him to tie the knots. We've to make it as difficult as possible for the animals to get to the meat in the middle. To camouflage the meat, we put pieces of bread everywhere on the cage so they would not go straight for the meat. Now we're ready!

One group was poking holes into the banana trunks to stuff tiny pieces of bread and raisins inside. That was really cool. The young ones coloured and decorated the piniata to make them as attractive as possible. We couldn't wait to see the reaction of the animals when they saw the food puzzle!

The porcupines were fast to ravage the banana trunks. 'Yummy!' The binturongs were a bit hesitant and took longer time to reach to the meat cage. 'Delicious!' Hyena was led by the smell and tore the cages in no time. 'Gotcha!!' The children watched in delight and awe.

After the programme, we took a stroll to the lake. We were caught by surprise when we saw hundreds of storks and pelicans coming in all direction toward us. We heard whistling and were puzzled until we saw the zoo keepers. It's feeding time! and the birds immediately recognised it by the whistling. What a sight - it happened so fast, they were on the ground and flying toward us like a marching band. The zoo keepers told us there're 10 species of these birds in the zoo - painted storks, black naked storks, marabou storks, white pelican, pink-backed pelican, night heron, little egrets etc. On average, the lifespan of a stork is about 50 years old.

We didn't feel much when there're a few birds or we're watching them from far, but to have all of them next to you were a bit intimidating. Some of them were as tall as Brandon. He was too excited to bother, but I feared for him. He started work rightaway, throwing the fishes to the hungry storks. Once, a huge white pelican came from nowhere and caught the fish, he was so delighted and roared with laughter. Towards the end, Brandon was tired thus he was slow to throw the fish and a stork snatched it from his hand. That was the only minor accident.

It's a surprise to me because the birds were generally so well-behaved and orderly. When it's the turn of the zoo keepers from the other end of the lake to whistle, the birds flew away immediately. It happened a few rounds, the birds flying to and fro the lake following the sound of the whistle. Indeed it's a labour of love for the zoo keepers, and understandably to me at this point, why it's so rewarding to care for the animals and birds.

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