Lake Superior Zoo, Duluth, Minnesota

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

New! Goulds Monitor
Written By: Zookeeper Lizzy

I think we can all agree that it is exciting to see new critters at the zoo! They add new personalities and adventure. One of our newest members of the family is our baby Goulds Monitor in our Australian Connections building. The first thing to think about is the animal’s new home.

To give our animals the best care possible we try to make their exhibits as natural as possible. This includes substrate, rocks, plants, temperature, and terrain similar to their natural habitat. Each item in an exhibit is thought out carefully and strategically placed. For example, a visitor might notice a pile of gray rocks in a terrarium and think nothing of it where as I see a strategically placed rock formation so that none will come loose and fall on the animal. We have placed them a foot below the terrarium lid where the heat lamp sits. This gives the animal ample basking space, regulates the heat and allows the animal to be close to the UV light fixture for natural sunlight. The rocks are also at a gradual incline so the animal can easily move up and down as well as provide space underneath for two to lie together. Not quite an ordinary pile of rocks, huh?

When I first found out I would be designing the new exhibit for the Goulds Monitor I began researching their habitat. A sandy substrate and temperatures in the high 70’s seemed straight forward but one thing stumped me; they live in burrows! It wouldn’t be very fun for visitors to come see a lizard that was in an underground burrow all day so I had to be creative. I decided I would make a burrow against the glass of the exhibit so guests can see him in his home. Thinking of the idea was the easy part…now I had to make it.

I decided to make the burrow out of carved Styrofoam. I used 3 cubes of Styrofoam and connected them together so the burrow would be large enough for him to fit comfortably inside. I used a soldering iron to carve the piece of the burrow that would be taken out. I then used a spoon to dig out the inside. Next I smoothed out all the edges with a file. I wanted it to look like a hill so it would look natural as well as give him a spot to bask so I gradually carved down the sides with the soldering iron and smoothed them out with the file.

Green Styrofoam in an exhibit is not very appealing so I used spray glue and adhered sand to the outside so it looked natural. Finally, it was time to put the burrow in the exhibit. I covered the exhibit floor with the same sand I used on the burrow and added some rocks for basking as well as some natural decorative plants.

When we moved the little guy up to his new home he was a little wary at first. He has now settled in nicely and is sleeping soundly in his specially designed burrow! I hope you can come see him soon.

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Sunday, July 18, 2010


Space and Visibility?
Written by: Zookeeper Lizzy

I recently read through our visitor surveys and the two biggest suggestions people had were to make the animals more visible and to give them bigger exhibits. These are both very important and probably the two biggest things zookeepers work on everyday. Sometimes it is very hard to make both of these suggestions work. When animals have very large exhibits it is often times very hard to see them because somehow animals can always find that one little spot of shade and they curl up and fall asleep! As zookeepers it is our job to try and persuade the animals to sit in spots where our guests can easily see them.

Take the Bald Eagle, Liberty, for example. I often look at his exhibit and try to think of new places to put perches where he will feel comfortable standing but is also readily visible. We never force our animals to do anything they don’t want to do so if they choose to lay in that back corner to sleep make sure you stop and take a good hard look around the exhibit to try and see them. All animals are great with camouflage even in a man made exhibit.

Some of the animals that are easier to see do have a little bit smaller exhibits. It would be great if we could give all the animals acres and acres to roam. To make up for smaller spaces we give the animals lots of enrichment! Enrichment is a fancy way of saying that we give them something different to explore, play with or eat everyday. For example, one day we’ll give the lions a toy and the next day we’ll give them a bone. Some days we even hide another animal’s fur around their exhibit so they have to investigate the strange smell. We do this to make their days as fun and exciting as possible. So if you’re ever walking by an exhibit and see something strange it is probably a new toy for our furry friends!

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Sod Day!
Written by: Zookeeper Mary Warner
The other day my morning started off with a wonderful surprise... sod! Just as they had last year, the City of Duluth's Parks and Recreation Department donated unused sod to the zoo. I know sod doesn’t sound very exciting to the average person (unless you happen to be doing some landscaping) but here at the zoo sod is a big deal!

Many of our exhibits are twenty or more years old and were built with a budget in mind. What does this mean? It means concrete, and a lot of it. So when sod comes to the zoo it's quite exciting. Sod presents our animals with novel textures, scents, and even tastes!

The first animals to receive the sod were our two silver fox. The boys loved it. They shoved their noses in it, rubbed and rolled on it, and chased each other around and around their habitat as they often do after getting something new. They continued their playful antics for hours- sod success!

Then it was the North American River Otters who received some sod. I love giving new things to the otters because you never know what will happen! However, sod is one of their favorites. Both otters (after finishing their morning fish) scrambled over to the sod, smelled it, walked over it, and then started manipulating it. One was biting it amd trying to pull it in the water, while the other tried to pull it overhead into a sod tunnel. Throughout the day, they continued to utilize it for play and as a comfy sleeping pad!


Sod day continued, with some surprising results. Harry, the snow leopard, reacted positively by laying down and rubbing on it. This might seem like a small success, but Harry is one of our hardest animals to enrich so anytime he interacts with new stimuli we're thrilled! The Siberian lynx, Felix, didn't care too much... oh well, we can't win every time. And Trouble, the infamous Grizzly bear, made such a mess it took 3 keepers almost an hour to clean up the next day! The bat eared fox kits (now 5 months old) let Dad check it out first, then climbed on to search for any possible insects crawling around (nummy!). Even our puma got in on the action, but of course, not while anyone was watching (in typical cat style!).

Many thanks go to our friends at the Parks department who made this wonderful day possible!

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