The Little Rock Zoo

.The Little Rock Zoo needs to step up and care for the animals better! Please read the several artciles here with deaths, sickness and a bald chimp!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Monkey Enrichment at the Henson Robinson Zoo

Behind those cute and cuddly animals at the zoo comes a lot of hard work.

“Nobody knows how to use a hose until you become a zookeeper,” said Jacqueline Peeler, assistant director and general curator of the Henson Robinson Zoo.

Springfield’s zoo thrives with help from volunteers, including the Junior Zookeeper program, which began in 2004.

“It’s not about petting the animals,” said Springfield High School junior Callie Smith, who has been a junior zookeeper for three years. “It’s about helping the zoo and getting things done.”

The junior zookeepers, ages 13-17, at Henson Robinson Zoo help maintain the zoo on a monthly basis by scrubbing and cleaning exhibits, feeding animals and mostly keeping the animals healthy and happy.

Teens ages 13-17 may enroll in the zoo’s Junior Zookeeper course. The course includes eight classroom sessions and hands-on training sessions over the span of eight weeks for $80. Older graduates who are at least 18 years old may join the zoo’s Docent program, where they can educate visitors about certain animals or handle zoo animals.

During the training, students also experience behavioral observation skills where they monitor an animal’s activities for about 20 minutes. The class requires its students to write down what they observe an animal doing, even if it’s a mundane activity.

“You gain skills you wont necessarily think you need,” Peeler said. “You have to be very articulate.”

Although volunteering provides free labor for the zoo, the program is also a rewarding experience, Callie said — even if accidents may happen.

Because dealing with wild animals poses safety risks, all trainees and volunteers must sign a waiver stating they understand that animals — even animals accustomed to living at the zoo — can be dangerous, Peeler said.

One weekend, Callie was trimming the nails of a short-eared owl named Percy, a disabled bird with just one wing, and he accidentally scratched her skin.

“I was freaked out for a while, but I was OK,” Callie said.

Other junior zookeeper duties involve animal enrichment designed to help the animals survive in controlled environments such as a zoo.

For example, monkeys have high-powered brains, Callie said, and need to be entertained.

One enrichment activity includes dangling a cardboard box with treats in front of an animal. Callie enjoys watching the animals tear open the cardboard because they always have fun, she said.

Once students graduate from the Junior Zookeeper classes, they are invited to become official Junior Zookeeper Volunteers. The volunteers may run annual zoo events, such as the Fur Feather Fin Fall Fling coming up this October, where junior volunteers perform puppet plays about wildlife.

“I wrote one of last year’s puppet plays,” said Lilly Smith, a 14-year-old home schooled student and junior zookeeper.

Lilly’s play, titled “This Is Our Home,” illustrates the environmental dangers of destroying animals’ natural habitats.

Many junior volunteers plan to continue caring for animals when they are older. Callie said she would love to get into veterinary school after she graduates from high school.

“I like helping animals just because people are less relatable,” she said. “A lot of people are jerks. One thing you know is you’ll never get made fun of by a dog.”

Other volunteers just like to help at the zoo as an extra activity to keep them busy during the summer.

“I’m basically doing this because I like to be outside and like to do things,” Lilly said.

Aspiring zoologist Gage Bohn, 13, said during a Sept. 5 training session that he is especially excited to start his training as long as he uses “protective gloves.”

“I’ll get that feeling and see that brown mushy stuff and say ‘I gotta pick that up!’” he said.

Aimee LaPlant is a senior at Springfield High School.


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