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Zoo keepers share ideas in Syracuse

More than 200 zoo keepers from around the country descended on the Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse this week for the 39th annual conference of the Association of Zookeepers.So what do zoo keepers look for as they walk among the lions tigers and bears?

These zoo keepers from San Francisco to Maryland came to the conference to learn new techniques for keeping their zoos fresh.

Bethany Wlaz of the Baltimore Zoo admits there is also a bit of pilfering going on as the keepers from other zoos walk through the Rosamond Gifford Zoo.

"The case method that's basically copy and steal everything.  I think it's great because it's true," Wlaz said. "You pick apart the best thing you see in each facility and take it back to your own."

Dayna Sherwood works with primates at the San Francicso Zoo and picked up some good ideas in the primate enclosure she'll take back home.

"I saw wooden blocks like what kids have with letters on them and the way fire hoses are hung.  Different things that are cheap and easy to use," she said.

Sherwood says playing is important to the animals, and enrichment like this has become more important in zoos.

"I work with primates and they need a lot of different enrichment to stay active and keep their brains working," Sherwood said."

One other trend in zoos -- what keepers call "husbandry training," which means training the animals so handlers can get closer to them. Rachel Macy of the Saint Louis Zoo explains how it would apply in her facility.

"We can have the vets come to them. We can ask --  for example, I work with lions, so we ask the lions to sit so the vets can get a good look at them.  We can draw blood from the lions voluntarily now, so it's a lot less stress for the animal," said Macy. "We are leaning more towards the welfare of the animals."

And, as Bethany Wlaz of the Baltimore Zoo say, one of the core missions of zoos for years remains ….conservation.

"More exhibits are lending themselves to portraying a message, not just that you just get to see a penguin or you get to see a lion, but you get to see how you can help conserve them in the wild," she said. "What the problems are that are plaguing these animals in conservation, and you can get that message in captivity and take that and apply it to conservation method worldwide"

Luitzen Santman joined the zookeepers.  He's from a gorilla rehabilitation group in the Congo, and says that conservation message is important. "Zoos have a lot of powerful conservation messages and that is important to helping the animals still living in the wild."

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.