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Incorrect information from zoo staff

Discussion in 'General Zoo Discussion' started by Zygodactyl, 27 Nov 2017.

  1. Zygodactyl

    Zygodactyl Well-Known Member

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    I went to the Denver Zoo with my aunt on Black Friday, and when we went into the lorikeet enclosure the woman who was operating it gave us a little introductory spiel which basically amounted to "believe it or not lories aren't parrots, also don't touch the birds."

    Since the first part was incorrect and this was her spiel she gave visitors, I tried to—as politely as possible—explain that lories are in fact parrots, as specialized members of the "true parrot" clade. Her reaction was to ask me if I always correct people, to which I responded, in an attempt to joke, "only if they're wrong." She glared at me and I suspect that she went back to telling people that lories aren't parrots the moment we left.

    I know that zoo visitors like to share inaccurate information about animals with their kids, but I'm surprised to see it from the staff. I absolutely don't think they should be giving out incorrect information and believe it was perfectly appropriate to correct her, though I probably should have asked her "what makes you think lories aren't parrots" rather than contradicting her directly.

    Do non-keeper staff commonly give out inaccurate information? Lory exhibits are special because they usually involve an unsolicited spiel you can't skip. Beyond "where is x?" I don't usually ask people who aren't clearly zookeepers questions about the animals. However I recall that the guy who was overseeing the lory house at San Antonio also gave a spiel which was accurate as far as I could tell, and based on the questions I asked him he clearly knew a lot about lories beyond the spiel.

    On a somewhat related note: it seems like at least at the Denver Zoo, the non-keeper staff didn't seem to know much even about the layout of the zoo. The reason we went into the lory enclosure in the first place was because I was trying to find the keas and I assumed that people working with parrots might know where the ones I was looking for were located. However she was the second of four staff people I asked (first of three in the lory exhibit) who didn't even know what a kea was, even when I described it in case they'd seen them and not looked at the sign. It wasn't until I found an actual zookeeper that I was able to get directions to their enclosure.
     
  2. DavidBrown

    DavidBrown Well-Known Member

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    This sounds like lousy staff training and quality control. The zoo education and management staff should know about this. The Denver Zoo has a reputation for conservation and animal education excellence; they should know that their standards are not being met by current staff.
     
    Last edited: 27 Nov 2017
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  3. Chlidonias

    Chlidonias Moderator Staff Member

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    Sounds like the lorikeet lady was a volunteer? They often aren't exactly founts of knowledge. However her reaction to you sounds like she needs some education in customer service as well.
     
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  4. Pertinax

    Pertinax Well-Known Member

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    On more than one occassion I have overhead volunteers giving out innacurate information to visitors. I tend to avoid engaging with them myself but that is sometimes difficult if things are quiet and they assume you are the usual type of zoo visitor in need of some 'facts'.

    The example given above of someone talking about Lorikeets but not even knowing what a Kea is, is fairly typical I fear but perhaps worse is when keepers or presenters at the animal talks give innacurate information when its related to historical facts about animals at their zoo, which have become part of the zoo's 'culture' but are in fact incorrect. Sometimes things only need checking to find out the correct details.
     
    Last edited: 27 Nov 2017
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  5. FunkyGibbon

    FunkyGibbon Well-Known Member

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    My own egregious example is being told by a volunteer at Chester that cassowaries were endangered, whilst we were standing next to a sign that clearly stated this was not the case.
    I do think it's unreasonable and unrealistic to require volunteers to have a depth of knowledge about the animals they are educating on, but these 'talking point' level mistakes could totally be removed.
     
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  6. Batto

    Batto Well-Known Member

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    I think her reaction to the correction was way more inappropriate than her lack of knowledge.

    I don't want to sound like a pedantic snitch, but I'd advise you to send an official complain to the PR / Education department of the Denver zoo, referring to the obvious deficit of their employee in regard to proper and polite interaction, education and communication with customers. I've dealt with this kind of passive-aggressive "ladies" before, and a clear official reprimand from her supervisors, based on customer feedback, might often be the best solution for better customer service. For the sake of quality control and customer satisfaction, the zoo will be interested to hear that one of its employees is currently not up to the task and requires improvement. Tough luck, Lorikeet Lady...
     
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  7. Dassie rat

    Dassie rat Well-Known Member

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    I accept that members of staff can make mistakes and I don't know how much the woman at the lorikeet enclosure knows about parrots.
    It can be very difficult to stay up to date about classification. There have been a few recent alterations in bird classification and this includes the classification of parrots and their relatives. Parrot - Wikipedia places 'parrots' in 3 basic groups:
    Strigopoidea (New Zealand parrots)
    Cacatuoidea (cockatoos)
    Psittacoidea: Psittacidae e.g. African grey parrot, macaws,
    parakeets
    Psittacuidae e.g. lorikeets

    This means that lorikeets are in a different family from many of the more familiar 'parrots', while keas are in a very different group. The member of staff may have known a bit more than has been suggested.

    I have been a zoo volunteer for over 30 years and I realise that there is little point in blinding some people with science. I also realise that some specialists know more than I do about some animals. I don't know what the situation was with the member of staff at Denver Zoo, but it wouldn't surprise me if some Zoochatters know more information about some animals than do some staff members. At London Zoo, volunteers may talk about a variety of animals and an individual may know more about some animals than others.

    I am pleased to say that I have heard staff members saying that bird-eating spiders are not 'tarantulas'. Tarantulas are wolf spiders belonging to the Lycosidae.

    P.S. Many people don't like being corrected and it is important to be careful about making a correction and to be discreet, ensuring that you are not overheard by other zoo visitors. This is one of the first lessons I learned on my first day as a volunteer.
     
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  8. Zygodactyl

    Zygodactyl Well-Known Member

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    Just FYI, I contacted the Denver Zoo on the advice of several people here and they forwarded my complaint to relevant people.

    The fact that this one individual didn't know what keas are wasn't really the issue, though the fact that three volunteers working at the lories didn't when the zoo had them did amaze me. But I feel like the bigger issue is that the keas can only be accessed by two paths both of which look like service roads, aren't marked on the map, and there's no signage indicating their location. If any of those three things were fixed I wouldn't have been asking after the keas, so I mentioned that to the Guest Care people too.

    @Dassie rat
    The more familiar parrots fall into two or three families within the "true parrot" clade, but however you dice the families the lories' closest relatives are the budgerigars and fig parrots, and the family they're in includes lovebirds. African grays, macaws, and sun conures are in a different family in most interpretations, but they're considered "true parrots" because they're not New Zealand parrots or cockatoos, and both keas and cockatoos are understood to still be parrots. (I feel like "typical parrots" would be a better term than "true parrot," though the latter is what Wikipedia and presumably the authorities they use use.)

    There was a time seemingly long ago, but still within my lifetime (and therefore certainly within the volunteer's), when some authorities split lories into their own family based on morphological evidence. However even then they were still understood to be parrots. Even if you accepted that interpretation a couple decades ago, saying lories are not parrots would be like saying that dolphins aren't whales or saying that cockatiels aren't parrots today.
     
  9. Dassie rat

    Dassie rat Well-Known Member

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    Hello Zygodactyl. I remember when lories were placed in a separate family, but I agree they were placed in the parrot order. When I was at school, I read an article that said that many rodents that are described as 'gerbils' are really 'jirds', but when some jirds are called 'Mongolian gerbils', I'm not surprised that people get confused. I have also seen many books and articles about 'whales and dolphins', as if dolphins aren't whales. There are some scientists that think that sperm whales should be classified with baleen whales, rather than toothed whales. There is also a lot of evidence that suggests that monitors should be classified with snakes, while blind snakes should be classified with lizards. I have tried to interest some visitors in these ideas, but to no avail.
     
  10. bongorob

    bongorob Well-Known Member

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    It would have interested me DassieRat, but Zoochatters are not the average visitor. One Members or Adopters day at chester, I spoke to a keeper on the carnovire section, just general chat about that section. About 40 minutes later we were discussing the conservation of solenodons, and I think he enjoyed it as much as I did :)
     
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  11. Dassie rat

    Dassie rat Well-Known Member

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    Another zoo volunteer and I had a conversation with a manager at a zoo. We talked about solenodons, bilbies and yapoks. It was an interesting conversation for us, but several other volunteers didn't know what we were talking about.
     
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  12. Hix

    Hix Wildlife Enthusiast and Lover of Islands Premium Member

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    And I recently learnt that termites have now been placed in the Blattodea and are classed as "social cockroaches".

    :p

    Hix
     
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  13. ProudFoster

    ProudFoster New Member

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    Something similar happened to me at the San Diego Zoo, of all places! Granted, the people with whom I spoke were not animal care professionals, but they did have a front-stage view every day to the pangolin presentation and didn't know what a pangolin was...like, seriously not more than 50 feet from their t-shirt stand, or whatever they sold.

    I gave them the benefit of the doubt, as 1) San Diego Zoo is so big that you probably don't need to love animals to work there, especially to sell food/shirts/balloons, and 2) they may never have had worked at that particular cart before.

    This was bewildering to a zoo fanatic like myself because I was like...how do you NOT know what a pangolin is?! You probably get to see one every day!!! And you were never curious about what it was, and you're lucky enough to work near the only one in the U.S.?!

    I digress. :p I did end up finding the pangolin, btw. For a short stint in 2015, it had its own exhibit by the petting zoo.
     
  14. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Well-Known Member

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    As a former volunteer docent myself who has spoken with docents at zoos across the country, I can assure you most zoo volunteers know next to nothing about animals.
     
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  15. Kakapo

    Kakapo Well-Known Member

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    Very agree on this part.
    By my hand, I still consider lorikeets and lories in the family Loriidae, while cockatoos and cockatiel are in Cacatuidae and the rest of parrots in Psittacidae. That doesn't meant than lorikeets and cockatoos are not parrots, but this is probably what this lady was referring to.

    And yes, true tarantulas are the wolf spiders (Lycosidae) and not the bird-eating spiders (Theraphosidae). The name comes fom the Tarantella dance than Italians practiced in old folklore when they are bitten by a Lycosa, for curation. About termites, I accepted long years ago that they're not a separate order (Isoptera) anymore, but one of the three suborders of the order Dictyoptera (the other two being the mantises and the cockroaches), but I think that include them inside the suborder Blattodea is excessive. I must remember, however, that in taxonomy almost every grouping/classificaction have various different opinions that are currently accepted or was currently accepted recently and every of them is valid, just you can choose the taxonomic school that you find more appropiate for each taxon.

    Also very important is to remember than common names are just common names, and you can consider that a parrots are just large, short-tailed parrots if you want, because others are not "parrots" but macaws, conures, parakeets, lovebirds, etc. When you want to be precise in taxonomy, then you must use scientific names obligatedly.
     
  16. Dassie rat

    Dassie rat Well-Known Member

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    It is also important to realise that few zoo visitors will know many scientific names. I spent an evening with two primate experts who used scientific names (Trachypithecus, Semnopithecus and Presbytis), rather than the common names of langurs and leaf monkeys. It meant that I spent so much time working out the common names that I lost a lot of the conversation and felt alienated. Also, scientific names can be confusing. I have seen the snow leopard referred to under the genera Panthera, Leo, Uncia and Felis, but I also remember when it was called an 'ounce'.
     
  17. Echobeast

    Echobeast Well-Known Member

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    Coming from a keeper and educator, I run into the conflict of telling people the technically correct information versus the easy to digest information. I have to think in the moment the best way to educate someone. If I try to explain the correct information but it’s technical and filled with scientific terms the lay person doesn’t understand, I wouldn’t be able to do my job. I’d be standing there for minutes explaining something to someone who probably just wanted a quick one sentence answer. For example, technically, all apes are monkeys from a cladistic standpoint. But as an educator, I can’t stand there and explain to a group of guests the ins and outs of primate phylogenetics. So we modify the information so that it’s easy for people to understand. We tell guests the differences between apes and monkeys are that apes don’t have tails. Easy and simple for the average guest to understand even though the 100% correct information isn’t given. I try to be as correct as possible and I’m always learning new things from all sources so I’m sure I’ve given some wrong information here and there.
     
  18. temp

    temp Well-Known Member

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    Using endangered in the way it generally is used by most people, which matches the description you'll find in a standard dictionary (=essentially synonymous with threatened), the southern cassowary is endangered. The problem only arises when people conflict the ordinary use of the word with the standardized IUCN terminology, where Endangered is one of several specific threatened categories. Under that system, the southern cassowary found in Chester and many other zoos is Vulnerable. It becomes even more confusing when adding other systems, such as the ranking used in the US Endangered Species Act.

    It is arguably far worse when some organisations publish press releases about the de-listing of a species as endagered by the IUCN, which then is picked up by the general media, sometimes without specification. For example, media around the world recently announced that the giant panda is no longer Endangered. I'm willing to bet that most ordinary people, especially ones only reading the headline (as many do in our one-sentence twitter world), read this as the species not being threatened anymore. The true story is that it is still threatened, but to a lower degree than before, now being Vulnerable instead of Endangered by the IUCN.
     
    Last edited: 2 Dec 2017
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