The San Diego Zoo’s Girls In Science (GIS) learned long ago that nothing is as straightforward as you might think at the Zoo. When I ask them what appears to be a simple question, they have come to the point where they are absolutely sure the answer must be complex, convoluted, or tricky. Upon our arrival at koalas this week, keeper Jennifer Moll asked them, “So, how do you weigh a koala? I could see the girls’ brains starting to turn. “Hmmm, what’s the trick? Why might it be difficult? What challenges need to be surmounted in order to weigh a koala?” Well, the simple answer is: you sit them on a scale and note the reading. Done!
What?! It’s not hard? Doesn’t it take special equipment and training and know-how? Nope. Koalas have got the Cute Factor working for them, but they are tough to train because it’s very difficult to reward an animal that only eats eucalyptus. They are handled in exactly the same manner every single time from the time they exit the pouch. Keepers pick them up, sit them on the scale, pick them back up, and put them back in their trees. That’s it! Training animals is usually easier if there is some sort of food reward that encourages the animals to learn. But handing over a few extra leaves isn’t going to motivate a koala to behave himself or to do what a keeper might ask.
Ms. Moll spent an hour with the girls teaching them how to weigh koalas (we used stuffed toys!), measure out formula, and the math involved in assessing how much medication might be required for an animal according to its weight (pictured). We also toured the barn and met Koona, a young, very charismatic male koala who is being groomed to become an animal ambassador.
Thanks, Jen (and Koona) for a lovely afternoon and introduction into your world!
Cindy Spiva-Evans is an educator at the San Diego Zoo.
Girls In Science is a program for Roosevelt Middle School girls which creates science-based experiences with professional women at the San Diego Zoo. The program is funded through the generosity of the Wells Fargo Foundation.
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