Zookeeper Hacks Series (Part 2)

Zookeepers are excellent in creating innovative and simple solutions to daily challenges in zoo life. Because many zoos have limited (financial) resources, zookeepers need to find ways to make alternatives to make their work easier. In this series, I will share these brilliant hacks, often very simple solution so that you can use them at your facility as well. In the second part of this series, we check out a solution to easy weigh primates, use leftovers to make enrichment treats, a genius solution to check feet condition, and more!

Hack #7 Easy weighing setup for your primate (and more animals)

Left photo credit: Will Montiel, Miami Zoo

Problem: Regular weighing of animals is essential as a health parameter to check the welfare of our animals. But it is not always easy to get animals completely on a commercially available scale. At least all four paws need to be on the scale, and the tail needs to be on too. At the same time, not all animals like to be on a flat surface or don’t like to be on the ground for weighing. 

Solution: You can change the environment of the scale, so it is easier for the animal to get entirely on the scale. By creating a module that fits on the scale, it will be easier and more pleasant for an animal to get on. Different setups are needed for various species of animals. For primates and some other animals with long tails, it would be best practice to create a hanging module, so the tail does not touch the ground. The photos are a grasp of the possibilities.

Hack #8 Use pellet crums to make enrichment treats

Credits to Charlotte Fawkes

Problem: The last bits in a bag of pellets are always pulverized to dust. These crums can not always be fed directly to animals, but it is better to use it instead of throwing away.

Solution: Using the powder or tiny bits leftover from pellet feed bags (I have used ‘dust’ from omnivore pellet and primate pellets) you can make some treat balls

You can mix the ‘dust’ with a variety of different things, depending on the animals you are making them for. I normally use a mixture of mashed banana, beaten eggs and mashed sweet potato (skinned and cooked). If you have a good blender, you can always make your own ‘dust’ by blending up food pellets too.

Mix ingredients together and form into a ball, the mixture should be fairly firm, like biscuit dough. Mould into smaller balls by rolling in between your palms or push firmly into a shallow layer in a tub. Leave overnight in the fridge and cut up into pieces (if using a tub) in the morning!

Hack #9 Small bale storage solution

Credits to Micala Teetzen, Sedgwick County Zoo

Problem: Small hay storage makes a mess in service areas and is very attractive for pests animals, which affect the quality of bales. 

Solution: A square trash can is a perfect size to hold a bale of hay on its end. Cut the wire/string and fold it out of the way. The wire comes in handy later to pull up the last few flakes from the bottom of the can. A trash can with wheels is even better, making it easy to transport the full bale to the service area. If the lid is separate (not hinged), it can also be used as a “serving platter”, to transport a flake or two of hay to the exhibit or stall without leaving a trail down your hallway to sweep up later. The trash can could even be wheeled down a hallway as a hay delivery cart. Storing hay this way is MUCH neater, plus it keeps mice out of your hay. 

Square trash cans are also perfect for storing opened food bags of pellets and keep mice out of eating the pellets, affecting the quality and hygiene of your food. 

An example of such a square trash bin can be found here.

Hack #10 Lighten areas when training (nocturnal) animals

Problem: When training animals, a good vision at your animals is crucial. When training animals in darker areas, with not enough light, or when training nocturnal animals, this can be a challenge. 

Solution: Using a simple camping light can be used to make the area lighter and ensure excellent visibility on your animal. Using a snap hook makes it easy to hang near the area you plan to train the animal. Many camping lights have to feature to turn on a red light. This feature is perfect when training nocturnal animals because it is less troublesome to the eyes of them.

When searching for a camping light, makes sure it is made of LED. With LED it works for a long time on one battery charge. Another feature that we can recommend is that it is waterproof (IPX65). 

Hack #11 Removable mesh drain cover

Credits to Micala Teetzen, Sedgwick County Zoo

Problem: The pipe gets clogged because too much debris washes down the drain when emptying a pool or cleaning an exhibit.

Solution: Make a removable mesh drain cover out of 1″ x 1″ plastic-coated mesh. You will need two pieces of mesh. Bend one piece into a cylinder slightly smaller than the diameter of the drain pipe. Zip-tie it to hold the shape. Centre the cylinder on the other square of mesh and zip-tie it in place as shown. 

If the pool is too dirty to see the drain to place the drain cover accurately, the cover works just as well upside down, too!

Hack #12 Foot condition with mirror box

Video credits to Barbara Heidenreich. Melbourne Zoo has a similar setup. See also a video of their setup.

Problem: With birds, it can be necessary to check the feet condition regularly. To do so, you have to look under the feet. In addition, you check how the animal is positioning its feet, too. But this can be difficult without catching and handling every individual animal. 

Solution: Create a mirror box to check underneath the feet easily. Make a simple square frame of wood. It would be best to take a wood type that can withstand water and won’t rot immediately. Take a mirror and mount it with an angle inside the box. Cover the box with a plate of plexiglass where the animal will stand on. Make it in such a way that it can easily be cleaned and that the surface is big enough for the animal to stand on comfortably. 

You can lure or train your animal to stand on the mirror box so you can check the feet condition and feet position of the animal with the help of the mirror. This setup is perfect for checking for wounds or bumblefoot. 

Let me know your zookeeper hacks

I hope this inspires to create hacks for your challenges as a zookeeper. But I am also curious about your zookeeper hacks. I know many zookeepers are creative in finding the simple but perfect solutions for problems and challenges we encounter in our daily work. If you have such a zookeeper hack, I would really appreciate it if you share it with me at info@zoosnippets.com. Please send me a picture with a short description, and I will add it in one of the next parts of the zookeeper hacks series. 

Do you have additional solutions to the problems mentioned above? Please let me know in the comments below! I really like to hear the genius solution you have thought of. 

See also part 1 of this series with more zookeeper hacks!

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