So, although they'd love to know what's going on all day with the many animals under their care, they just don't have the luxury of standing around watching for hours. That's where volunteers step in. Someone who is retired, like me, can stand around watching interesting wildlife for two hours without feeling guilty because, well it's volunteer work, right?
|Riobi, the male hornbill (red eyes)|
First the avian keepers had questions about the rhinoceros hornbills. A chute from their outdoor aviary that leads to their heated night house has just been constructed. The keepers had conditioned (target trained) the birds to go inside on cue. But would they go inside on their own initiative? It's an important question. Can they be on exhibit during the winter or must they be inside until spring? That depends, literally, on whether they reliably will go inside if they get chilly.
|Oona, the female hornbill (white eyes)|
Ultimately an early freeze forced the keepers to house the birds indoors for the time being.
Yesterday I observed four bongos. These African antelopes are critically endangered in East Africa. Our zoo participates in a bongo repatriation program, so every baby is celebrated. The male, A.J., is off exhibit until Betty delivers her calf. Betty, her one-year-old Belle, and Juni with her 7-month-old Jesi, were in the enclosure yesterday. Here are the questions the behavior study hopes to answer:
|African bongos : (from left) Juni, Belle, Jesi, and Betty|
1. How often does one animal separate from the 'herd' and for how long?
2. In which side of the enclosure do they spend the most time?
3. Are they rubbing against the fence or the trees?
4. Are the African crowned cranes who share the enclosure bothering them?
The last question proved most interesting for me. As I documented the activities occurring in the enclosure every five minutes a clear pattern of crane harassment was emerging. The male crane prevented Belle from feeding just by stalking up to her. Once when she abandoned her hay, he leaped atop the pile like a kid playing "King of the Mountain"! Though the bongos are huge and robust compared to him, he was the epitome of the schoolyard bully.
The headlines these past weeks have illuminated the worst of human behavior. From allegations of rapes on college campuses and in the entertainment industry to burning businesses and massacring teachers, all of this brutality calls into question the root of the word "humane".
The response, though, to these crimes demonstrates our basic decency as a species. It's important to remember that people - normal people - respond to a crisis by wanting to help and to a crime by wanting to see justice done. At least, that's what I've observed.