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ABQ BioPark Staff Contribute to Important Animal Research

March 14, 2022 - ABQ BioPark staff have dedicated their lives to care for the hundreds of plants and animals at the Zoo, Botanic Garden and Aquarium. But many of them also contribute to research that is making a difference in animal care and conservation too.

Journal Publications

Sometimes ABQ BioPark staff publish their research in academic journals.

Associate Director Bob Lee was recently published as a co-author on the paper, “Supporting Zoo Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus) Welfare and Herd Dynamics with a More Complex and Expanded Habitat,” which appeared in the journal Animals last August. The research explored methods to provide increased health and welfare to Asian elephants living in zoological facilities.

In the future, BUGarium staff also hope to publish a paper on the facility’s ongoing goliath beetle breeding program. “We have pretty much perfected the larval stages using a new technique we developed over the last few years, but I’m still working on the difficult pupal stage,” said BUGarium Curator Jason Schaller. Some of the things they are studying include different diets, different larval rearing substrates, different silt/clay rations and high amounts versus low amounts of daily food.

Conference Presentations

A number of ABQ BioPark staff also share their knowledge with the animal care community via conference presentations.

Calli Hamlin, senior elephant keeper, Amber Alink, assistant curator of elephants, and Dr. Julie Blossom, associate veterinarian, recently contributed to the Asian elephant knowledgebase by presenting at the Elephant Managers Association conference in October 2021. Their presentation, “Use of Acoustic Pressure Wave Therapy to Treat Right Forelimb Lameness in a Geriatric Female Asian Elephant,” examined the effects of acoustic pressure wave therapy to treat osteoarthritis on 54-year-old Asian elephant Irene.  The team is monitoring changes in joint circumference, exercise duration, gait quality, thermal images and bloodwork to determine the efficacy of her treatments.

Tim Van Loan, behavioral husbandry manager, presented at the Animal Behavior Management Alliance Conference last April. His presentation, “Positive Reinforcement in a Pinch,” educated conference goers about how ABQ BioPark animal care staff coordinate with the veterinary team to ensure the highest level training for animals experiencing medical issues. Van Loan specifically talked about Mo the hippo, who was suffering from pain in his eye, and Garbanzo the cheetah, who was treated for cancer in 2018.

“In order to provide the best care to the BioPark animals when they are ailing, we have striven to ensure the keeper teams, the veterinary team, and myself (behavior team) work collaboratively,” Van Loan said. “It is the team effort and focus on making sure our animals have the best care that truly brought us all together, and allowed complex behaviors, like touching Mo’s eye that was in pain, to occur and help our animals have a voice in their wellness.”

Van Loan also presented his poster, “Motivating a Dragon,” at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums annual conference last September. Van Loan spoke about reptile training, and highlighted the success of the ABQ BioPark’s weekly Komodo dragon walk and education presentation.

In addition, Van Loan has presented a number of times and served on panels for the Natural Encounters Training and Education Center. Topics have included positive reinforcement training and errorless learning.

“I am passionate about connecting with others who love animals and want them to have the best care, and by presenting and sharing our work with the greater animal care community, we are helping other animals to live their best lives and ensuring that the BioPark is constantly pushing the envelope by using the most modern techniques,” Van Loan said.