Sunday, January 27, 2013

Goodbye Hudson!

CEO John Tracogna on Undercover Boss
One especially nice thing that our Volunteer Coordinator, Karen Conway, has arranged for us this month is a tour of the Nutrition Centre at the Zoo. This is a very rare privilege and I hope that our whole class takes advantage of it while they can. We had several days to choose from but each day's tour group was limited to fifteen people maximum—many existing Volunteers signed up as well—so it was difficult to find an opening. I decided to book it for yesterday, a Saturday, in the hopes that it would be a bit calmer and it was. As it was also the final weekend at the Zoo for our beloved polar bear cub, Hudson, who is leaving Monday for the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg, Sarah came with me and did her own thing while I was on the tour. I took copious and quite detailed notes on the experience but I get the impression that the Zoo would be most happy if I didn't share too much of the specifics of the centre's operations. If you have a chance to watch the very first episode of Undercover Boss: Canada you will see the CEO, John Tracogna, working at the centre for part of the show. I can report that the mural that was commissioned for the centre at the end of that segment is really quite nice. I wish I could show it to you, but I can't find a single picture of it on the web. (The Zoo has some pretty severe privacy issues with their behind-the-scenes tours.) In general terms, the work that goes on every day with respect to food preparation is astonishing. The budget for animal sustenance is approximately $900,000 per year, which is almost perfectly offset by the yearly revenues from the parking charges. We were quite lucky yesterday: owing to quite a few people being off for various health or family reasons, the two "big cheeses" at the centre, Jaap Wensvoort and Karen Alexander, were the only two people working so we got our information straight from the top. There was a very good article in Maclean's a couple of years back concerning Jaap's "browse diet" for the gorillas; there are many other innovations and concoctions that the Toronto Zoo's nutritionists have come up with over the years, some of which they receive royalties on when they sell them to other zoos. It was a fascinating tour and I'm really glad I participated!

Hudson with a tasty treat
After the tour was over I met up with Sarah (who had spent much of her time in a couple of warm pavilions) at the beginning of the Tundra Trek. We had a bit of a false start as I realized I had left my name tag attached to the lab coat I had put on for the tour, so I had to race back and get it before it disappeared. When I returned I was greeted with the amazing sound of the Arctic wolves in full howl; Sarah told me a train had gone past in the distance and sounded its whistle, which set them off. I filmed a short video of the concert which I'll post a bit later on this page. When they were done, Sarah and I headed to the polar bear exhibit, which was the focus of most of the visitors' attention this weekend. The Zoo wants to bring Inukshuk, Hudson's father, back to pair up with Aurora and Nikita to hopefully produce a few more cubs in the next couple of years. Hudson, for his part, is now fifteen months old and getting to be too big for his "pen"; he cannot be put in the same enclosure as the two sisters (one of which, Aurora, is his mother) so his options were severely limited. The zoo in Winnipeg will be opening a brand-new exhibit next year called Journey to Churchill where Hudson will be the star attraction. In the meantime, they want to acclimatize him to their zoo and he will become the first polar bear to live at their International Polar Bear Conservation Centre, where he will stay for about a year. Because Hudson is used to being a solitary bear, he should fare very well in his new home. I hope the good folks in Winnipeg fall in love with him the way everybody here seemed to. Yesterday we timed our goodbye visit perfectly so we could watch Hudson interact with the keepers one last time, which was a bittersweet event to be sure. Well, for us it was: the keepers still have today to work with Hudson before he takes his leave on Monday. In any event, I snapped off a whole passel of pictures; here are just a few I really liked (including the one above).

Here's Hudson grabbing a drink of water from the flowing hose...

                      ...and then playing with it...

                                           ...and finally mugging for his fans:

His mom, Aurora, was oblivious to the unusual throngs of people (unusual for this time of year), as she snoozed away in the warm sunlight:

Aurora, Hudson's mom

As promised, here is the video of the wolf howl. It's not easy to spot the animals themselves: I didn't want to take a chance on missing it so I just filmed where I stood. If you peer through the trees in the approximate middle of the screen you should be able to make out one of the wolves, who seemed to be the "Alpha Dog". But the sound of this just goes right through you, doesn't it?

It had already been a moderately full day for us when we left the Tundra Trek so we headed back to the car for the journey home. We did make one more stop, though: at the Americas pavilion. I have a presentation to give this coming Friday on the black-tailed prairie dog, giant Pacific octopus and spectacled owl; I wanted to check them out and make a few notes on their locations relative to each other so I won't get lost while giving the "tour"! While we were there we stopped to check out the primates in the pavilion; as usual, the common marmosets and the 2-toed sloth were having a hopping good time together:

Sloth and marmosets, just hangin' out
Common marmoset

Also, apropos of nothing in particular, here is a beautiful photo of a Nile soft-shelled turtle which I took during the plant tour last week but have neglected to post here before now:

Nile soft-shelled turtle

I will be spending a good portion of the upcoming week working on my three presentations. I'll post them here, one at a time, when I feel they are at the point where I can do so.

Pretty soon you all can become Zoo Volunteers without having to attend any classes, just by following along with my blog!

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