News and Notes from Around White Oak

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There20150807_145126 are things happening every day here at White Oak; from summer camp adventures to new animals and everything in between. So we thought it would be great to write some of the happenings down and share them with you. Because what happens at White Oak doesn’t necessarily need to stay at White Oak.

Welcome to our new Blog: News and Notes from around White Oak. We hope you enjoy our tales and (mis)adventures!

Farm to Table: White Oak’s Growing Garden

Since the beginning of my culinary career 5 years ago I’ve been a big supporter of the Farm-to-Table movement. I grew up in a small Midwestern town where we relied heavily on the local farmers for everything from produce, to milk, to meat, and I’ve always been drawn to companies that operate under that philosophy. When I moved back to the area from Dallas in October and stumbled across the job posting for White Oak, it was the perfect match. I’d heard about the property before and did a little research and was ecstatic to receive the job offer less than a week after applying.

There’s something very satisfying about being able to tell our guests that most of the items on their plate began in our modest garden, and although we aren’t completely self-sustainable yet, we’ve got a great start. I drive past the garden every morning on my way to the café and although it was here before I was, there’s a sense of personal pride that I work for a company that cares so much about the quality of the food that we serve that they decided we should be responsible for it in every stage, from planting, to harvesting, to the perfect seasoning and plate presentation.

  

In the future we hope to be able to operate almost entirely on produce grown on property, and we’re always looking for newer and better techniques for tending to our crops, as well as new varieties to plant. I’m personally hoping to be able to have some edible lavender and roses planted soon, as well as some exotic fruits so I can really step up my flavor game in the pastry department! I’m looking forward to the day I can present a dessert sourced almost entirely from the efforts and skills of the talented staff here at White Oak.

Carmen Staudenmaier, Pastry Chef 

A Day in the Life of a Veterinary Technician Intern

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a veterinary technician… for cheetahs? Or rhinos? No, those are not the animals you see at your every day animal clinic. Unless, of course, it is at the animal clinic at White Oak. Meet Corinne Gentile, LVT, who has been the Veterinary Technician Intern for the last six months here at White Oak. Corrine was kind enough to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) to share her experiences working with the animals (and the people) that call White Oak home. Enjoy.

Sometimes I have to just stop and think about the magnitude of the position that I am in. It is beyond recognition being able to work every day with a multitude of endangered exotic species while obtaining invaluable experience to further my career goal of becoming a zoo veterinary technician.

lvtIIILet’s start from the beginning, when I stumbled upon this internship listing. I knew it would be an incredible opportunity for me so I spent a couple of years building upon my small animal medicine skills, ensuring I would be ready to apply that knowledge to larger exotic animals. When the time was right, I filled out the application, sent it in, and anxiously awaited a response. After what seemed like an eternity, I had an interview and then received the email of acceptance for the position shortly after. I couldn’t believe it. I was off to Florida for six months of career building, training and knowledge.

My first week I was working with Cheetah cubs and Rhinos. lvtIIJust being able to take part in the procedures was incredible. Soon after learning my responsibilities and internship role at White Oak, I realized just how important this program was.

My first exciting, and somewhat nerve-racking, moment was a hoofstock immobilization for an annual exam, including bloodwork and treatments. The morning of the immobilization, the rest of the vet staff and I met for our daily morning meeting to discuss the proceedings for that day. I began prepping for the field procedure, and for the first time, I packed up the vet truck with supplies.

lvt Driving over to the corrals, I felt the nerves and excitement building. We met up with the keepers and I listened intently as they described how we were going to proceed. It was incredible seeing the organization of steps to make everything run smoothly. Working as one well-oiled machine, everyone stepped in and did what was needed. When it was all over and the animal was safely awake, I took a moment to reflect on how incredible it all was. I knew I would gain much more hands-on experience as I went along; experience that I could probably not get elsewhere.

Being able to play such a significant role in the health and safety of the animal was such an indescribable feeling. Knowing the amount of responsibility and trust that the staff instilled in me is beyond what I ever expected. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would get the level of hands-on experience and knowledge that I did from my six months during the White Oak Vet Tech internship. The experience that I have gained from this internship has been beyond anything I could have hoped for.

Corinne Gentile – LVT, Veterinary Technician Intern, January 2016 – July 2016

Grasshopper Sparrows get a Housecleaning…

During the first week of March, White Oak staff did a prescribed burn on a field of native grasses that surround our grasshopper sparrow enclosures. The prescribed burn was an important effort to replicate the natural fire regime that this habitat, and the species that live there, requires to thrive. We also burned patches of grasses within the sparrow enclosures, as the subsequent bare patches are preferred by the birds according to wildlife biologists. The male sparrows were singing before, during, and after the prescribed burns, confirming that the process was not stressful on the birds and that it is a natural occurrence to which they are well adapted.

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In the wild, grasshopper sparrows prefer to inhabit recently burned grassland. Prescribed burning has been shown to improve flower and seed production, and insect numbers also increase after many fires. Grasshopper sparrows eat mostly insects and some seeds, so we hope that by using prescribed fire we will increase the available natural diet. This, along with conditioning the birds to natural environmental factors like fire, may help the birds survive when they’re released back into the wild, which is the ultimate goal of the project.

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It’s a Boy… and a Girl… and Two Boys and a Girl!

White Oak has had another baby boom! in the past two months we have had two rhino calves and a litter of cheetahs born. We are very excited about all of them.

Just before Thanksgiving, the third white rhino calf to of the year was born to our female, Kelly, who was also born at White Oak. The calf, a little male, has now joined the herd with his older ‘siblings’ that were born a few months ago.  IMG_0036a

Right after Thanksgiving, our Indian rhino, Chitwan, gave birth to a little female. This is Chitwan’s second calf to be born at White Oak. Indian rhino calves are born fully equipped with the distinctive skin folds that give the Indian rhino its iconic look. IMG_1024a IMG_88911

And last but not least, say hello to the latest litter of cheetahs to be born at White Oak. The two boys and one girl were born to Karamel, a five-year-old cheetah who was also born at White Oak. There have now been 133 cheetahs born here. And it never gets old. Check out this great video of our first peek at the cubs when they were only a few days old.

Yep. Babies are  booming all over the place at White Oak.

 

Stephanie Rutan, Senior Education Specialist.

 

White Oak Hosts a Workshop for Carnivore Keepers

White Oak promotes endeavors in conservation through innovative science, education, training and collaboration. Recently, we hosted a cheetah and maned wolf husbandry and management workshop involving both Dickerson Park Zoo and Denver Zoo carnivore keepers. Here is a short blog by Animal Care Specialist Sophia Tribuzio about the workshop.

We shared the successful techniques we use to manage and breed both cheetah and maned wolves. The keepers were given the opportunity to have a very hands-on training experience aiding in moves, blood draws, and even an annual exam (below).

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Many of our techniques enable us to accomplish training goals without investing massive amounts of time. For example, the design of the maned wolf enclosure allows for minimal training but optimal management. There is a small alleyway or chute with a small guillotine style door on the end. On the other side of the door is a squeeze crate. Maned wolves are known for their shy demeanor, so when they are walked into this area, they are looking for a small dark place to hide leading them into the squeeze crate (below). Once in the crate, the wolf can be weighed, hand injected for vaccination or immobilization and/or moved to another enclosure or facility. This has minimal stress on the animal and can be quickly done at any time without prior training.  (If only this could be done with a cheetah!) White Oak emphasizes the importance of natural behavior and applies it to everything from enclosure design to management style.

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White Oak Animal Care Specialists Alexandria (left) and Sophia Tribuzio demonstrate how to use a squeeze crate.

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Alexandria and Sophia condition a cheetah to sit on a scale for weighing. Even some humans aren’t that willing!

When it comes to cheetah, we rely heavily on the individual cheetah personality and willingness to accomplish a trained behavior (above). There were some procedures we demonstrated during the workshop that we had never tried with an individual, this allowed us to discuss and plan a keeper and animal training protocol during the workshop.

Some of these ‘White Oak secrets’ took years to establish but we need to work together to save species, which means sharing secrets. White Oak invites people from around the world to train with us, learn from us and help up protect wildlife and wild places. Our work is too important to do alone.

Sophia Tribuzio, Animal Care Specialist 

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It wasn’t all work and no play while the staff from Dickerson Park and Denver were here. They found time to visit the beautiful beaches of Amelia Island as well! Left to right: Karen Meeks, Collection Manager, White Oak; Alexandria Sharkey, Animal Care Specialist, White Oak; Jordan Schimming, Denver Zoo; Lisl Hufford, Dickerson Park Zoo; Sophia Tribuzio, Animal Care Specialist, White Oak; and Shelia Samek, Dickerson Park Zoo.

Interns at White Oak: Justin Birkhoff

Justin Birkhoff has been at White Oak since January 2015 as our Management Intern, which is a year long program. He has had many adventures since arriving. Below are just a few

My path to White Oak started almost a year ago when I found the listing for a Conservation Management internship. I was sitting in my flat in London, recently finished with a master’s degree, looking for my next move when I clicked on the link to a position that read like a checklist of everything that I was looking for; an internship that was going to furnish me with skills to carry forward into the rest of my career. I had heard of White Oak when I was a zookeeper due to its reputation as one of the premier cheetah breeding centers in the United States, but I didn’t know much else about it. Diving into the website I found it to be so much more than just a cheetah center, it was a conservation center at the forefront of captive breeding, with strong ties to conservation in the field and a facility that had strong relationships within the zoo community. The more I read, the more I knew that this was the position I needed to try for. I gathered my resume, wrote a cover letter and crossed my fingers as I hit send.

There was nothing as nerve-wracking as hitting send on that email. The process is out of your hands, all you can do is wait and I did, for what seemed like forever. For me the waiting paid off, and I was offered a phone interview, followed by a second phone interview discussing my desires and goals, and then more waiting. Eventually an email came, the internship was mine. I was off to White Oak for the next year.

I arrived the second week of January, unsure of what to expect. My first day had some definite highlights. I was pleasantly surprised to find a familiar face. One of the tour guides was a former colleague of mine, a flashback to my first job in the field at a safari park in California. Much to everyone’s surprise we greeted each other with a big hug. 

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Justin holds the hoof of a Somali wild ass for trimming.

My internship has been a whirlwind, a wealth of experiences in a dynamic place, working alongside dedicated and passionate people. I started off working in the various animal sections, learning new skills, like hand grabbing antelope for procedures and how to avoid getting attacked by a crane. Reproductive management is at the center of what White Oak does and I was able to learn some of the techniques to improve success in species that are difficult to breed in captivity. One memorable experience was an okapi breeding introduction that resulted in vocalizations I didn’t realize the notoriously silent species made. This was accompanied by a play-by-play narration by one of the animal care specialists explaining the finer details of what was occurring, just in case I was missing any of the action. I have been fortunate to participate in and observe cheetah breeding, the process of pairing two cats together that generally live solitary lives. There are individual variances in subtle behaviors from the females that show they are biologically ready and a distinct stutter bark call from the male when he has found the scent that he is looking for. All the pieces need to be in place in order to put two cats together with the intent of producing a litter of tiny spotted kittens 92 days later. There are a small handful of institutions in the United States that breed cheetahs successfully, and few have the patience and experience that the carnivore team here at White Oak does in getting the job done. The knowledge gained from observing the breeding techniques and asking questions, is unrivaled.

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Justin and keeper intern Katie Story hold Mississippi sandhill crane chicks for their health assessments. The goggles are not for the chicks… they are for protection from the chicks’ parents which don’t always take kindly to keeper interventions. They chicks were returned to their parents safe and sound. And Justin and Katie also came out intact.

Education at White Oak is not just for the staff and the interns, it extends to our guests as well. Education is one of the most powerful tools in conservation. If the public is not informed, how will they ever make choices to illicit change? One of the more exciting ways that we discuss conservation here is through cheetah runs and rhino encounters. Guests get to experience the power, and speed of a cheetah running at full tilt, thundering across a field as they chased a lure, or meet some of our rhinos up close and personal. The tangible and visceral experiences are paired with a talk about natural history and conservation. I was able to give these presentations, entrusted to stand in front of an assembled group of summer campers or visiting guests and convey our message.

When I started this journey it seemed like a year would be a phenomenally long period of time. As I sit here writing this I realize how truly short a year can be. It seems like just a few weeks ago I was driving down the dirt drive for the first time, soaking in the amazing piece of property around me. I look forward to spending my last few months here with even more new experiences, including the exciting world of fundraising and proposal writing. As a management intern I get to learn more about the administrative aspects of running a conservation center. I look forward to taking all of my experiences with me as I move forward with my career. There is always tomorrow to look forward to, because no matter what it will never be exactly the same as today, but for the time being today is pretty awesome.

Justin Birkhoff, Management Intern

Stay tuned to our blog for when Justin gives us updates of his continuing adventures at White Oak…

 

It’s a Boy!

On August 27th, 2015, a male white rhino was born to one of our females here at White Oak. The calf is the second one to be born in less than a month! His ‘older’ half sister was born on August 12th and you can see photos of her on our previous blog.  We are pretty excited about it, to say the least.

This is the third calf for his mother, who was also born at White Oak fourteen years ago and he represents a long history of breeding white rhinos here at White Oak. To date, there have been 30 white rhinos born here beginning in 1994.

20150831_151537Did you know that white rhino calves can weigh over 100 lbs. at birth? But then their mothers can weigh almost 5,000 lbs!  Like giraffes and zebras, rhino calves get up and begin following their mothers within two hours of birth, rather than ‘hiding’ like many antelope species do. Their size of their feet at birth is partly due to the gelatinous perioplic membrane (say that five times fast) that covers the bottoms of their feet and protects the birth canal during birth. The membrane sheds off in a few days.

Rhino calves will nurse off their mothers for up to 18 months, but will start trying other foods like hay and grass at a very young age. The milk of a female white rhino is low in fat and high in lactose (a good source of energy) compared to the Indian rhino’s milk (learn more here).

This little guy will reach his full adult size in about 5 years. Hard to imagine that right now. If you get a chance to visit him, be sure to do it before he grows up. You have five years.

-Stephanie Rutan, Education Specialist