Baby Bonanza

Zoo InternQuest is a seven-week career exploration program for San Diego County high school juniors and seniors. Students have the unique opportunity to meet professionals working for the San Diego Zoo, Safari Park, and Institute for Conservation Research, learn about their jobs, and then blog about their experience online. Follow their adventures here on the Zoo’s website!

Camille_W2_picThis past Thursday, the interns had the great opportunity to meet Becky Kier, a senior Neonatal Assisted Care Unit Keeper (NACU) at the San Diego Zoo. Every day, the NACU team works with the various baby animals that fall into their care due to injury or infection, maternal neglect, or the mother has inadequate milk supply. Each case is unique and requires full dedication from the team to ensure recovery and rehabilitation for the babies.

Before Ms. Kier became a NACU Keeper at the Zoo, she originally wanted to become a Park Ranger. With that in mind, she went to UC Davis and earned her degree in Environmental Planning and Management. Once she found that being a park ranger was not the best fit for her, she received a position at the San Diego Zoo in the Children’s Zoo. It was then that she volunteered to assist in rearing of the hoof-stock at the Zoo, and eventually, had the opportunity to start helping out with caring for the babies. After getting her hands on it, Ms. Kier was hooked and transferred into the NACU.

Working in the NACU is a very tough and demanding job. Everything must be lined up for proper care of the babies. Each day, Ms. Kier must mark who is who if they have a litter of animals in the nursery. This provides the keepers with a method to identify the order of which animals need to be fed, and the time frame of their last feeding. Weights of the animals need to be taken every morning and throughout the day so the keepers are able to make the proper amount of formula for that day. They also need to take the temperatures of the babies to make sure they are not in need of medical assistance. Next up is bottle feeding; however, before this is done the keepers must determine the correct nipple that will fit the animal’s mouth and the right flow of milk. After feeding time, the babies are burped and manually relieved by the keepers, which sometimes requires the keepers to wipe a damp washcloth across the animal’s backside. The keepers then administer any medications the veterinarians have prescribed for the animals. Then it is time to clean and sterilize the bottles and make the formula for the next day. One of the most important parts of the daily routine is record keeping. These records that they keep provide the keepers at the San Diego Zoo and other zoos across the globe a valuable baseline of how to properly care for the new babies they receive.

In addition to their daily routines, the NACU keepers are constantly thinking ahead. How can they prepare the babies for their futures? Will they be raised with more human interaction to become animal ambassadors, or will they return to their family groups? If they are returning to their family group, what is the best method of reintroduction for the species? The NACU keepers must determine the answers to all of these questions and more to ensure that the babies they take care of live a prosperous life.

With all the hard work and long hours that comes with the territory of being a NACU keeper, it also proves to be a very rewarding experience. The team that works in the NACU have the unique opportunity to work with numerous species of animals at the Zoo and learn new information every day. Ms. Kier also gets the opportunity to watch the babies improve and grow up to have their own families. Some animals even remember the people who helped raise them and form special bonds with those keepers. Plus, how many people can say they had the chance to bottle feed a baby tiger on their lap!

Camille, Careers Team
Week Two, Fall 2015