It's storming yet again here at Kids Saving the Rainforest, and I'm going to give a brief summary about what I've been up to at my internship. The biggest development is that I've started my research project which I'm very excited about. All interns have to carry out an independent project while here, and after I arrived, I was thinking about what to do for my project. As I walked around the sanctuary, I noticed that some of our animals in the sanctuary exhibit stereotypical behaviors, a common problem for captive wild animals. These behaviors occur when the environment around an animal isn't stimulating enough, and an animal's normal behaviors for foraging and exploring their environment turn into maladaptive behaviors such as pacing, biting their tail, and over grooming themselves. We're currently working on reducing the amount of these behaviors in the coatimundis, which are related to kinkajous and raccoons. As I walked along the sanctuary, I thought to myself that if the coatis are having these behaviors, then surely the kinkajous must have some problematic behaviors as well. However, since kinkajous are strictly nocturnal, there would be no way to tell if they are acting this way or not if we're only watching them during the day. I decided to make my project about looking into stereotypical behaviors in our kinkajous. I had no idea that my research project would be about kinkajous when I started this blog, but it looks like the blog name is fitting better than I expected!
Additionally, the vet clinic is training our capuchin monkeys to make vet clinic work easier on them, and zoo literature states that training can be a from of environmental enrichment. Environmental enrichments are solutions to stereotypical behaviors, giving animals something to engage their attention and challenge them so they don't become bored. In addition to training, this can also include putting animals' food in simple puzzles that they have to solve to get the food, or putting their food in places so that they must use their natural foraging abilities to get it. My research project is going to be monitoring the kinkajous with camera traps to determine if there are problematic stereotypical behaviors occurring, then assessing their behavior, designing enrichments, and coming up with a training plan to meet their needs. I'm looking forward to getting involved in this project, and I've already realized how difficult it is to study nocturnal species. When an animal is only active during the night, you either have to observe them during the night or find a way to monitor them with a camera, then study the footage later. There are drawbacks to both these methods, and so far I'm testing both of them to gather preliminary data.
Speaking of enrichments, one of the most important aspects of caring for captive animals is having an enclosure that simulates their natural environment. At Kids Saving the Rainforest, we fill cages with branches, ropes, and greenery. However, the fresh leaves in enclosures wilt after about a week, and when this happens we trek out into the jungle with machetes to cut down fresh palms and leaves for the cages. Forging through the jungle and hacking down giant leaves is difficult work, but the best part is when you get to design the arrangement of the greenery inside the cages and watch the animals explore their new environment.
One of the best parts of my week was the trip to Parque Nahomi in Quepos. It's a very small, local park that sits on top of a peninsula that juts into the sea. I'm always amazed at the little pockets of beauty I find everywhere in this country.
We went to Nahomi to collect the leaves of the beach almond tree for our sloths. Coincidentally, as we were collecting, we looked up and saw a wild two-toed sloth and her baby right above us! The little sloth was up and moving (it was around sunset, right when this nocturnal species begins to wake up), while its mom was snoozing in the tree. The mom calmly examined the humans watching her, then went back to resting while her baby climbed around the branches, periodically letting out a small squeal.