America's teaching zoo.
August 12, 2006 3:29 PM   Subscribe

He describes how the birds’ wings flutter, the small black eyes blink, and the head pops off in your palm... A riveting inside look at the Exotic Animal Training program at Moorpark College, which offers America's only college degree in animal training.
posted by By The Grace of God (15 comments total)
Via; via.
posted by By The Grace of God at 3:36 PM on August 12, 2006

"the birds’ wings flutter, the small black eyes blink, and the head pops off in your palm..."

It's positively orgasmic. I recommend it highly.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 3:43 PM on August 12, 2006

Executing animals with CO2 is unnecessarily barbaric
100% nitrogen, argon or pretty much anything without
any CO2 in it is much more humane.
posted by the Real Dan at 3:51 PM on August 12, 2006

The effects of suffocation are pretty much the same regardless of whether you use CO2 or some other gas.
posted by kindall at 5:37 PM on August 12, 2006

Wow, beautiful piece. Always fascinated to read about people in other disciplines who are keyed up by what they do.
posted by xthlc at 6:30 PM on August 12, 2006

EATM graduate here; class of '96. Feel free to ask any questions.
posted by Rubber Soul at 7:05 PM on August 12, 2006

I've popped the heads off bunnies before. They bleed out better that way, and are usually ready to eat by the time you get home. The strange thing is that their little heads come off so very easily. I'm shocked that they don't just fall off all the time.
posted by Sukiari at 7:15 PM on August 12, 2006

An excellent bit of writing, indeed. Well-told and enlightening.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:58 PM on August 12, 2006

Before a collective sigh of relief can be exhaled, a trio of women in their twenties wheels in a shoulder-high metal tank of the explosive gas, precariously strapped to a handcart by a bungee cord, and totes in a plastic bin of rats.
Did I miss a thing where CO2 became explosive? Is that there for dramatic effect?
posted by abulafa at 4:23 AM on August 13, 2006

abulafa, at least when I was there, we treated it as 'dangerous' because, we were told, the metal tank itself was under high-pressure, and if it fell over, and the nozzle-gauge thing was damaged, it could shoot off at high speed and hurt someone. I think that happened once, in the past. We knew the gas itself wasn't explosive; but the tank was scary.

Of course, this was 10 years ago, and I hear EATM students nowadays don't even have to sleep overnight at the zoo and do rounds in freezing cold and pitch blackness anymore. (and we LIKED it!!) Maybe over time, CO2 has become a legendary explosive...
posted by Rubber Soul at 9:16 AM on August 13, 2006

Application to EATM used to be a much more selective process; you sent in your application, with essays and cover letters and your transcripts, and then, if you were selected from that first cut, you could be called in for an interview; the final 60 or so applicants would be chosen from those who did well in the interview. And classes in the EATM curriculum were not open to be taken by the general students of Moorpark Community College.

A couple years after I graduated, this changed. As it turned out, and some annoyed would-be student discovered, this isn't exactly kosher for a place which is a government-funded community college. So EATM had to stop selecting 'the best' and had to take whoever applied, first-come first served. They also have to let outside students take some of the EATM classes if they wish, and several of the duties (overnight watch, for example) have been removed, for safety and, I imagine, because they're 'too hard' for the new crop of randomly-selected animal trainers.

"Zookeeping" as a major is also gone; I am one of the two last Zookeeping majors to graduate from EATM.
posted by Rubber Soul at 9:29 AM on August 13, 2006

Well that sucks. Seems it's likely gone from a program that produces the absolute best professionals to one that just cranks out n00bs.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:40 AM on August 13, 2006

This post is in honour of the amazing animal keepers I have met in my life. I used to work at a natural history museum-full of dramatic and highly engaging Office Politics, but the animal crew was always steady-on, well liked by all and not fazed by the bullshit. I miss having animals at my workplace.
posted by By The Grace of God at 4:31 PM on August 13, 2006

Kindall - `The effects of suffocation are pretty much the same regardless of whether you use CO2 or some other gas.'

True in the sense that you wind up dead, but asphyxiation by other gases is much more humane.

Excess carbon dioxide in the blood makes you feel breathless and panicky. If you replace it with nitrogen / helium etc. it doesn't generate carbon dioxide, and you tend to fall unconscious and die without realising it's happening.

They may be using CO2 because if the tank leaks you notice something's wrong before you die.

Suffocating animals with CO2 is really the same as putting them in an airtight container.
posted by tomble at 2:01 AM on August 14, 2006

C02 seemed to be the 'industry standard' (at least, I saw it used at a couple other zoos); CO2 was what was permitted as an acceptable way to euthanize rats, in terms of the guidelines of the USDA. (since we couldn't use barbituates etc) As an animal facility, EATM had to abide by what the USDA said. The USDA's pronouncements don't always make the best choices for the animals (witness the tiny little cages considered 'acceptable' for research primates) but they Must Be Obeyed.

I would also bet that CO2 is cheaper than nitrogen or helium or the other things suggested, and price would be an issue, not just for EATM but for any facility that had to euthanize rats in large numbers. At EATM, gassing was done in the open air (in a barn-like area), I don't think a leaky tank of nitrogen or helium would have been a real health threat (although the wacky students probably would have used it all up making squeaky voices...) but the USDA pronouncements, the 'industry standard' and the cost would all be heavy factors.

I agree though that it seemed to cause panic; the rats being gassed did agitate before dying. And once, I got a good lungful of the stuff and it does startle you, making you gasp for real air.
posted by Rubber Soul at 2:46 AM on August 14, 2006

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