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2011 Sloan Animal Keeper Advanced Studies Fund

Donor and former Zoo Commission President, Shelby Kaplan Sloan established the Sloan Animal Keeper Advanced Studies Fund in 2003 to provide keepers with opportunities for hands-on field experiences with particular animals. Upon completing their fieldwork, they share their experiences and insights with the staff and the animals at the Zoo.

In the Pink

Legato’s experience working with the Zoo’s flamingos was greatly appreciated by the field project. PHOTO CREDIT: Frank Van Slobbe

Lead Bird Keeper Rose Legato traveled to the Caribbean Flamingo Wildlife Research Expedition at Reserva de la Biosfera Ria Legartos (located on the northeast tip of the Yucatan Peninsula) to assist with fieldwork. During the breeding season, hundreds of juvenile flamingos are banded, weighed and measured, and blood and crop samples taken. All chicks are then released to join the main group or creche where they resume normal activities. Information obtained from the birds and nutritional analysis of crop samples may also be used to improve captive management practices for flamingos.

The Los Angeles Zoo has become a platform for me and many others to be an active part of conservation. This year I was lucky enough to be the recipient of the Sloan Animal Keeper Advanced Studies Grant, which is designed to provide funds for study in the field, further the education of keepers, and promote conservation. I chose to go to the Yucatan and participate in fieldwork on flamingos for two weeks, assisting an organization called Niños y Crias (“children and offspring”). It was truly a dream come true!

In the Yucatan I lived like a local for the most part and was truly treated like one of the team by Niños y Crias, which every year heads up an event that bands hundreds of flamingos. I stayed in a rural coastal town called El Cuyo, one of three villages that surround the nesting Caribbean flamingos. It was a harsh but beautiful place, teeming with wildlife, that encompassed tropical forest, arid shrub, estuaries, and mangrove swamps. Rio Lagartos Biosphere Reserve is located on the northeast tip of the Yucatan Peninsula. I observed thousands of flamingos in remote areas, helped track previously banded birds, helped construct and set up for the banding, assisted with this year’s banding process, and truly gained experience and insight on wild flamingos. It was also amazing to be able to apply what I have learned at our zoo and share it with them. This event relies on a lot of inexperienced volunteers, so my presence was appreciated and my ability to speak Spanish was invaluable. I returned with a set of fresh eyes and a new fountain of inspiration.

In the Yucatan, so many doors were opened to me and real friendships were made. By day I was working with flamingos and by night I was hands-on assisting with a sea turtle project. I became friends with a person who is part of an amazing organization called Pronatura whose mission is the conservation of flora, fauna, and priority ecosystems. She taught me the ropes on collecting data, checking turtles for markings, measuring shells, tracking nest sites by Global Positioning System (GPS), releasing the offspring, and much more. The only downside was that the mosquitoes on remote beaches at two in the morning are relentless. But it was well worth it!

Once I was home again, I was excited to share my thoughts and details about my journey with my friends and colleagues. There are many opportunities and little things you can do to make a difference, even if it’s just finding a way to fall in love with what you do all over again—or inspiring others to believe that they can make a difference, too.

Rose Legato

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