A Zookeeper’s Gratitude

Please don’t ask me why I have put off this post for so long. I simply do not know. It’s not that I am a whiny ingrate. I have been practicing gratitude daily for a while now because it really works. But I’m tired. Somehow, the act of creating a post, and finding the right pictures, and editing, and feeling a little exposed has felt like more than I could do. I have been ill for a while, and illness has taken its toll. I’ve been doling out my energy by the tablespoonful just to keep functioning, and the hoops have felt too tiny to jump through. But I promised my sweet friend, Dawn. Gratitude is worth giving some energy to, even if I don’t count my blessings all the way up to fifty. I am not on the verge of death here, I promise. Even though this first paragraph is kinda heavy. I’m just tired, ya’ll. Physically spent. There are worse things.

So here I am. And what am I grateful for? Lots. So much. I have good things, and more good things on the horizon. Some of them are more obvious than others.

  • I am so thankful for Marie Kondo. Let me just tell you, the Netflix series really was life-changing for me. If you’re not familiar, Marie wrote a book called “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” Now she has a TV series. If you know me in real life, you know that I am a borderline hoarder. I have sentimental attachments to every, little thing. And I lack a linear thought process, so my house is perpetually a mess. I can appreciate a tidy space, but my brain doesn’t always know how to get there. But I watched the entire season in a couple of days, and now I get it. She doesn’t tell anyone to throw anything away, ever. Ever. She gets a bad rap on the internet because the internet is for people who like to complain about things. She says that if an item “sparks joy”, (or if you NEED it, like pots and pans) keep it. There is a way to store it. In the last three weeks, I have donated about 15  trash bags full of things that I was ready to let go of. It is an incredible feeling. For the first time ever, I feel like my living space is getting tidy. And I traded books to our used bookstore and got $90 in credit. Which I am saving for something cool.

 

  • FROGS – It has been a good frog-year for me at work. I got my first eggs from my Bumblebee Dart Frogs, which are easy to breed but had eluded me. I got 2 clutches, and I have four froglets. They are tiny enough to sit on my pinkie nail. I have learned from my mistakes as I went, and they have not suffered for it. I am pretty stoked.

See that little tadpole? It’s not so little anymore!

 

  • Big Al. Because always Big Al. He has so much personality, and he gives me hugs when I need them. Al, for the record, I always need them.

Big Al is pressing his face into my shoulder. It’s how he gives hugs. I love him.

  • I got to take a trip to San Diego this summer. For free. Getting there was a nightmare, but I learned that I do like to travel. And I can pack light. I can go cross-country for four days with only a backpack. As long as my e-reader is in it, I’m good.
  • This is my favorite picture of all.

 

  • My e-reader. I love my Kobo. Don’t @ me. I get a little tired of the “I don’t like e-readers because I like REAL books” crowd. I love physical books, too, but I am running out of room. Literal floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in our family room are filled to overflowing. I do buy some nice print editions – most books related to my job are either not available in e-format, or they are so beautiful that I buy physical copies. I get all the illustrated Harry Potters, too. But my e-reader can hold 10,000 books without gaining a single gram. And I can fit it in my pocket to take it anywhere. And it is backlit, so if I can’t sleep, I can read without disturbing my husband. And when my hands start cramping, I can prop it up on my lap and turn a page with a single tap. I don’t have to fight to hold open a huge volume.

 

  • My Tweeps. I love Twitter. I have found a band of fairly like-minded people there, and they are often my soft place to fall. I have also found some people that I don’t necessarily agree with on all things, but that educate me on the other side of lots of issues. Twitter has been a good learning place for me.

 

  • Books. I have read so many great books recently! I have been on a roll. Not one stinker, DNF in the entire bunch!

 

  • My tortoises groups are laying eggs in record numbers, and some of them are developing. I got six shoe boxes of eggs this year, which is impressive because they only lay one egg at a time, and I don’t start the incubation process for an individual box until there are at least 9 eggs in it. Not all of them will hatch. Most of them will not. But I am collecting some really valuable data, and I am trying some new things to see if I can hit the sweet spot and increase the hatch rate.

Common Spider Tortoise is awake and ready to hatch.

  • Power tools. I was able to build a new series of outdoor enclosures for the Northern Spider Tortoise adults, and as a result, they got to spend their summer outdoors. The natural sunlight does WONDERS. UV produces vitamin D, which in turn helps the females shell their eggs properly and utilize the calcium in their food, it gives them signals that can’t really be replicated indoors. Sometimes it takes a year to reap benefits, so it might be this upcoming breeding season before I see results, but I am hopeful. And proud. I did a thing with very little help, and I did it with power tools and an 8lb sledge-hammer.

 

  • Home Improvement Stores
  • My plants. Sorry, husband. They spark joy, so they stay…
  • My cell phone (it’s so much more fun and useful than I ever thought that it would be!)
  • The Padawan got his first job.
  • Family meals when Girl-Child tells stories from her days at private school
  • I’m getting better. One day at a time, one step at a time, if not feeling better, I am functioning better. I can at least make dinner some nights before getting into bed.
  • Little surprises. This banana plant was, to the casual observer, dead. Look what popped up yesterday while I was off!
  • My bed. My comfy, cozy, welcoming resting spot, covered in cats who want to be near me.
  • Puppies catching treats. You’re welcome.
  • Friends who prompt me to get the blogging done.

Alright. I have completed my post. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to write your own post. Visit Dawn to get complete rules and link up, and make sure you check out some of the other folks in the link-up. Come on in. The water’s fine!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Introverted Activist: Be the Light

I was so depressed this morning that I could barely get out of bed. This administration becomes more monstrous by the day; there is so much evil in the world, and I can’t take it anymore. There aren’t enough anti-depressants in the world to make me feel better. Like, I asked the world to quit turning because I wanted to get off. What can I do? I called my senators (both Republicans, both speaking out against the abuses at the border), I called the Department of Justice (1-202-514-2000), but I didn’t feel better. Not at all. Again, what can I do? I am one person. And I figured it out. My most important job right now is to make my own tiny corner of the world the very best that it can possibly be. And so I did.

I did anything I could think of.

  • I picked up trash
  • I checked a reservoir before the end of the day so my co-worker didn’t have to fill it
  • I paid for the groceries of a little elderly lady whose check kept getting rejected at the check out
  • I let a birthday boy help feed Al his watermelon
  • I let cars into traffic, and I didn’t honk when someone cut me off
  • I talked to lots of zoo guests who had questions and tried to make their day a little better
  • I let son choose what we watched while we worked
  • I made falafel for husband and son
  • I didn’t expect son to eat the tabouli
  • I let smallest pick his own dinner – ramen noodles – and didn’t bark about nutrition (there’s always tomorrow!)
  • I fed my silver Arowana a little extra goodness. Roaches. Her favorite
  • I gave the dogs extra biscuits
  • I am making plans to take my husband to see the Mr. Rogers documentary – something that we BOTH need!
  • I wrote the report for today so my co-worker didn’t have to
  • I gave my intern some fun jobs to do – like feed Al. It was good for both of them

Am I cured? Not by a long shot. My heart still hurts, and I am struggling to breathe sometimes. But tomorrow is another day, and I will do it again. As much as I can for as long as I can. You do it, too. Do what you can to make your world better than it was without you. You do it, I’ll do it, and before you know it, we will have our world back. We can do it. Together. Be the light.

Notes From the Zookeeper: How DO You Move a 525lb Tortoise?

It’s the best time of year – SPRING IS HERE! And do you know what that means? It’s time for Big Al to go on exhibit! Al the Aldabra Giant Tortoise loves to be back out on exhibit. He likes to be out in the fresh air, natural sunlight, green grass, and in the midst of his adoring public.

So how do we move this big guy? In the past, we have lifted him in the back of a truck and driven him to the front of the zoo. And by “we,” I mean 8 guys who are way stronger than I am. Al does not enjoy being lifted. It’s unsettling for a tortoise to be lifted off their feet, but there wasn’t a better way. Until this year. This year, we have a crate!

Big Al did not fall off the turnip truck yesterday. He knows what it means when the exhibit design team and our curator appear at his enclosure. And he does not like it. Last fall, he did fine walking toward the truck until he heard our curator’s voice, and then he knew for SURE what was about to happen. He headed off in a different direction as fast as his chilly legs could carry him. So it’s all about patience and baby steps. I did ask my curator to steer clear so Al wouldn’t be tipped off.

Al loves my son, so I had him walk Al toward the greenhouse gate with a handful of honeysuckle. Exhibit design team came down to meet me. In order for the move to be as stress-free as possible, I told the team to treat it as a social call. They could offer him treats, pet him, etc. My goal was to keep them from having to push or pull on him because once that happens, he is no longer game, and our job would be much more difficult. The tricky part was that the greenhouse is surrounded by woods – lots of delicious things to eat. If he headed off-course, we’d have to wrestle him into the crate.

How do we move a Giant Tortoise? Like this:

We planted grass and clover last fall, and I over-seeded a few times to get the lot ready for my sweet boy. And he has thoroughly enjoyed it. He stayed up way past his bedtime because he couldn’t stop eating the delicious, fresh grass.

The move was completely without fear or trauma. He did not lose his trust in me, and was happy enough to pose for a picture. No hissing and running. Yay!

Who’s a tired boy? Normally he’s down for the night by now, but he’s so intrigued by the clover that he is only taking a nap. How do I know? By his stretched out neck. When he is down for the night, he parks himself with his head against a wall.

Notes From the Zookeeper: Gratitude

I love my job. There are so many things to be grateful for.

The first call is the critically endangered Golden Dart Frog. The second call is a Bumblebee Dart Frog. I have played these calls back to them for fifteen minute stretches three times a day, five days a week for several weeks now. It gets them grooving.

  • Ingenuity and success. Bowers made of coconuts cut in half are recommended for breeding Dart Frogs. I only have one, and my Annulated Boa has commandeered it. So I made due with what I had – black snake hide-boxes set atop the lids from Chinese food takeout containers. And you know what? It worked!

These are just a few of the eggs hidden in the exhibit. If they hatch, Dad will carry them to a water source on his back. Check back in about 10 days days.

  • Hoses that don’t kink
  • Hoses that aren’t frozen
  • Brand-new hoses that save us from filling our rearing reservoir with a bucket in the cold
  • Guests that show up on bitter cold days because they love the zoo
  • A raise
  • Good water pressure
  • Disposable food storage containers. Seriously. We use these for everything from storing food to raising dart frog tadpoles. Thank you, Glad and Ziploc! Wanna sponsor a post?
  • When the youngsters start to figure out what they’re meant to do

Egyptian Tortoises (Testudo kleinmanni). He’s only seven, so he’s maybe not quite got the hang of it yet, but he’s trying!

  • Surprises. My female Chinese Crocodile Lizard (Shinisaurus crocodilurus) has babies every two years. So we thought. She had eleven babies last year. In December, she surprised me with eleven more. This species is critically endangered due to habitat destruction, fragmented populations (some groups have 10 or fewer adults, which isn’t sustainable), over-collection for the pet trade, and a long gestation period (9-14 months!) which combine to make population recovery difficult

Newborn Chinese Crocodile Lizard. It’s tiny until you think that there were ELEVEN of them all curled up in there!

  • This guy.

    Tex, wearing his best opuntia fruit lipstick.

  • When my snack drawer is full. Zookeeping is hungry business!
  • Hidden opportunities. In 2017, I got to volunteer at the Turtle Survival Center in SC, and I got to go to the Turtle Survival Alliance conference in Charleston. I also had a trip to Amphibian Management School. This year, I’m going to Amphibian Research School, and I have a lead on a trip to California.
  • Weird animals
  • Mossy Leaf-tail Gecko (Uroplatus sikorae) shortly after hatching

  • Guests who ask questions and are genuinely interested in learning more
  • The sense of wonder and amazement when guests finally see a well-camouflaged animal on exhibit
  • Plants. I just started two small green houses at work with cuttings to make some really interesting additions to exhibits
  • My iPod. A lot of what I do is solitary. It takes me 6-8 hours a week to maintain my aquatic exhibit. It’s great to have music to listen to. This year, I may expand to podcasts
  • Lowe’s. I love home improvement stores, and it gives me jollies to know where everything is
  • Toboggans and gloves. It’s cold out there!
  • Possibilities. We’re working on planning our new facility. It is going to be incredible and state-of-the-art. Stay tuned!

What are you grateful for? Today is the last day that the linkup is active. Want to participate? Set a timer for 15 minutes. Make a list of what you are grateful for. When the timer goes off, stop. Post, link.

From Dawn at Tales From the Motherland:

How to join in: write your own post and publish it. Copy the link from the post. Then click on the frog below, and follow the instructions to add your link. If you have any trouble, please let me know, and I’d be happy to help. I will also add a link to each post on my own blog post, as they are published. For extra fun, please add the hashtags #BloggersUnite and/or #50HappyThings… because, well, everyone loves a hashtag! The link-up expires January 15th at 11:59pm.

Click here to link

 

 

The Daily Post : Weathered

I haven’t tried the Daily Post in a number of years, but I was inspired by today’s theme: weathered. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t put a zookeeper slant on it, though, would I?

Riverbanks Zoo has a herd of Galapagos Tortoises. We have Aldabra Tortoises at our zoo. These two species are a fascinating example of convergent evolution – animals that develop similar traits, but in different parts of the world. Galapagos Tortoises are found off the coast of Ecuador in South America, and Aldabs are found off the east coast of Africa in the Seychelles. They last shared a common ancestor about 20 million years ago. But they are so similar.

Here’s an Aldabra Giant Tortoise:

Big Al and his watermelon that was donated by a child. If I cut up the watermelon, it’s gone in 10 minutes. A whole watermelon gets shoved around for 5 hours.

Galapagos Tortoise in Riverbanks Zoo, SC

There are minor differences. Galapagos tortoises can get up to about 600lbs, depending on the subspecies, whereas Aldabs top out typically at 350. Though Big Al is a plus-sized model. He’s 525lbs. Galaps typically lack the little scale on their shell behind their neck, called a nuchal scute. Their shells vary, and some have really high arches at their necks to allow them to reach taller shrubs. And Galaps have a very round head by comparison to Aldabs, but you have to really know them to notice. My favorite difference is that Aldabs stretch out their necks to be scratched, while Galaps look straight up. ADORABLE!

The thing about both species is, they can live for, like, ever. Not really. Eventually they peter out, but they live a very, very long time. One animal died in 2006, and there were records on it going back 252 years, and it was a wild-caught animal. The oldest confirmed tortoise was 189 years old. That’s a lot of wear and tear.

Time takes its toll on all of us, tortoises included.

It’s like looking into the face of a dinosaur. Weathered.

Time, wind, and water wear us down. The scales on this Galapagos tortoise girl’s neck have worn smooth with time. Her shell, too, sports that lived-in look. She had a nice hole in her carapace (top shell) that is now a cozy home to a spider.

See the spider web? It was nice and fresh. The damage is purely cosmetic. Shells are tough!

She looks pretty good for her age, don’t you think? Just imagine, a century ago, she looked more like this:

Juvenile Galapagos Tortoise

This tortoise is under six months old, all shiny and pretty and new. There are plenty of growth rings in her shell, too. They are like trees. As they grow, they get new rings. The center of the ring is essentially dead shell, like our hair or fingernails, and the rings are fresh growth. This little baby is all bright-eyed and represents the future of her species.

And this girl? She’s bursting with history.

If this girl could talk…

What do you think of when you hear the word “weathered?” Show us your best photos. Join this week’s Daily Post.

 

Notes From the Zookeeper: Remember Meatball the Miracle Tortoise?

Remember this little guy? He is a tiny miracle of a Radiated Tortoise (Astrochelys radiata) . His egg had been broken during excavation of the nest (we have to excavate them or the eggs will die), and his keeper had carefully replaced the broken bit of shell and hoped for the best. And out he came with only a small cosmetic defect in his shell.

Now Meatball is a year old, and my how he has grown!

Right before Christmas, guess what? Meatball had a baby brother!

Radiated Tortoise says it is going to have to odd, because it just…can’t…even…

The hatchling should be a male because it was incubated at a lower temperature – 84F. A temperature of 88F produces females. This minute difference in temperatures is one reason why climate change can have a devastating impact on a species. A few really hot summers can result in more females than males, which sounds great at first glance. But too many females in the breeding population can very rapidly reduce genetic diversity.

This baby popped out right before Christmas. What a great surprise! The eggs weren’t even expected to hatch for a few more weeks. We check eggs every morning and afternoon, because we never know for sure. It’s not like incubating bird eggs, where there is only a day or two of variability in expected hatch dates. There can be MONTHS of variability. Like now. SURPRISE!

Now, back to Meatball. It’s hard to see how much he has grown in the last year until you see him beside his new brother. So here ya go!

Meatball’s brother (so far nameless). He likes his collard-green plate more than his chopped greens and veggies.

And here are the two of them together.

Awww! Family portrait!

There are still a few more eggs in the incubator, and Mom and Dad have done such a good job making babies that they no longer have the recommendation to breed, so we will be getting a different pair to work with. If we fill up zoo holdings with animals that are closely related, there’s no room in captivity for genetic diversity. Most zoo animals only have a few offspring. It may be a little while before we have more baby Radiated Tortoises. That’s okay. They’re worth waiting for!

What’s exciting in your world? I want to know!

Notes From the Zookeeper: My Day in Pictures and a Mind-blowing video

Notes From the Zookeeper: Help!

Dear Mom,

I want to go home. I’m currently seven hours south of the ole homestead at the Turtle Survival Alliance conference in South Carolina. I get to spend the next three days learning all about countless species from experts the world over. Turtles? Yes. Studying up on them? Absolutely! School’s my jam! At a conference where I do not know a soul?  (insert needle-scratch) Ummm. People? I don’t do the whole human thing very well. I am shy, a little weird, and I have the social skilz of an octopus, minus the tentacles. Did I have tentacles when I was born, Mom?

This is me. Trying to blend in, or maybe just outright hide. My Patronus is an octopus.

I stepped out of the car into a city that smells of an odd mix of excrement and brackish water, and I was ready to turn around and go home. The brackish water I get. I’m right here on the coast. But poop? Why? Why the poop? I do not understand! I’m in the heart of the historical district. Is it historical poop? Maybe?

The hotel is a shack. Three room suites, valet parking, a mezzanine, thick walls where I can’t hear the neighbors scratching their bed bugs, maybe not even bed bugs. A shack. I will suffer through. But one of the bars of soap was already wet when I opened it, and that creeps me out more than a little. And everything from the soap to the lotion smells exactly the same.

Our opening event was at the South Carolina Aquarium. I had never been. It was all kinds of amazing. Let me show you.

There’s, like, this whole ocean and stuff!

I did make two friends right off the bat, Mom. Want to meet them?

And there were other cool things.

I found a drug store on my way back to the hotel, and I thought I should get some snacks because food is WAY too expensive here. $12 for hotel breakfast is way more than I want to spend. But I am a jinx, and as I was buying my stuff, the entire computer system shut down, and I had to stand at the register making awkward small talk with the cashier and manager for ten minutes. Ten long, painful, awful minutes.  Come and get me.

The TV is broken. At least the one in my bedroom is, and I don’t want to go to the living room. That’s too much trouble. I mean, the TV comes on, but it only gets crappy channels. There were these two pink people who were walking through the jungle. Did I mention they were nekkid? Why were they nekkid? I go hiking all the time, but always with my clothes on. Don’t these people know there are insects and other things you don’t want close to the tender parts? Am I missing something?

The alarm went off, and I’m still typing my letter. But I will get out of bed. I will. Eventually. I can do this, Mom. I can learn good stuff and make new friends and eat all my snacks so I’m not spending a billion dollars on breakfasts. I can do this. I can.

On second thought… there are two beds here. I should go try out the other one.

 

 

 

Notes From the Zookeeper: Another Day, Another Lizard

Yesterday was our third day of volunteering at the Turtle Survival Center is South Carolina. We made mud pies and played in the water. Technically, we made hide boxes out of concrete and built recirculating water systems for turtles. Potato, po-tah-to.

My co-worker is chomping at the bit to get over to the center this morning, so you get a truncated view of yesterday’s fun times.

As promised. Cappuccino the water buffalo, aka “Cappy.”

 

Today we go home. I’m going to miss this place. I wonder if Cappy would fit in a Nissan Juke…

Notes From the Zookeeper: I’m Surrounded By Turtles!

It’s day two at the Turtle Survival Center. I may never leave. Yesterday we scrubbed 40 turtle enclosures and did water changes, and I fell in love with a water buffalo named Cappuccino. Today, we prepared all the food for both veggie eaters and carnivores for some of the most endangered turtles in the world. I didn’t include any pics of the meat-based diet. Let’s just say I cleaned some blood off the walls when we were done and leave it at that.

This is a Leucocephalon yuwonoi, a name that is really fun to say! The boys have bright white heads. They have the best feet!

I have better pictures of the animals, but we have to wait until I am home because I am on my computer that has the screen that is pixelated and pink. You get my phone pictures. I put them in gallery form to make for easier viewing. Click to enlarge and read the caption.

I’ll try to have photos of the water buffalo tomorrow. What’s new in your world?