Hours: 9 a.m. - 5 p.m., Admission: $11 Adults, $6 Child
5 Questions with a Keeper: Jenni Dyar
Jenni Dyar, the Zoo's Birds and Terrestrial Reptiles Area Supervisor, has been working at Blank Park Zoo since October 2011. She works with all of the Zoo's birds (we have about 600 of them!), which includes eagles, macaws, flamingos, emus, vultures, ostrich and cranes, in addition to the tortoises, boas, geckos and corn snake.
Jenni does tactile training with RT, one of the Zoo's aldabra tortoises, getting her accustomed to being touched.
1. What is your favorite animal to work with and why?
I enjoy all the animals I get to work with, but my favorite species overall are the parrots, vultures and tortoises. Parrots are smart and enjoy challenges (like new enrichment toys) – I love watching them figure out a new puzzle I’ve given them and hearing them make happy calls when they find the treat inside.
Vultures get a bad reputation because they eat dead stuff, but they’re mischievous, smart and social. They like to play and investigate things, plus they keep our environment cleaner by getting rid of carcasses – it’s a dirty job but someone has to do it.
Tortoises are very misunderstood – people think they’re simple and not very smart, but they are intelligent and friendly. They like challenges, they can get frustrated when they can’t figure something out, and they want to learn. When we train our aldabra tortoises, we never force them. We give them the option, and if they choose to participate, then we work with them.
2. What is your most memorable moment at the Zoo?
I was attending a zoo conference last March, and staff from the San Diego Zoo asked how we housed and took care of one of our bird species. Blank Park Zoo might not be as big as San Diego or Omaha but we do a lot with what we have, and it does make a difference.
3. What is something guests may not know about the Zoo's birds?
Eighteen of our species are part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Program – a cooperative effort between zoos to manage captive populations of species that are typically threatened or endangered in the wild. These zoos transfer individual animals among one another and promote breeding to maintain genetic diversity, as well as contribute to field conservation efforts and recovery of the wild population.
4. Do you find any interesting personalities in the animals you work with?
One of our black swans, Annabell, has decided she’s a lorikeet instead of a swan. For anyone who came through the Australia exhibit this year, she was usually sitting just off the path next to the lorikeets’ cage. Now that both she and the lorikeets are in holding, she insisted on being in their stall – she paced in the stall we originally put her in until we moved her in with the lories, and now she’s as happy as a clam.
5. How is winter different from summer for you and the animals?
Most of our birds move off exhibit to a holding barn, so we spend more of our days cleaning. Also, for birds that eat plants we add greens (like romaine, mustard, collard, and turnip) to their diet since they’re inside. Late winter, some of our birds start breeding (such as our nicobar pigeons, superb starlings, and white-bellied go-away birds). We train our aldabra tortoises year-round, but winter is when we work on adding new behaviors and improving current ones.
We give all our animals enrichment every day, year round. By learning about their natural history and behavior, we try to offer them things that allow them to behave as they would in the wild. One enrichment that works well for all species (not just birds and reptiles) is hiding and scattering their food. All animals spend a good part of their day searching for food, and replicating that at the Zoo keeps our animals happier and healthier.