May 2015 Newsletter

 May 2015

What's New

The Animal Behavior Institute is proud to announce that two new benefits are available to students in the Zoo & Aquarium Science program.  Current students are eligible for Student Memberships in the American Association of Zoo Keepers. Membership provides many valuable benefits, such as an annual subscription to their publication, the Animal Keepers Forum,  access to the Members Only portions of their website, and discounted rates on conferences, publications, and other products.

Students can also receive a 15% discount on the conference registration for the upcoming annual meeting of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums this September. Contact our office for more information on these exciting new benefits.


Do Animals Experience Optical Illusions?

Take a look at the red circles in each of these images. Is one larger than the other? If you’re like most people, the one on the left appears smaller than the one on the right. However, they are actually the same size. This optical illusion tricks our brains into seeing something that is not really there. You may wonder whether animals’ brains fall for the same tricks. This would reveal a great deal about the way animal minds work. But how could we test whether animals experience optical illusions?

One approach is to train a fish to select the larger of two circles in order to get a reward, as scientists did at the University of Trento in Italy. Once the fish mastered this behavior using isolated circles they were presented with this optical illusion. Astonishingly, the fish regularly chose the circle that appears larger to us as well. This experiment works just as well in reverse; fish trained to go to the smaller circle chose the circle that appears smaller in the illusion. Similarly, birds also show evidence of responding to optical illusions, indicating that birds, humans and fish all have a common ancestor that shared this way of interpreting visual stimuli.

It was once believed that only primates could see the illusions that we do; however, over the last few years, it has been demonstrated that birds, dolphins and even bees have the ability to see a range of illusions. This may be due to evolutionary convergence: unrelated species independently evolving similar systems of vision and perception. Alternatively, this diverse group of species may have inherited this perceptual system from a common ancestor, indicating that we have more in common with the rest of the animal kingdom than we usually think.

Another popular illusion is the Rotating Snakes. This image appears to be moving due to the shape of the design.  We see this movement because our brains use a shortcut to take in a whole picture instead of every line individually. Many animals from zebra fish to household cats detect this motion. In fact, one owner created this video of his cat playing with the optical illusion - trying to pin down the “moving” parts.

Cat Playing with an Optical Illusion

While optical illusions can be great fun, they also give us incredible insight into how our brains work, and now, how animal brains work. The brain’s mechanisms for perceiving reality are wired to be efficient, but taking shortcuts can sometimes lead to mistakes. These patterns of mistakes indicate shared experiences and common cognitive connections across the animal kingdom. There has even been a published paper on cats and the Rotating Snake Illusion. Check it out below!

Publication: Cats and the Rotating Snake Illusion



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What to Expect in a Wildlife Rehabilitation Internship

One of the first steps to becoming a wildlife rehabilitator is to start building your knowledge by gaining experience in the field. Volunteer and internship positions are some of the best ways for aspiring wildlife rehabilitators to begin the path to the career of their dreams. Internships allow students to learn from professionals, make connections in the field, and experience the work environment they will have in their own careers. Internships are a great way to gain professional skills and learn in a hands-on setting that a classroom cannot provide.  

There are hundreds organizations where you can intern, ranging from general wildlife rehabilitation to specific animals like chimpanzees or elephants. If you are particularly interested in a specific animal, search for sanctuaries dedicated to that species. For example, the Alaska Raptor Rehabilitation Center is the leading medical treatment center for birds of prey in Alaska. Interning there would give anyone interested in birds a valuable edge in the competitive job field.  However, there are also many general organizations that work with animals in the area, nursing injured and sick wildlife back to health.

Regardless of the type of internship, most facilities will have related requirements. Most clinics require interns to be at least 18 years of age. They require a serious time commitment, often ranging from 30 to 40 hours per week. Some internships may provide transportation and housing while others do not. A background in natural science, medical care, and wildlife is helpful for nearly any position.

The responsibilities of an intern vary as well, but most will care for wildlife while working with other staff members and volunteers. They will learn a variety of job skills such as species identification and natural history, proper husbandry and enrichment techniques, animal handling, tube feeding, medication administration, lab work, and various other procedures. Interns may also work with the public to give presentations and educate people about animal science. They will frequently interact with visitors, explain animal activity, and answer questions. In addition, interns will often prepare food, feed animals, clean the facilities, and maintain records. Occasionally, they will plan and implement programs within the organization or work with staff to do research in the field.

It is important to keep in mind that the job of a wildlife rehabilitator is intense, physically demanding, fast paced and repetitive. This job is not for everyone and you must be prepared to work hard for an internship in wildlife rehabilitation. Working with sick and injured animals can be emotionally as well as physically taxing. The advantage of an internship is that you can experience the job before committing to a career in it.

If you are interested in working with animals as a wildlife rehabilitator, getting an internship in the field is a valuable first step. Internships not only build resumes, but also add an important component of career training that compliments classes. To prepare for a successful and exciting career working with animals, begin with an internship in wildlife rehabilitation. For a sneak peak into the life of a wildlife rehabilitator, click the link below and enter the world of rehabbers working in a sloth orphanage.

Baby Sloth Orphanage and Rescue Center

Read more about internships in wildlife rehabilitation in next month’s newsletter!


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Bowling for Rhinos

Clara the rhinoceros was only a few weeks old when hunters shot and killed her mother, leaving her helpless and abandoned. Sadly, this is quite common as hunters kill rhinos in order to sell their horns. However, Clara’s story didn’t end there. The Director of the Dutch East India Company, Jan Albert Sichterman, adopted her in the mid 1700s. Having been exposed to humans at such a young age, Clara became a friendly household pet and would roam around Sichterman’s house just like a dog! As she began to outgrow her surroundings, Clara was adopted by Douwemunt Van der Meer, the captain of the Knappenhof. Van der Meer took Clara home with him to the Netherlands that same year. Upon arrival, he began showing Clara to the public and letting her interact with other humans. She gained popularity extremely quickly, so that Van der Meer soon quit his job as a sailor and began touring Europe with Clara. The two of them visited the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Poland, France, Italy, Denmark and England. Clara attracted hundreds of spectators over the course of her lifetime, including several members of royalty. Clara’s European travels are documented in a book called “Clara’s Grand Tour” by Glynis Ridley.

During Clara’s lifetime, there were more species of rhinoceros than the five that remain today. The white, black, greater one-horned, Sumatran and Javan rhinos are all endangered. Though they have survived on Earth for 50 million years, rhinos’ large horn and thick hide are no match for a bullet from a high powered rifle. The rhino is killed for its horn, which is used in carved ornaments and in medicine. Though rhino horns are used for medicinal purposes, they have never been proven to have medical properties or been prescribed as an aphrodisiac in traditional Chinese medicine

Zoo Celebrates Birth of Endangered Black Rhino

Poaching has become so extreme that rhinos cannot survive outside of protected sanctuaries; it has been estimated that three rhinos are killed per day in Africa. And poachers aren’t the only threat. The demand for palm oil in Indonesia is destroying rhino habitat. Since 1970, the world’s rhino population has decreased by 90%. Two rhino species have been declared extinct in the last ten years alone. Only a few rhinos remain in captivity

In response to the rhino crisis, the American Association of Zoo Keepers runs a fundraiser called Bowling For Rhinos. Bowling For Rhinos is a fundraising bowl-a-thon that raises money for the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya, Ujung Kulon National Park in Java, Indonesia; Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park and Way Kambas in Sumatra; and Action for Cheetahs in Kenya. These sanctuaries not only save rhinos but also entire ecosystems that support rhinos and other wildlife. Over 80 chapters of the American Association of Zoo Keepers participate in Bowling For Rhinos throughout the US and Canada raising over $500,000 annually.

In addition to Bowling for Rhinos, you can also participate in World Rhino Day on September 22nd as part of a campaign to help save rhinos from extinction. Besides donating, people are encouraged to have their own World Rhino Day events, promote the day online by using the hashtag #worldrhinoday, sending in World Rhino Day photos and videos, and purchasing a World Rhino Day calendar, the proceeds of which will benefit the Sumatran rhino conservation. While we may not be able to directly confront the threats facing rhinos, we can still be part of the larger effort to save these beautiful, endangered animals from extinction.



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Animal Rescues in Nepal

Ripley was thin, lost and lethargic when rescue workers at Sioux City Animal Adoption & Rescue found him. The yellow lab had a lot of energy, however, which probably made him too much of a handful for his owners. After being cared for by the animal rescue facility, Ripley proved he had a valuable skill: an incredible drive to play fetch. This skill was important because it made Ripley the perfect search and rescue dog. After his recovery, Ripley entered a five-month work program at the National Training Center. There, Ripley earned certification with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Soon after, he was part of a team of dogs that flew to Nepal to help rescue victims of the devastating earthquake. While there, Ripley was able to find and save a 15-year-old boy trapped beneath the rubble. Having his own life saved just years before, Ripley was able to turn his life around and save the life of a little boy.

Animals in Nepal are both saving and being saved. After the recent earthquake, thousands of people have answered the call for assistance and are helping the families dealing with the mass destruction and loss of life. Even in a time of crisis, our four-legged friends have not been forgotten. A rescue team visited the country to help animals near Kathmandu, many of which are important to the people of Nepal as pets or sources of income.

The return to normalcy for the animals of Nepal may even be harder than that of the people. Animal habitats have been completely wiped out. They have been left with no one to care for them. They are in need of basic requirements such as food, water and shelter. Fortunately, baby goats, cows and dogs are being cared for by multiple relief organizations. This is a great comfort to the humans who would go to great lengths and even risk their own lives to save their furry friends as a result of their close emotional bonds.

The Humane Society of the United States is one of the organizations involved in the recovery efforts. They’ve sent teams to Nepal trained in veterinary medicine and animal care. They have brought vaccines, medicine and surgical equipment to assist the animals. Disaster responders worked with local animal welfare groups and other international organizations in affected areas. Many animals were killed, injured, lost, or abandoned, currently facing starvation, dehydration, and illness. They have no food or place to sleep because the ground is soggy after days of incessant rain. But the collaboration of these organizations has made a huge difference in their lives.

Himalayan Animal Rescue Trust also works to rescue animals in this area. They have been incredibly instrumental in the rescue of animals in Nepal after the earthquake. They focus on dogs, cats, equines and cattle; these are the most common animals in the area. There are many street dogs that live difficult and short lives as it is. Cattle are generally revered since Nepal is a Hindu country, but bull calves and non-productive females are frequently abandoned to a life of scavenging on the streets. These animals need special attention in this time of disaster.

Stray Dogs in Nepal

For many surviving humans, animals are all they have left. Not only do animals provide emotional support and companionship, some of them are critical to the survival of the family. In agricultural villages, farm animals are the only source of income. One woman refused to leave the remains of her home because she did not want to leave the eight goats that were her only family. The goats were sick with respiratory problems because they had been soaking in the rain for five days, but the Humane Society has since provided them with medicine, food and hope for recovery. In Pahade Tole, amongst death and disease, the Humane Society uncovered a basket from the rubble. Inside were five baby ducklings that were still healthy and alive. Even in this horrible time of disaster and hardship, small miracles bring light into the darkness.

Donate to Nepal 


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