Friday, July 18, 2014

Interviewing Zookeeper Rick Schwartz

Hey Guys, 
So earlier this year I met this amazing guy called Rick Schwartz on Facebook, who is a Zookeeper and Ambassador for the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park. After enthusiastically watching his TV appearances and loving the behind the scene photos, I started wondering how different life might be working at a big zoo like the San Diego Zoo compared to Reptilia. So I asked Rick a few questions and here's the result.


Rick with a double yellow headed amazon called Rio (photo credit: San Diego Zoo global staff)

What type of education did you get/ what would you recommend for someone interested in this field?

Many years ago I went thought Moorpark College's Exotic Animal Training and Management program. And then followed that up with a basic degree. Moorpark's program is a good one, but not the only way to get into a career of animal care and conservation. In fact most jobs now require a minimum of a bachelors degree in a field of study that is relatable to animal are such as biology, ecology, zoology and even behavioral sciences as well.
Though the book work & the education are important, just as important is hands on experience.  Working with animals is a science, but it is also a learnt art in some ways. Reading an animal and understanding the subtleties of animal behavior come with experience. A great way to gain experience is to volunteer at a local shelter, horse boarding ranch, vet clinic or even a wildlife rehabilitation center. Expect to start with the dirty work of picking up poop and cleaning up after the animals. That is after all a big part of animal care, keeping their environment clean. Last thing I recommend, ask a lot of questions. Especially when volunteering, its a great way to learn more.

Photo of the Cougar exhibit at the San Diego Zoo (photo credit: Rick Schwartz)

Wise words Rick. Cool to see that the things I've been doing such as volunteering at Canyon hill Animal Hospital and then working at Reptilia are good steps towards potentially working at a much larger zoo! He's not joking around though guys when he says to expect some dirty work. If there's one thing all animals seem to be too good at it's going to the bathroom! (Some animals go a lot and they have the worst timing - grin)

Rick with Cheetah ambassador Shiley and his amazing team on Good Morning America with Gio Benitz and Cecily Tynan (Photo Credit: San Diego Zoo global staff)


What does your average day consist of?

The average day for a zookeeper is usually very busy. Keeper work is physical labor that also requires good communication with other keepers, supervisors, vet staff and of course zoo guests.

First part of the morning is checking on all of the animals, then usually a quick meeting with fellow keepers to discuss the plan for the day. From there it is cleaning and feeding followed by record keeping. Some zoos use computers for daily records and others use a daily diary of hand written records. These records are shared with other keepers and vet staff, so written communication skills, computer skills and good hand writing are important. From there we usually do keeper talks for the guests of the zoo and some zoo's have formal presentations that the keepers do at scheduled times. There are also occasions where we have summer school kids visiting for special programs or we host local news media on grounds and so on. I guess you might say the average day is anything but average given all the different things that happen at the zoo! 

Rick with a baby Koala Bear (Photo credit: San Diego Zoo global staff)

On average we work 8 hours a day, but sometimes there are days we do overtime if there is a special event or if the animals need our care beyond the needs of an average day. And I think the biggest thing that a lot of people don't realize, we work weekends and holidays. The animals don't care what day it is, who's birthday it might be or what holiday we are celebrating. They still need fresh water, food and a clean home everyday.  Zoo keepers tend to have non-traditional days off like a Monday & Tuesday, or Wednesday & Thursday.  And you usually have different days off than your coworkers to make sure there are always keepers at the zoo to take care of the animals. 

Being a zoo keeper isn't just a job. its a way of life.

A Meerkat relaxing at the San Diego Zoo - while the keepers may be constantly on their feet this guy's taking it easy
 (Photo Credit: Rick Schwartz) 

Sounds remarkably similar to the work we do at Reptilia! Would love to hear more about Rick's experiences as an ambassador though. As I'm sure you've noticed from some of the photos he often makes appearances with the animal ambassador teaching the public about these amazing animals. Uh oh Rick - sounds like I've got more questions for you!! Grin.


What is the best part and the hardest part about your job?


I'd have to say the best part of the job is having the opportunity to take care of some of the most amazing animals on the planet. And with that, we become deeply connected with these animals,  and their species.  Usually we spend more time with these animals than we do our human family. And thus, the animals become like a family to us.  In a close second to that being the best thing about the job, is the opportunities we have as keepers to inspire and educate people about animals, environments & conservation. 

Rick with a Desert Tortoise filming for the San Diego Zoo Kid's Channel 

That said, it should come as no surprise that the hardest part of the job is out living the animals you take care of.  Many species live as long as humans, but many others naturally have a shorter life span.  We are blessed to have the deep connections that we have with the animals we care for, but it is never easy having to say good-bye.

Photo Credit:San Diego Zoo global staff

Thanks for the great info Rick and keep up the amazing work you do at the San Diego Zoo!!

Chris

Sunday, July 13, 2014

It's a bird's World

Hey Guys,
Had a play with one of the lenses I haven't used before today (Canon 300mm if your curious) and sat on our deck taking photos of the birds. Here's what I saw


At first the birds kept a bit of distance, sitting in the trees watching me.


Then this little girl (probably a female house finch? Why are so many birds brown! grin) got brave and flew over.


Yum!




Isn't she pretty?



Suddenly a large shadow passed over head. I looked up to see an Osprey!


We've seen this bird twice before but never been 100% certain of what is was (never sticks around for long). No doubt now that it's an Osprey. I wander where it's catching it's fish?


I wonder what the hawk family thinks? It wouldn't be competition for food, but it's still a lot bigger than they are!


Once the osprey had flown by a couple of Red Winged Blackbirds came to the feeders.


You can see some downy feathers sticking out behind it's legs. Perhaps it's still young?



Fluffy head!


I guess even in the bird world, you gotta go when you gotta go....


The blackbirds bully the other smaller finches when they are at the feeders, so my little house finch had a look in the flower pots for seeds instead.



Got one!



They're a bit like small kids really...."I'm the king of the castle..."


Then I noticed this bird sitting in a willow tree. I doubt I would of even noticed if it wasn't for that bright red marking on the back of it's neck.


I looked in my bird book and I'm pretty sure it's a Northern Flicker, which is a type of woodpecker. While I've never seen one before, apparently they are fairly common here from April to October and love open deciduous woodlands and forest edges, fields, meadows and wetlands so it sounds like this guy should be right at home!



Between the Osprey and the Northern Flicker I had tones of fun. Why don't you get outside and see what birds you can spot? Bring a camera to take photos or just some binoculars and have some fun!

Chris

Monday, June 30, 2014

Some Odd 'Dirt' on a Hot Day

Hey Guys,

Really hot and steamy weather today, but that doesn't seem to stop the wildlife. Sometimes you have to be really observant to spot what's out and about though as the larger animals are mostly seeking shelter away from the sun. Here's what I spotted on my walk today.

Just some dirt right?


 You Sure?......hmm that's odd it's moving....


Gotta look closer!


I guess our american toad tadpoles grew their legs - grin. There are quite literally thousands of them!



I also saw quite a few dragonflies and damselflies flitting around



And a couple bees



Why don't you get outside and see what you can find? You might have to look closely!
Chris

Thursday, June 26, 2014

I'm the Richmond Hill Studio Tour Featured Artist!

WOW! I'm the Richmond Hill Studio Tour & Art Sale Featured Artist for the rest of this week!! Those of you who have been on this blog with me from the beginning may remember some of these moments, I hope they make you chuckle. For those of you who are newer to this blog, Here are some behind the scene stories of what I've got up to on my photo shoots. :)

'What great Stories behind the photographs of today's featured Artist: Chris Kingdon
Give us 3 interesting/ unusual facts about your chosen medium/ art form or the materials you 
use or the way in which you work

Wildlife photography is perhaps most different to other forms of photography due to the uncontrollability of your subject. You quickly discover that no matter how hard you try you will always have the wrong lens on, no, that heron isn't going to catch a fish when your looking (that only happens after 2 hours of crouching in a really uncomfortable position when you've finally put your camera down because you just HAVE to stretch), and yes, you are going to have to get dirty....very very dirty.

So here are 3 things that I think are a 'must' to be a wildlife photographer

1. You have to be willing to get dirty.

I'm walking home from school one day and I hear toads calling. Odd, I think to myself - why are so many toads calling in the middle of the day? Suddenly I realise why; it's early may - they're mating! Pulling my camera excitedly out of my backpack, I plunge into the long grass heading towards the sound. It rained earlier that day, so by the time I reach the pond edge my pants are soaked right through from the grass. Still, I'm determined to get some good photos this time, so I creep up to the waters edge. They're not hard to spot - the water is quite literally packed with thousands of American toads doing...well you know; their business.





 I watch amused for a while, but these guys aren't really who I came for; I want to find one of the males who is still calling. He calls again and I spot him, hiding under a bush, calling for a mate to come. Without a thought ditch my backpack in the mud and lie down flat on my stomach, so I look as small as possible to him. Now I only have a small lens on from photography class (did I mention you always have the wrong lens on?) so I slide my way closer and closer, right up to the waters edge and wait. He watches me for a while, as if trying to decide whether to continue calling or swim away. I hold my breath, camera poised. Finally he turns away and calls again. My finger touches the shutter. Click


.

I notice the light is getting quite golden and check my watch - 5:30!! Where did all the time go! Without a thought I wriggle backwards (so as not to scare the toads) grab my backpack and race home, with the biggest smile on my face. Well, let's just say my family may of been slightly alarmed when I came home about an hour late from "school" covered from head to toe in a thick layer of mud....grin.

2. You have to be persistent

Sometimes nature will test you. Push you to your limit. One of my favourite times to take photographs is what I call the 'golden hour' - you know the time, late in the summer evening when the light becomes all golden? I love how it makes everything look just that little bit more magical, even the blades of grass in the garden glow. I wanted to capture this in a photo. So I line my self up with the sun a lie down in the warm evening grass. I have to get right down flat because I want to try to get the sun shining down through the grass at me. I get my settings just right, squish down that little bit more and start taking photos. 





Suddenly there is this burning pain on my chest, then another one just above my ankle. I yelp in pain and shoot up just in time to notice that I was absolutely COVERED in red ants! 





The expression 'got ants in your pants?' comes to mind, only it really was not funny.

3. You have to be ready for anything.

So sometimes I go outside with my Camera with a plan. I'm going to take photos of some frogs and toads today. I grab the best lens for the job, making sure to put on bug spray so I don't get bitten. This time I've got it all planed out. I'm edging my way through the grass and I can hear the frogs splashing into the water as they spot me just seconds before I spot them. My eyes are peeled, scanning the floor in front of me in this game of senses. Suddenly I hear a noise coming from my left. Must be a toad I determine since it is coming from further away from the water. I smile as I creep forwards; I don't recognise the call, perhaps it's a toad I've never seen before. My eyes were glued once again to the ground in front of me, when suddenly the 'ground' leapt up in front of me, and started clucking madly at me and fanning it's tail.




"oh my! It's a dinosaur! It's a giant man eating bird! It's some deadly zoo animal escaped!" I thought to myself, but determined to record my find I grabbed a few shots before making a bee line out of there. (Of course I totally had the wrong lens on - grin). It wasn't until I was on my street that I stopped running and had a quick look at the photos I'd taken. And suddenly I realised what it was. It's a turkey. A wild Turkey. So In the end I got zero shots of frogs or toads that day, but I did discover that turkeys are a lot bigger than frogs, and that sometimes you have to be ready for anything.

Tell us what you are most looking forward to about this years Studio Tour 
I'm looking forward to getting to know the other artists in the area better, as well as meeting the public and hopefully changing how they think of the wildlife on our doorstep through my photography. Come visit me at the Studio Tour and I'll have even more stories and photos to see, after all, who knows what I'll get up to this summer! 



Website: chriskingdon1.wix.com/photography '


If you are in the Toronto area, make sure to mark October 18th and 19th down in your calendars! I'll have lot's more of my photos on display then (along with awesome gift cards etc. for sale!) and I'd love to see you there!

For more information about the Studio Tour and the other artists in it go to: 
http://richmondhillstudiotour.blogspot.ca/ 

Chris

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Break from Studying

Hey Guys,
I'm in the middle of exams here with two down and two more to go next week. I love learning things (yes, I'm a nerd - grin) but I hate the stress of being tested, especially when it means I have to spend so much time inside staring at notes or doing practice problems over and over again. So after getting back from my exam today I fancied going for a walk outside with my camera for a while. Here's what I found:

Dragonflies


More Dragonflies



Did I mention there were dragonflies?? (grin)


These were really pretty but VERY prickly! I kept leaning in for a closer shot and getting pricked!!


Ahh flowers that don't attack you....


Anyone know what these are? Couldn't decided between eggs laid on the leaf or some kind of fungi growing on the leaf???? What do you guys think?


Oh and if anyone is wondering, yes it's tadpole time again! Look at all those American Toad babies!


Looks like they've grown tiny little back legs already :)


I saw a couple Adult toads as well, and heard tones of splashes as I walked passed the water's edge. This was the only Leopard frog I got a picture of. 



 It was lots of fun, and definitely a nice change from studying. Why don't you guys go outside and tell me what you can find? I'd love to hear.
Chris

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Live Feed!

Hey Guys
We finally figured out how to set up a live feed from our robin cam, so now you too can watch our little baby robin (who isn't really quite so little anymore). He was born 15 day ago so that means he should be taking his first flight (AKA the plunge - grin) any day now. He's been sitting on the edge of the nest all day, and while he's not very sturdy up there he hasn't flown off yet.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fxtVB-wJWQE

Check it out!
Chris

P.S - I hold no responsibility for any sudden decrease in productivity at work/school due to you watching this live stream....grin

Friday, May 30, 2014

Zoo Trip!

Hey guys,
As an awesome end to the school week, today was our bio trip to the Toronto Zoo! It was a beautiful sunny day and I got some awesome photos :) On my summer to do list to go back and get some more!
Any of the photos with a copyright sign are for sale on my website - if you're interested find out more at http://chriskingdon1.wix.com/photography 


"Rhinoceros skin is very thick, up to 1.5 cm. It is tough but also quite sensitive to sunburn and insect bites. They often cover themselves in mud to protect their skin from insects and the sun." 
Did you know??  "The names "white" and "black rhino" don't describe the color of the animal. "White" is actually misinterpretation of the Afrikaans word "weit," meaning "wide," which describes he white rhino's mouth" (http://www.livescience.com/27439-rhinos.html) Cool huh?



This is a Golden Lion Tamarin. These beautiful creatures get their name because of their 'mane' of fur - just like a lion. They are from Brazil and are critically endangered, as is most of their forest habitat. "The Golden Lion Tamarin forms social family groups. Males help to raise their offspring, and often carry their young on their backs in between feedings. Tamarin young are usually twins." (http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/golden-lion-tamarin/)



Of course I couldn't resist having a look at some of the reptiles there too...
Komodo Dragon


Black throat monitor


Green Tree Python


It was pretty hot in the middle of the day, and some of the animals just wanted to sleep - like this Matschie's Tree Kangaroo


Ahh sleep...


Luckily Humphrey the baby polar bear was having none of that - there was far to many interesting things going on for him to be sleeping (the most interesting thing for him actually seemed to be us xD)


Look at those paws!!  "Polar bears are the largest land carnivores in the world, rivalled only by the Kodiak brown bears of southwestern Alaska. At birth however, polar bear cubs are 12 to 14 inches long and weigh around one pound." (http://www.defenders.org/polar-bear/basic-facts)
 Humphrey is getting big quick, but those paws are a reminder that he's still got a long way to go!!!

The Otters weren't sleep either - gosh were they fast!!


And there we're lots of birds out too


Scarlet Ibis

Although this one does look a little sleepy...


And the red panda practically posed for me! "Red pandas live in the mountains of Nepal and northern Myanmar (Burma), as well as in central China. They use their ringed tails as wraparound blankets in the chilly mountain heights."
Did you know? "The red panda has given scientists taxonomic fits. It has been classified as a relative of the giant panda, and also of the raccoon, with which it shares a ringed tail. Currently, red pandas are considered members of their own unique family—the Ailuridae." (http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/red-panda/)


And speaking of Pandas...
"Giant pandas live in a few mountain ranges in central China. They once lived in lowland areas, but farming, forest clearing, and other development now restrict giant pandas to the mountains. The giant panda is listed as endangered in the World Conservation Union's (IUCN's) Red List of Threatened Animals. There are about 1,600 left in the wild." (http://www.torontozoo.com/pandas/)
Er Shun and Da Mao call the Toronto Zoo home, and love eating tones of Bamboo - in fact the average Panda eats 12-38kg of bamboo every day!! (http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/endangered_species/giant_panda/panda/what_do_pandas_they_eat/)



...Burp...


Thanks for reading
Chris