BUSHNELL – The Florida International Teaching Zoo is happy to announce two new additions to its zoo family.
During the last week of April, the zoo’s laboratory rescued Bolivian squirrel monkeys reproduced for the third time, adding two new baby monkeys, one boy and one girl, to the existing troop of two males and five females.
“These are relatively common monkeys still in the wild but that doesn’t mean its not good husbandry technique for the students to learn,” said Mark Wilson, doctor of veterinary medicine and director of the Florida International Teaching Zoo (FITZ).
Wilson said that these monkeys are rarely seen in such large groups at other zoos. Keeping them as a group ensures that young monkeys have a better opportunity to learn social and parenting skills, making them a valuable breeding resource for other zoos.
“These two guys are really both really good fathers,” he said. “So the little male monkeys, they’ll know how to be dads too so they’ll go into other zoos and continue the breeding success.”
FITZ, a not for profit educational facility accredited by the Zoological Association of America, teaches its students how to be responsible animal caregivers and certifies them as veterinary assistants.
“The role of a veterinary technician/assistant is to assist the doctor with the care and treatment of the patient. Just like a nurse to a doctor in the human field,” Pia Oresjo, a certified veterinary technician at UF Zoological Medicine Service, wrote in an email.
The zoo management program is one year long and designed to give students experience working in a real zoo. Wilson said it consist of about 40 percent classroom time and 60 percent working directly with the animals. The class sizes are kept under 10 people in order to increase the amount of hands-on interaction students get.
Fred Evick, who finished the program last year, said, “You don’t have a teacher just teaching theory, you have an educator who’s actually a veterinarian who takes care of these animals and that makes a big difference.”
The zoo is home to spotted hyenas, rare nene geese, royal Bengal tigers, kangaroos, a Colobus monkey, owl monkeys, sacred ibises, the largest family of patas monkeys in captivity, broad-snouted caiman and more.
One the zoo’s goals, aside from teaching students zoo management, is to breed future generations of rare animals so fewer are taken from the wild.
Taking animals from the wild increases their stress levels and makes it more difficult to breed them, said John Brickel, general curator and FITZ graduate.
“And it doesn’t do much for our conservation efforts,” he added.
Currently, FITZ is working to develop its web program where people can pay a yearly subscription of $25 to access hour-long videos produced by the zoo twice a month on its website, www.floridazooschool.org. Previews of the videos are free.
“It’s fun but its also educational,” Wilson said.
One of the segments in the videos recreates famous movie scenes with guinea pigs as the stars.
“Some of the guinea pigs have actually started unionizing because they think it’s a little embarrassing,” Wilson joked.
The Florida International Teaching Zoo, 4258 SW 52nd Terrace, Bushnell, Fla., offers guided tours from noon to 4 p.m. on Wednesday and Saturday and special group tours by appointment. A $6 donation is encouraged.
For more information visit the the zoo’s Facebook page or call (352) 867-7788.