We spent the day at Riverbanks Zoo, talking with people who work in the areas each of us chose. The person I interviewed is Doug Alls, Senior Keeper at Riverbanks Zoo. Mr. Alls has been with Riverbanks Zoo for almost 9 years. He has been interested in birds since he was a very little boy and his parents encouraged him to work with the different kinds of birds he wanted.

Mr. Alls took us around the zoo, showing us several areas where the public cannot go. We saw the hospital area, where they take the sick and injured birds. In the quarantine area, we saw birds under observation, before they are put on display. There is also a study of parrots from South America, which carry a form of Herpes. The Herpes does not seem to bother the South American parrots, but if the Asian Parrots are exposed to the germs, they will die.

We got to the new penguin area just in time for one of the two daily feedings. They are fed dead fish, which are tossed to them. Riverbanks has two kinds of Penguins, the Rockhoppers and the Black Foot. Rockhoppers are found around the Faukland Islands, South America and Australia, but the Black Foot are much more rare. They are only found off the coast of South Africa. Black Foot Penguins are what is known as a controlled population. Because of their rarity, the gene pool of these penguins in captivity must be monitored to prevent inbreeding.

Penguins can develop foot problems from walking on the wrong kind of surfaces. This condition is similar to corns. They can become infected and cause health problems. For this reason, the new habitat is floored with a special decking that is spongy and smooth.

Zoos around the world share information on the species they have, to keep the the gene pools clean. They may trade, lend or even give away some birds to expand the gene options. Some birds may even go back to the wild.

At the evolution exhibit, South American birds and African birds are side by side. The purpose of this is to show how birds in totally different parts of the world have developed very similarly because of the need to adapt to thier environments.

Riverbanks Zoo has 5 Bali Mynah birds. This is a highly endangered bird. Natives of this region will poach these birds for income. Riverbanks will not breed these birds, because they do not want a genetic surplus.

Zoos around the world use a Regional Collection Plan (RCP) for acquiring new birds. We are in the North American Region. Some of the things the plan looks at are: availablility of a species, whether its representation is needed, if it can live in captivity, and is it worth the expense to house and feed it in captivity. A zoo can add birds which do not fit into the RCP, but other zoos will probably not support the decision.

Riverbanks Zoo is a top breeding facility for Toucans. Many zoos have been unsuccessful in breeding Toucans, but Riverbanks has become about the best in the United States, if not the World. Many other zoos have Toucans from Riverbanks and many have sought advice from the expert staff there.

Mr. Alls told me that all birds are capable of biting and even gentle birds may be provoked into hurting you. He has been bitten too many times to count, but considers it a part of the job and continues to love working with the bird.

The new Birdhouse holds approximately 30 species of birds, numbering more than 200 individual birds. It took about a year and a half to build the new house. The plan is to show birds in the same areas as the mammals which would live with them (African birds with African animals, Austral-Asian birds with animals from the same continent).

All the birds are fed the diet they would eat in the wild. It may be fruit and seeds, insects, fish, meat or beans. In addition to this, the birds have a pelleted supplement which is administered under the supervision of the Zoo Veteranarian. The Bateleur Eagle, which is my favorite bird at the zoo, is fed a rotation of meat: live rats, chicks, fish and bird of prey diet - consisting of meat, bone and hair.

By coincidence, it turns out that one of Mr. Allsí favorite birds is the Bateleur Eagle, too. The scientific name for the Bateleur Eagle is Terathopius Ecaudatus. These birds live in Africa and Arabia. They are about two feet tall and are mostly black with a a brown triangular pattern on their back and very short brown tails. Their sharp hooked beaks are bright orange. The Bateleur Eagle is carnivorous, eating small antelope, large monitor lizards and rats in the wild. They nest in the forks of large trees and lay only one egg. I think their wings, body, coloring and the strong grip of their feet are really cool. Riverbanks has one pair of them. Mr. Alls says these birds have real personality. They recognize familiar people and will puff up their feathers and interact with them. Though the Bateleur Eagle is a bird of prey, they do not attack the keepers at the zoo. There can only be a pair in the cage, because they would attack other birds put in with them. Future plans for this eagle involve greatly enlarging their current habitat. The age of this pair is unknown. They have not reproduced in the zoo. Mr. Alls is not aware of any Bateleur Eagles breeding in captivity.

There are so many neat things at the zoo and it is always changing and improving. Everyone should plan a trip soon.