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Thank You Zookeepers for All That You Do!

A group of young zookeepers, feeding of a african manatees in the Zoological Garden.

Zookeepers – our animal friends in everyone’s favorite parks around the world would be lost without them. With last week being National Zookeeper Week, we took some time to reflect on how important these members of the community are, both for the well-being of zoo creatures (big and small) and keeping the public educated about them.  

Many typical zoo-goers may not realize this, but a zookeeper’s role extends far beyond feeding animals and making sure their enclosures are tidy. Did you know…a typical zookeeper usually has the following responsibilities:   

  • Administering an animal’s medication 
  • Keeping detailed reports on animal behaviors and disclosing any unusual changes to vets or managers 
  • Assisting with certain veterinary procedures 
  • Keeping detailed records 
  • Feeding the animals 
  • Keeping the animal’s enclosure clean and maintained 

Now that’s nothing to roar at! In addition to all of these duties, zookeepers are typically equipped with a background in animal science, zoology, or biology. So, the next time you have a zoo day and attend a presentation about penguins (or the animal of your choice), rest assured that these workers really do know a thing or two about their furry, feathered, or slimy friends.   

Without these well-educated folks, many animals would still be on the world’s endangered list. It’s thanks to the tireless efforts of zookeepers that species can revitalize, repopulate, and rehabilitate, both in zoos and in the wild.  

 Thank you, zookeepers!  

We would like to recognize our zookeeper friends at a few zoos around the country:

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Today’s Zoos Are Accredited and Have a Focus on Animal Enrichment

The past 50 years have seen many changes in our lives, due to an evolution in the way we view our world combined with advances in technology.  The world has become a smaller place because of commercial jet travel, satellite communications and the internet.

The world’s zoos and the animals in their care have not been immune to the changes and, thanks to a more enlightened approach, a more attentive public and the establishment of accrediting organizations, conditions of animals in captivity have greatly improved.

In the 1970’s, zoos became more involved in the conservation of species, almost naturally followed by a movement to enrich the lives of their charges, starting in the 1990’s.  The Association of Zoos and Aquariums says that animal enrichment is “a dynamic process for enhancing animal environments within the context of the animals’ behavioral biology and natural history. Environmental changes are made with the goal of increasing the animal’s behavioral choices and drawing out their species-appropriate behaviors, thus enhancing animal welfare.”

Zoos like the Milwaukee County Zoo in Wisconsin have been leaders in taking the next step by defining and implementing an enrichment program consisting of 5 focus areas: environmental, food & feeding, manipulative, sensory, and behavior/social.

Otto Environmental, located just West of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is a major provider of animal environmental enrichment products to zoos and aquariums all over the United States.  We have created enrichment products that have been suggested and field-tested by zookeepers at the nearby Milwaukee County Zoo.  Some examples are the Elephant Drum and the Floating Feeder.  We also have worked together to provide custom solutions to enrichment needs of specific species, seen in our Kangaroo Claws Study video.

What does the future hold for zookeeping, animal care and the study of animals?  Video has revolutionized the way we can observe animals without influencing their behavior, not to mention putting millions of people in touch with our animal friends, both as pets and as wild animals.  Some zoos are even experimenting with iPads for primates.  Now, that sounds like the future to me!

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Zoos Evolve, Resulting in a Better Experience for Humans and Animals Alike

With the opening of the London Zoo, established in 1826, the modern zoo was born.  It was meant to be a collection where the members of the Zoological Society could study live animals and expand the horizons of scientific knowledge.  When it was realized that the members were inviting friends and acquaintances it was decided to open the zoo to the public on a limited basis.

The problem with zoos over the next few decades was that they couldn’t manage to keep animals alive very long.  There were issues with disease and reproduction because little was known about their biology.  Diets were provided without full knowledge of the needs of each species, which in modern times would be addressed by observation in the wild by qualified scientists.  The practice of displaying animals individually by species in cages with iron bars was having its own effect on them that was seldom realized by their keepers.

At the beginning of the 20th century Carl Hagenbeck opened the first modern zoo where the animals were housed in more natural environments, outside of cages and with moats separating the zoo visitors from the animals.  He wanted the animals to be seen as they might in the wild.

Over time a better understanding of dietary and other needs, along with public demand for a high level of humane care, has resulted in longer lives and better conditions for zoo residents.  Along the way, professionalism has been expanded by those in charge of zoos to improve the lives the animals themselves.

By the latter part of the century a real revolution in the housing of animals swept the zoos of the world, with Hagenbeck’s model being adopted for a better experience for both animal and visitor, but still with the idea that you were visiting a display of the natural world, sort of a life-size, living diorama.

Zoos are still evolving, with a further breakdown of the barriers between visitors and animals, along with a better understanding of the social and enrichment needs of the inhabitants, in the zoo of today.

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Mouse Habitat Enrichment & You

Besides being pantry pests and sometimes playful pets, it is well known that mice can be employed by both animal scientists as subjects inhumane research and by zookeepers as a healthy diet for some animals in their care.

So, it makes sense to provide a high level of care for this fast-breeding and quickly maturing rodent, no matter what your relationship.  The right type of caging and nesting materials are as important as diet in maintaining a healthy population of one or one hundred.

Providing enough variety and challenge with the right enrichment approach is also key to reducing the stress and boredom that comes with captivity.

For the past few months, we have been taking a poll on our e-commerce website to see what our visitors think that mice most prefer.   Here are the latest results of the poll:

  • Play Toys (27 vote(s) – 5.5%)
  • Shelters (166 vote(s) – 33.5%)
  • Chew Toys (60 vote(s) – 12.1%)
  • Shreddable (242 vote(s) – 48.9%)

Otto Environmental’s online store has an amazing amount of equipment and enrichment items to explore and purchase, from caging and bedding material to play toys and exercise wheels.

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Otto Environmental Teams up with the Rio Grande Zoo

Hornbills, like many bird species, have their own needs when it comes to enrichment.  Diane Longenecker, who is the Senior Keeper-Birds at ABQ BioPark-Rio Grande Zoo in Albuquerque, NM, approached Otto Environmental about creating unique enrichment devices that utilize natural Abyssinian Hornbill behavior.

Otto Environmental owner and Senior Enrichment Designer, Jeff Otto, has now designed two different enrichment devices for Hornbills: the Hornbill Forage Tube and the Hornbill Forager.  Watch Maybelline, the Abyssinian Hornbill, enjoy working for her meal as she explores the depths of the Forage Tube.

While initially made for Hornbills, these unique feeders can provide many opportunities for enrichment of many large avian species.

The Forage Tube’s spinning drum is made of heavy duty fabric, with slats in which to hide food and treats.  It is adjustable, so the openings can be sized appropriately for the needs of the bird.  It includes an eye-bolt for hanging high or low.  It measures 23″ long and 7.5″ in diameter (58cm x 19cm).  Go to our online store to see more or to purchase.

Go here to see and read more about the Hornbill Forager.

Special thanks to Diane Longenecker of the Rio Grande Zoo in Albuquerque, NM.


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Wintering Zoo Animals in Northern Climates

Zoos across North America are home to many species of animals from around the world that are not native to cold climates and, in fact, would perish if special care were not taken during the Winter months.

The most obvious consideration is temperature.  Many species only require what might be considered a relatively wide range of temperatures and can be housed indoors during the Winter, in an environment controlled by a somewhat standard thermostat and heater.  Some species need to be kept at a more even level constantly, with a variance of as little as five degrees Farenheit in some  cases.  These animals typically live in completely enclosed habitats year-round, but may still require special treatment in Winter months.

Another factor in keeping animals healthy and happy is their food, which can be affected in Winter.  Animals whose habitats include edible trees and shrubs that they are used to eating in Summer may not even have leaves in Winter.  Some zookeepers harvest the plant foliage in the Fall and freeze dry it for Winter feeding.

Animals that are moved inside during the Winter still need exercise, so regular exercise periods in and out-of-doors may be called for.

Enrichment is key for Wintering animals, with strategies deployed to make foraging for food more challenging and to encourage daily play.

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The Marmoset Cage

Finding just the right caging system for small primates such as marmosets can be difficult.  But here at Otto Environmental we’ve re-invented the Marmoset Cage and turned it into one feature-packed piece of equipment.

Sturdy and secure, it’s made of stainless steel tubing, panels, and screening, welded together and mounted on strong casters.  The one over one configuration makes it easy to remove the barrier between top and bottom compartments and allow socialization.

And it’s made to go with many complimentary Otto Environmental products such as water bottles, food bowl and nesting box.

Take a look in our store for more info.


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Some Happy “End Users” of Otto Environmental Products

In today’s technological world we usually think of an end user as someone with a mouse in hand, but here at Otto Environmental we think of the mouseas the end user… and the tiger… and the horse… and the kangaroo… and the ferret… and, well, you get it!

Check out our online store for more animal enrichment items to make your end user happy!


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Versatile Nesting Box for a Multitude of Species – An Otto Exclusive

An Otto Environmental exclusive, this polypropylene box can be the perfect solution for many animals’ nesting needs.

It has a sliding door, can be compartmentalized and hung securely on the inside of a medium or larger size cage.

Standard size is 10″ x 8″ x 8″.  You can also order other sizes that can be custom-built to your specifications.

See our online store – call for quantity discounts.

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Unbreakable Mirrors – Not a Chance of Bad Luck Here!

Many species of animals enjoy the fun of a reflective surface, providing  both physical and mental exercise, making animal enrichment professionals and pet owners alike happy with the results.  Whether they are admiring themselves or are just excited by color and movement, a mirror must stand up to anything that gets thrown at it.

We stock two types of unbreakable mirrors at Otto Environmental: a disposable version made of polycarbonate material and the Dura Mirror, a double-sided, colorfully framed version with a swivel and ring for hanging.

Single sided indestructible mirror, with hole for hanging: 3″ x 5″

Double sided Dura Mirror, unbreakable and encased in a colorful frame.  Two 4″ x 6″ models to choose from: