Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Lesson Learned

On the morning of November 1, Cari Garand knew that something was not right with the naked mole rats. She saw immediately that they had pushed aside the tube leading into one of their chambers, and entered into the surrounding enclosure. But to Cari’s eyes, the amount of mess did not match with the single animal loose in the enclosure.

She followed the trail of bedding and found that there was more. Much more.

Following the exploits of our dispersing morph last year, the Animal Care department had made what we believed to be a comprehensive survey of the enclosure, to tighten up any crevices large enough for a mole-rat to climb through. But four enterprising (and small) individuals found a crack a bit larger than a tube of lipstick and managed to crawl out through it. On the other side, they encountered drywall board.

Lest anyone wonder which is stronger, be it known that drywall is no match for the teeth of a determined naked mole-rat. The wall was chewed into, and the animals entered into the space beyond.

Fortunately, the studding in the walls at Pacific Science Center is metal. When they encountered this, the mole rats were stymied, and spent the remainder of the night in the small cavity beneath the hole they had chewed.

Once she figured out where they were, Cari oversaw Lisa Marchisio’s careful removal of the wall board, and Adrian Eng retrieved the animals. Their temperatures were low from a night spent outside the climate controlled habitat, but they were otherwise healthy and unhurt.

Cari, along with Brianna Todd, made sure that all individuals were accounted for, and in good condition. We checked for injuries, made sure they were adequately hydrated, gradually returned them to ambient temperature, and returned them to their colony.

Then the real work began. The enclosure was scoured for crevices small enough to fit a pencil through. Only one was found, the one the four had used. It was sealed with Plexiglas which would take the colony days of solid chewing to breach.

The individual chambers were also secured more firmly in place, and the configuration of the chambers was moved around to provide stimulating enrichment. If the escape was due to boredom, mixing things up will help prevent future behavior issues.

Animal care is an interesting blend of optimism and pessimism. The caretaker must believe that they possess the skills to keep animals happy, secure and contained. But they must never assume that any animal will stay happy, secure and contained without ongoing investment of time and thought. The happy ending to this story does not mean that our work is done, it is an invitation for us to review our practices and look for further ways to improve them, so that future escapes are neither possible, nor made necessary through lack of stimulating habitat for the mole rats.

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