2012 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.

The Path Ahead

nicki brushing cheetahAt the Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in South Africa, Nursery Keeper Nicki Piepers learned techniques associated with the rehabilitation and hand rearing of orphaned wild animals.

I was greeted by Brian Jones, the somewhat legendary manager. He is well known in his country for what he and his staff do best— rescuing, rehabilitating, and, if possible, releasing animals back into the wild. Moholoholo is now a home for many of South Africa’s abandoned, injured, and poisoned wildlife and a highly regarded contributor to wildlife education. Animals come to Moholoholo mostly due to human/animal conflict: power line collisions, poisoning, snares, steel traps, domestic dog attacks, automobiles, and illegal hunting. A safety lecture included warnings about the dangers lurking everywhere, including venomous snakes, spiders, scorpions, and a hyena with a habit of chewing her way out of her enclosure. Afterward, Brian asked me what I wanted to learn. “Whatever you have on offer!” I replied. “I want to gain some new perspective and see how you do things here.”

I was only going to be there for two weeks, so I wasn’t sure whether or not there would be a lot of action at the center. By action, I mean leopard relocations, animal intakes, new orphans to hand rear, and animal releases—all fairly common occurrences at the center.

As it turned out, there was not a whole lot of action. We took in two animals while I was there—an orphaned serval kitten whose mother had been hit by a car and a gray duiker calf who had been mauled by domestic dogs. We also released a goshawk. Aside from this, there was the routine care for non-releasable residents, including cats large and small, wild dogs, spotted hyenas, white rhinos, honey badgers, warthogs, various antelope species, rock hyrax, bushbabies, and several species of raptor. And the hand rearing of the young orphans already there, including giraffe, steenbok, rock hyrax, two lions, serval, and gray duiker.

I had a very full schedule during my stay. We had cleaning/feeding rounds in the morning and in the afternoon. In the late morning, all the students got together and tackled “big jobs,” which usually meant cleaning the large carnivore camps and feeding cages. Each group had aviary duty every few days, which required cleaning/feeding the aviary four times a day in addition to their normal duties. Students could also volunteer to assist in hand-rearing one of the orphaned animals. I volunteered to care for a banded mongoose pup. She required eight feedings a day, social/play time, and hunting lessons. The latter meant I had to catch her all sorts of delectable critters like flying ants, moths, and crickets. What a charismatic creature! Having spent so much time with her, it was difficult to leave her behind.

I departed from Moholoholo after breakfast on my last day. I remember the walk through the forest that morning, thinking about the animals and what had happened to them, and about all the animals that would come in the future, primarily due to human ignorance and greed. Then I looked up at the young optimistic students walking ahead of me on the trail and felt good—at least some of us are on the right track.

Nicki Piepers

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