I’m going to the Zoo

This year I started my training to become a Zookeeper at Taronga Zoo in Sydney. It is a two year course (Certificate III in Captive Animal Management), and as well as attending one class a fortnight, I have been going down to the Zoo every Saturday to do my practical intern days to get experience working in the Zoo. For the first sixth months, I will be helping out in the Australian Mammals division, and I’ve done six full days at the Zoo so far. Here is a taste of what I’ve been getting up to.

Taronga Zoo was officially opened on its current site in North Sydney in 1916, although the Zoo was originally founded in 1879 and operated on other sites before it moved to where it is today. The original entrance building still stands, though its been spruced up a bit:

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The Zoos position on Sydney’s North Shore (Mosman Bay) means that the backdrop is stunning views of the Sydney city centre, including the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge, and the ‘Rusty Bucket’ to the left (I have no idea what its really called!). The Zoo is situated on a hill (I am getting fitter!), and there is a gondola system that flies you over the exhibits back to the top (or down to the bottom if you’re catching the ferry back to town). It’s a really beautiful Zoo.

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Himalayan Tahr

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My first three Saturdays at the Zoo (9, 16, 23rd Feb 2013) were spent helping out the Koala keepers in their daily cleaning and feeding tasks. Koalas are very picky eaters. I was introduced to at least 20 Koalas, one of whom I was told to watch out for because he occasionally takes out his aggression on the keepers if his female has been mean to him that day. He was a sweetie when I met him though, and he greeted me with a nose-to-nose-bump, much like a Maori ‘hongi’ (except Maori people don’t sniff you at the same time!). I learnt that the baby Koalas love to cuddle up to other Koalas once they are removed from their mothers, so the Keepers provide soft-toy Koalas (the ones from the gift-shop) for the wee ones to hug. This would work great, except the little Koalas aren’t stupid and know that a toy Koala is not the same as a real Koala, so they are still continually clambering onto the backs of the others in the exhibit, much to their frustration.

Pepper

In my breaks, I get to walk around the zoo at my leisure of course. And first thing in the morning is when all the animals are out and about (must bring my camera in the morning next time!). Here are a few photos from around the Zoo:

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Sometimes the Keepers working on the other animals in the division need help for a while, so I am often shuffled about where help is needed; this suits me because it means more variety and experience! One day after finishing up with the Koala work, I was sent to help out a Keeper who is in charge of the Tasmanian Devil Breeding at the Zoo. I picked his brain about Devil biology and reproduction, and it just so happened that the breeding was happening that week because the two females were in oestrous and had been paired up with a male each. One female had come out of oestrous the day I was there, and so had returned to being aggressive towards the male (she becomes submissive when in heat, because otherwise she wouldn’t let any male near enough to mate!), and the boy had a gash on his face from getting too close. He just wanted to make sure she was ok and that no other males were after her! The Keeper had been in the enclosure moving the male into the neighbouring exhibit – a task which apparently involved a shovel (because the Devils will attack something: better a shovel than your legs!), and a tug-of-war with a piece of meaty bone on the end of a long wire. Have you heard a Tasmanian Devil scream? They are terrifying! Once the Keeper had successfully dragged the male into the next enclosure and left, he surveyed the exhibit to check everything was in order and said, “Damnit, he’s got my hat!”. In the effort, his hat had come off and fallen victim to an angry Devil – he had to go back in and retrieve it.

I learnt that the Tasmanian Devil Facial Tumour Disease that has wiped out 60-90% of the wild population (hence why breeding in captivity is so important) all began in 1996 when just one female had a genetic mutation that made her susceptible to the disease. Her genes have spread to the vast majority of the current population (genetic diversity is very low). Since the disease is highly transmissible and Devils bite one another often, apparently all individuals in the wild are susceptible to the disease. The Nation-wide breeding program aims to breed an insurance population against extinction, and to release individuals who are genetically robust against the disease.

That day I also helped feed and rearrange the browse in the South American Agouti enclosures (somehow the Australian Mammal team is responsible for them). They are like giant Guinea Pigs, and are just as skittish. The Francoir Langurs (monkeys) in the exhibit next door had a field day when we disturbed them.

At the moment, I am working on the Platypus round, which also includes the Common Wombat named Giddi Giddi, and the Spinnifex Hopping Mice. My job has been to rake out the Wombat yard while Giddi is locked in her den. I’m so glad there is a locking system – the last time I tried to clean a Wombat yard at Blackbutt Reserve in Newcastle, I ended up being chased round and round a big rock by an angry Wombat with large teeth, which she wasn’t afraid to show off. We leave grass clumps with the roots on in her yard to help wear down those teeth. Giddi was clawing at the door the whole time trying to get out to me. She likes to sit in her den and dig at the corner where the viewing glass meets the wall – which means that she wipes dirt all over my freshly cleaned windows every time!

The Spinnifex Hopping Mice are in the same dark building (they are nocturnal) as the Platypus, and are extremely inquisitive. I was warned to be very careful where I put my feet when in their exhibit because they are not afraid of hopping around you (see photo). When I went in there to clean the internal windows, I discovered that they like to sit on the front of your shoes, and will even sniff the undersides of your soles while you’re kneeling. So I cleaned the window without moving my feet, which made me look ridiculous. Unfortunately, on my second week on that round, a mouse ran out from under a log and dove right under where the Keeper’s foot was coming down. The mouse didn’t make it, poor thing, they’re so delicate. *sad face*

Wombat and Spinnifex Hopping Mice

The Platypuses are sleek and gorgeous, but super shy. We feed them different things throughout the day, including meal worms, fly pupae, earthworms (yes, I had to dig them out of a tub of soil), and live yabbies (freshwater crustaceans). The Platypuses have a tunnel system that leads from their dry wooden nest boxes to the big pool to swim in, and they don’t like to be watched making their way down the ramp into the water (the boy waited in the tunnel for me to leave before he came out). The boy, however, is much more active and interesting to watch than the girl, who sits in the dark corner. He dives about and preens himself out of the water on the rock. I recently learned that the male Platypuses are venomous! They have a spur on each hind leg and can dig the spurs in to something behind them – apparently it’s excruciatingly painful, but not deadly.

I have also been helping with the food prep for the Macropods (Kangaroos, Red Tree Kangaroos, and Quokkas), and the Echidnas. Short Beaked Echidnas eat termites and ants in the wild and have obvious spines all over their body, while the Long Beaked Echidnas eat more earthworms and have spines that are covered with a thick layer of fur. The food we make for the Echidnas includes mince meat, oil, and soil, and is blended to a fine pink soup for them to lick up with their long tongues (Zookeepers are not afraid to get their hands dirty!). I had to babysit a small male Echidna while he ate because the larger female kept trying to steal his food. I wasn’t sure how to keep her away, so I just put my arm out to block her way, and she bristled up against me and snorted like a child in a huff.

Helping out with the Nocturnal House is always fun because there is such a range of species, and by the end of the day, the last task left is to go around and feed them all. I have met Squirrel Gliders, Sugar Gliders, Black Footed Tree Rats, Tree Kangaroos, and Potoroos. I have also hand fed a Tawny Frog Mouth (they eat defrosted baby mice), several Ring Tailed Possums who eat on my shoulder, and a Bilby who went nuts for mealworms. By the way, Bilbys make the cutest little squeak when you disturb them – it sounds like a short puff into a teeny tiny trumpet! The Yellow Bellied Gliders are rather friendly, and will often jump onto you. The thing is, they have razor sharp claws, so there are several Keepers with constant scratches, and you’re meant to cover your face when you visit them. They are incredibly cute, so soft, and vary in colour slightly. Their tails are extra long because they use them as a rudder when they are gliding between trees.

Last Saturday, it was getting hot, so we put the sprinklers on for a while in the outdoor aviaries. A Tawny Frogmouth named Wizard absolutely loves water, and was literally dancing in the rain! He would hold his wings out and pose dramatically, and then shift to a different pose, flipping his wings over above his head like a swooning woman. It was very entertaining. Later, while I was in the kitchen helping with food prep, a small group of people came through on a tour to see what food we give each animal. I had finished by jobs at that point, so I joined in with the tour and listened to the Keeper give his talk about the diets and food preparation, and when he brought out the Feather Tailed Gliders for everyone to meet, I got to play with them all before putting them away. They are small big-eyed marsupials, and their tails really do look like feathers! I could see the membrane of skin between their wrists and feet that flap out and allow them to glide. They eat nectar and will lick the nectar mix right off your fingers. It was the highlight of my day.

Me holding a Feather Tailed Glider

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So while my days at the Zoo are extremely tiring, I am finding them to be so rewarding, really interesting, engaging, and dynamic. No day is the same at the Zoo, and the animals behave differently every time so it keeps you on your toes. I am learning a lot and loving it!

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Create your own Canvas Prints!

This weekend I felt the ‘craft urge’ well up inside me. I think Pinterest had something to do with it.

I got the idea of transferring printed images onto wood, fabric, and canvas. I’ve always loved the look of photos on canvas, so I thought I’d give it a go using canvas. The original blog that I used for instructions can be found here, but I wanted to post it too because I don’t often have anything worth sharing to show for myself! I did black and white because I thought it would be easier for my trial and look more effective, but I think colour would work fine!

What you need:  I found all of the following at my local art supply store (except my photos!)

Stretched canvas ($2 ones from discount stores worked just as well as fancy ones for me)

Paintbrush

Printed image (using laser printer or copier, not inkjet)

Gel medium (I used Liquitex Matte Gel)

Water spray bottle or damp cloth

What to do:

1. Apply a nice layer of gel onto your canvas.

2. Take your printed image and place it face down on the gelled canvas. Important: Make sure you flip your image before printing if you want the final image to match the original photo! – if you don’t you’ll get a reversed image which I can’t stand (my chin looks all pointy and my nose too big when I’m flipped! – which is ironic, because in my mirror image I’m flipped too…). Smooth out all the bubbles, and leave it to dry completely (overnight).

3. Spray the back of the paper with water (or sponge it wet with a cloth) and rub rub rub with your fingers ’til all the paper comes away. You may need to add less water or let it dry a little more depending on how easy it is to pull away. Be careful not to scratch too hard over the photo because you can damage the image, though I didn’t find that to be much of a problem, and it can often add effect.

4. My images came out a lot cleaner than the original post suggested, so I decided to mess it up a little for that  imperfect rustic look. So here’s where you can add style by scratching away at the ink – I created a rugged edge look by going over the edges with my finger nails and the edge of a wooden ruler (anything would work).

5. Seal off the image with another layer of gel medium. (I’m not convinced that PVA glue wouldn’t work…I might try it for a cheaper alternative). I got a bit fancy with my brushstrokes towards the end and did some criss-crosses because it adds just a little bit more intrigue.

And you’re done! You can now proudly display your home-made canvases around your place, or give them away as gifts. Guess what my family’s getting for Christmas this year!

Ps. I have ink under my fingernails

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Invasion of the Guinea Pigs

We got Guinea Pigs!

It happened fairly suddenly. And fortuitous circumstances have meant that everything has worked out incredibly easily:

I work with animals at a University, and during a training session at one of the facilities the supervisor mentioned that they have Guinea Pigs coming out of their ears and that if anyone wants some to come pick some out at the end of the day! So during my lunch break I crossed my fingers and phoned my husband to ask if we could keep some. To my delight (and surprise) he agreed fairly easily (on the premise that I will be the one feeding them and cleaning their cage). So at the end of the day, I was shown into the holding room and told to ‘Take my pick’. So I spent a good twenty minutes exercising my very poor decision making skills trying to decide who would be my companions for the next few years. I eventually chose two sweet looking sisters, one agouti cinnamon coloured, and one white with brown patches on one eye and on her rump. They were too young to be weaned yet, so I had to wait two weeks before seeing them again.

Jupiter and Alba (on the right) with their mum and siblings two weeks before weaning. They're so tiny!

In that time I had to figure out what I was going to do about getting a house for them. Here’s where I got really lucky:

The Animal Services Unit where I work has recently been getting rid of a whole lot of equipment from the storage piles. So there are piles of boxes, cages, wire lids, water bottles, food hoppers, containers, etc. piled on the lawn waiting to be picked up by the garbage man. I call it the gold-mine. It took me about half an hour to squeeze my way through the stacks of cages and dig out one of the right size that was intact, as well as metal bases for the cage to sit in, one for inside the cage, and an extra one to cover the top if it rains. Plus 2 water bottles with bungs, bottle holders, a food hopper, a container with one side missing for a hut, and 2 pipes for them to hide in. To top it all off, I didn’t even have try to take it home with me on the train (we don’t have a car yet) – I just got it delivered to the facility that I just happen to live right next to on the weekly delivery truck that transports animals. Genius.

After the two weeks, having already set up their cage for them, the delivery truck turned up with my two baby Guinea Pigs (and about a months worth of food!). They were scared stiff and wouldn’t move even when picked up. They are precocious animals, but they had only just been taken away from their mum, and put in a box and in a truck, and then were being cuddled by a total stranger. So I took them home and left them alone to settle for a while.

I named the agouti one Jupiter, because she has beautiful tan swirly patches over her back that look like the storms of Jupiter. And after declining my husband’s wish to name the white one ‘Brown Eye’, I named her Alba, which means white in Latin and is the female form of Albus (I’m a nerd!). It’s also the name of the daughter in ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’, but I didn’t tell my husband that in fear that he would turn it down due to chick-flick association.

I’m so impressed with how comfortable they’ve become around us within just the week and a half that we’ve had them. I get them out of their cage often and let them run around on the bed or balcony where they can’t get stuck anywhere. They were hesitant at first, and are still very timid when experiencing something new, but as long as they know there is somewhere to hide if they need it, they have lots of fun running around and exploring.

Two things in particular has struck me about them. 1. They are so chatty! When they’re walking around or sitting where they can see anything, they constantly making chirpy squiggly soft noises. When they get a fright they make a ‘Drrrr’ noise and shrink up. And when they get to run around and explore they squeal with delight! It’s so cute. 2. The subtle differences in their personalities have shone through already: Alba is adventurous and will wander away fairly quickly to explore. She’s a bit of a risk-taker and will try to jump off my knees or the bed and fall to the floor if I don’t watch her. She can also be a bit of a bully and will nibble Jupiter and walk right over her if she’s in her path. Jupiter is more timid and sweet, and is gentler when she nibbles fingers. She’s very loyal though, and is happy to sit with you longer, and when she gets scared when she’s roaming on the bed, she will sprint right up to my face and burrow into my neck for safety. Makes my heart melt.

So far, I have only needed to spend a grand total of $10.50 on my Guinea Pigs, for four hand-towels to hold them in and to soak up any pee that they let loose, and a small ceramic food bowl. I’m very impressed with myself.

The only thing I wish they would do now is eat the treats I give them! They refuse to touch any of the lettuce, apple, carrot, sultanas, and tomato I give them, and will only eat hay or pellets. How am I supposed to train them to spin in circles and come when they’re called if I can’t reward them with treats?!

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A New Beginning

Hello there!

Welcome to my first ever blog post. It has taken me several days to muster up the courage to post something, given the new-found pressure I am feeling to sound interesting on the internet. Blogging means putting your opinions, thoughts, and activities out there, which I have not ever made a real habit of doing. But I thought that it might be time to expand on my brief and well thought-out Facebook statuses, and give myself an exercise in writing, imagination, and thinking deeper about what I believe.

So as my first note, I thought it would be appropriate to explain my blog name ‘Fishbulbasaur’, because I am adamant that you not think of it as ‘Fish-Bulbasaur’ (because that would be lame), but rather an amalgamation of the names ‘Fishbulb’ and ‘Bulbasaur’.

You see, at some point when I was signing up for some interesting webpage, my usual username was taken. So I was left thinking of what other alias I could go under (because I am opposed to ruining my usernames with numbers – Simba123!). I scanned through all my previous nicknames (I think there were 2…), and decided to go with ‘Fishbulb’. For some reason that I cannot remember (there may be no reason at all), my older brother got into the habit of calling me Fishbulb while we were still living at home. The name originates from ‘The Simpsons’ in the episode where Homer becomes accidentally famous in Japan as’ Mr Sparkle’, a mascot for dishwashing powder. His image was created coincidentally by merging an image of a fish with a lightbulb, both representing different companies which joined forces to create the dishwashing powder. After discovering this coincidence, Bart starts calling Homer ‘Fishbulb’.

So I typed this into my new website registration, and low and behold, the name was taken! (See? Fishbulb is cool!). So again, I was left thinking about how to adapt it, or what other name I could choose. I began to think of cartoons that I like, and Pokemon sprung to mind; the three starting Pokemon of course being Charmander, Squirtle, and Bulbasaur (Pikachu was just lucky). While Bulbasaur is in no way my favourite Pokemon, it dawned on me that I could smush the names Fishbulb and Bulbasaur together in order to create a unique name for myself that only true cartoon nerds will recognise!

So there is the story of how Fishbulbasaur came about. I have many ideas about what I can share with you through a blog: I intend to post recipes, photos that I take from around the world, work stories, other stories, and anything at all that I find to be interesting. Living overseas from my family and friends has caused a shift in my relationships towards internet based sharing, so while I don’t actually expect anyone at all to find what I have to say interesting enough to follow, hopefully some of you will benefit from my shared experiences, and will be able to know me and my current life better through my new blog! I can’t believe I just spend the last half hour talking about The Simpsons and Pokemon, but a blog must start somewhere right?

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