Video Blogging Tips for Zoo Peeps from Sandra Dee

Prefaced by Jordan:

“Sandra shared the following article with me this morning. It is posted on her own blog which caters to a broad audience of people interested in developing more sophisticated media savvy and a professional “on air ” presence.

As we talked with Nolan Harvey last night, I realized that people working around high-profile animals like pandas or celebrity orca like Keiko, can really help impress an audience if they convey a polished media presence and represent their institutions as confident and articulate spokespeople or even complement  their PR colleagues. Nolan is very media savvy, but he also has years of experience doing TV and radio work. And like many other people who worked for SeaWorld Parks, he is a natural with the public. In fact, I believe that a zoo keeper or any animal care professional should be just as well poised as communications staff such that one can not discern between the two.  A course it public speaking can never hurt.

Sandra noted how seasoned a communicator Nolan was, given his involvement in a very complicated and perhaps politically charged orca rehabilitation and release program that spanned over several years and at least four countries and included different players/organizations with different interests.

I’m well aware that many zoo professionals are featured on zoo websites while holding animal ambassadors as they talk about them. Your marketing departments typically work with producers and in-house videographers, but not always.  If you want to improve your own PR skills or have ambitions to audition for shows on Animal Planet or something local, Sandra suggests ways that you can enhance your media presence.  For instance, she mentions that “you may be shooting outdoors with the animals for your zoo’s blog, and so you will not be able to change much about your lighting, but it is still possible to choose the better time of day (12 noon is usually the worst and late afternoon or early morning can be more flattering).” You also have to keep the animals routine schedule in mind…..”

For many successful entrepreneurs, video blogging is considered an essential part of their marketing strategy. By using social media to send followers back to the blog, you can develop relationships that turn into clients and that equals increased revenue.  At the very least, if you are not selling product, you can gain recognition and establish yourself as an expert in your field.  Then, you might look forward to getting booked on TV as an expert guest!  Are you ready?

There are a few simple, but essential tips to keep in mind:

Find a good location in your home.  Shoot some practice video in the location at various times of day to know when the natural light is most flattering… of course, you can also play with additional lighting as well. It could even be a house lamp, or two; and remember, to angle toward the strongest light, it helps to keep shadows from showing under the eyes.   Do what you can to look your best!

Don’t forget to keep an eye on your background! I can’t tell you how many times I have seen plants seemingly growing out of people’s heads!  Placing yourself in front of a nice indoor tree is a good idea, just be sure that it is off to the side of you.

Be aware of reflections, as well.  I am not only talking about obvious problem of windows and mirrors but wall pictures with a glass protection can also cause a distracting glare.

Keep it close up! This is the easiest way to avoid visual distraction.  A closer shot has another advantage as well: since your blog will be seen on the web, it’s pretty safe to assume that it will be viewed in a small format, so the bigger you are in frame the better you can be seen, especially on an IPhone, or other smartphone type device.

Become the wardrobe department! On a TV show, this department is very important in the establishment of a character; they work with the director and the actor very closely, because the outfits chosen can immediately qualify the character as “good” or “bad”, “rich” or “poor”… you get the idea.  In your case, you are the star of your show… the main character in your blog.  Be sure that your choice of attire fits your brand and where you intend to go in your business or career!

If clothing seems like an insignificant thing to you, or it seems superficial, trust me, it’s not; 85% of what we experience when someone is speaking is the way they look. We are next influenced by the way they sound, and finally, what they are saying.

If you are not comfortable with your wardrobe, this is a great opportunity to evaluate your closet and make some changes.  Seek a professional stylist if you need to.  I have a friend that put it this way,” Get rid of everything in your closet that doesn’t

let you feel fantastic1” It’s great advice!

If you have these basics down, and have your content prepared, you are ready to get going with your blog! The possibilities are truly endless but start by having fun!

Sandra Dee Robinson

Sandra Dee Robinson: Actress, Media Trainer & Celebrity Co-Host of Zoo Talkin' Radio

Living Institutions or Zoos?

Is it a Zoo or a Living Collection? This is what happens to you if you spend too much time in school as I did. Everything becomes an “institution” and eventually so do you. Actually, I prefer Living Institution which I believe was coined by the  top-notch folks at the Bronx Zoo-based Wildlife Conservation Society.  The reason I like the term is because zoos are deserving of the same respect that academics tend to reserve for Museums of Natural History. I’d much prefer to call a zoo a zoo, but in an effort to better market these wildlife holding facilities to a more sophisticated patron or consumer, I think it’s worth considering a slight upgrade.

I don’t know that the Popcorn Park Zoo will be as well- served by the name change. In fact, the Popcorn Park Living Institution sounds kind of scary. It doesn’t quite roll of the tongue, rather it  falls out of the skull, for lack of a less artfully sadistic expression. With that said, it’s also all-encompassing terminology. A living institution can refer to a collective group of marine parks, aquariums,  zoological parks and other captive wildlife facilities.  Some may think that my thought process alone, warrants sending me to another kind of institution, but I think that facilities can be well-served with multiple names.  Zoo Miami has just adopted two. One name is official and the other is used as a working title. The “Living Institution of Miami” might conjure up some kind of convalescent home in your mind, but once people get used to it, the name may very well catch on.

I remember when one of my parents friends asked me what I thought of the tittle  “Zoo Keeper.” I didn’t initially pick up on her condescension. I replied that technically I’m an “Animal Keeper” who happens to work at a zoo. I was very proud that I came up with the distinction so promptly and on my own. And then I realized  she was hoping I would come up with a more sophisticated name like “Scatological Disposal Technician” or my favorite, “Special Species Collection Husbandry Science Specialist.”  In school you are often taught big words and faculty often carry  big titles. Again, I see potential for multiple titles. This goes back to my post about my friend who is a self-proclaimed “aquatic biologist “even though his official title is animal keeper. He may be an aquatic biologist, but his colleagues refer to him as fish geek or fish keeper. I think that the longer and more confusing the name, the more we create intrigue. Some of you will continue to disagree vehemently, but it’s just my new opinion on the matter after I started to become fond of the name  “Living Institution.”

Dr. Jordan Schaul, Zoo Keeper Emeritus (AKA Special Species Collection Husbandry Science Specialist Emeritus)

Riveting Piece About NGS Photographer & Vanishing Species

CNN

http://cnn.org/2010/US/04/24/mears.sartore.qanda/index.html?hpt=C1

Both the New York Times & CNN seem to be reading the Zoo Peeps blog. I’m so flattered. I won’t distract you with my thoughts, but read my article on the re-branding of African wild dogs and other endangered species. The new field of conservation marketing and brand development is taking off.

-JCS, ZKE

“We’ll Skip the Small Mammal Building”

http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_8493000/8493089.stm

Rarely do you hear the zoo visitor soliciting directions to the small mammal exhibits from docents, guest services, or other zoo personnel.  Most people are eager to get right to the big guys.  Guests hastily try to orient themselves with respect to some key locales with the help of the printed zoo maps.  They are challenging for some people to use at first, but they are actually quite useful if you have some patience. Yes, some people are most eager to visit the restroom, the gift shop, or perhaps the restaurant.  Others quickly embark on a journey to see the high-profile species. Among these people some are too excited to fumble with the schematic map and  start following patrons who appear to know where they are going. Although many seek out the quickest route to the mega-fauna on display (e.g., big cats, apes, marine mammals, and elephants, etc.), a few are probably more systematic in their approach to comprehensive zoo animal viewing.

But once the visitors, regardless of their interests or enthusiasm, catch site of the crowds hovering over something seemingly insignificant, their curiosity over rides the impulse to pass up anything of potential interest and temptation leads them to follow others.

BBC News

The most popular exhibits that may serve as the impetus for visiting the zoo in the first place may eventually take a back seat to the lesser known and underappreciated displays of charismatic min-fauna.  By the time you leave the zoo, your party may have all but forgotten the lions and tigers and bears. While reflecting on your zoo visit the interest in mega-fauna is  somehow superseded by discussion of meerkats, and prairie dogs, and naked mole rats.  These semi-fossorial and fossorial species are highly social, perceived as “cute” and their high energy levels make them particularly interesting to watch. Even those distracted by ADHD or cotton candy find these animals to be fascinating. Their impromptu “pop up” performances are riveting.

True fossorial mammals live their entire lives virtually underground, but due to some fantastic exhibit design zoos now offer subterranean viewing of these eusocial, true fossorial mammals.  The African mole rats or blesmols, including the naked mole rat (which is commonly displayed in zoos) use their incisors to dig through soil.  The smallest of  the fossorial rodents may burrow at a rate of 4m/h. This energy expenditure comes at a cost, but indicates just how much energy these animals can expend in a short period of time. To restore energy small mammals are typically voracious eaters and consume a lot of food .

Energy expenditure is determined by body size, climate, and foraging habits.  The physiological parameters considered in the measurement of the metabolic activity and the general energetics of small endotherms (animals that regulate their own body temperature) must be considered when comparing wild animals to zoo animals. Even captive small mammals will be quite active and captivating to watch. The abundance and distribution of food resources in captivity are far different from what is available to wild animals.  This may permit visitors with more of an opportunity to observe a certain spectrum of behaviors.  This is purely speculation.

Without concern for predators or other coteries (harems) of prairie dogs, the behavioral repertoire of captive prairie dogs may differ or be limited compared to wild prairie dogs. None-the-less, their social interactions are most interesting.  I should mention that prairie dogs are very important to prairie ecosystems, and they are actually ground squirrels. They do bark like dogs.

Today prairie dog exhibits allow kids and adults to view these animals under ground and are also designed to simulate fossorial activities.  I first worked with a black-tailed prairie dog enclosure with a bottomless enclosure.  In an effort to deter the animals from burrowing out of the exhibit, I placed long white, plastic tubes above ground to encourage the animals to spend more time at the surface. This alone won’t discourage burrowing activity, but it provides secure above ground retreats.

Black-tailed prairie dogs which one numbered in the billions were candidates for the endangered species list. They are highly susceptible to plague and human activity has heavily fragmented their habitat.  Today they are commonly displayed in zoos. A mentor of mine, Dr. Penny Bernstein began studying black-tailed prairie dog communicative behavior at the Philadelphia Zoo in the 1970’s.  The Philadelphia Zoo continued to study the behavior of these animals as have other living institutions.  More recently, the Denver Zoo has dedicated an entire day to prairie dog awareness.  A good reference for prairie dog information is the following website http://www.prairedogcoalition.org

Dr.  Jordan Schaul, Zoo Keeper Emeritus

Imperfect Specimens

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/31/world/americas/31colombia.html

In my recent post on celebrity menageries I mentioned the fate of Pablo Escobar’s hippopotamus herd. I had no premonition that the New York Times would address this topic in a much more compelling piece than what I provided, much less a few days later. It’s merely a timely coincidence.  I applaud the director of the sanctuary featured in the article for taking in so many animals that were confiscated or in need of a good home. It’s a lot of dedication that often goes unrecognized.

Alaska Fisheries Science Center (NMFS)

But I also want to commend zoos, aquariums, and marine parks for displaying imperfect specimens. This wasn’t always the case.  If you have worked  with free-ranging wildlife you may consider any animal in a zoo to be fairly close to meeting the criteria for a perfect physical specimen. Many of them are. They don’t all bare the wounds of battle from aggressive conflicts with con-specifics, predators, or even prey that managed to inflict some damage.   Many of the animals that I have seen in the wild have scars to prove that indeed they live there. In particular, I think of wild sea lions. From studying activity budgets of  California sea lions hauled out just meters away on a rookery in the Sea of Cortez (Baja, California Sur) or from sailing by a colony of Steller sea lions near Benjamin Island (Southeast, AK), I would be hard-pressed to say that I’ve seen an adult or subadult animal that would meet the criteria of a perfect specimen by historic standards.   It always surprises me a bit when patrons take pause at the sight of an animal that may well have been injured.   In fact, when I think about it, I’ve probably witnessed just as many wild sea lions that have been branded for research studies as I have seen that have not been. Branding was a common and safe practice for marking wild animals for census work and demographic studies.  I couldn’t imagine a branded animal on exhibit, but maybe there are some.

Today, zoos are very candid, often sharing this kind of information regarding research and clinical case work with the public. Living institutions treat these issues with more tact and sensitivity than ever before.   It’s amazing how we can genuinely shape perception if concerns are addressed thoughtfully. It’s effective micro-crisis management.

I remember watching an Allen’s swamp monkey at the San Diego Zoo. Among this fascinating troop of guenon monkeys was a female with a juvenile. She was obviously missing a limb, but was able to get along just fine and tend to her parental responsibilities. In the background visitors were sharing their sentiments and most appreciative of the zoo for providing information about this individual animal’s health status. As I recall, one of the zoo’s interpretive graphics conveyed the message that just like people animals are imperfect.  It was quite refreshing verbiage, and almost touching.  Instead of eliciting great concern, cause for alarm, or unnecessary speculation, the language provided an explanation and message that was well-received by the guests. I thought this was very nicely done.

I think it is important to share with people that there is nothing wrong with animal ambassadors in captive facilities that fall short of perfection. They may better represent their wild counterparts and perhaps they convey to the public that although they may be different, they are offered great care and attention just like every other animal in the zoo collection.

Taxidermists, collection managers or curators at museums of natural history may speak of perfect specimens.  Likewise researchers in systematics and taxonomy may also place value on perfect specimens, but not for purely aesthetic reasons.  They may have studied newly described species  or been working with various biological types (e.g., holotypes) as referenced by the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature.
Their objectives are more likely aimed at providing reference data for scholarly publications (for the benefit of colleagues working with related taxa) and teaching.

Dr. Jordan Schaul, Zoo Keeper Emeritus