The Zoo was a very different place back in 1987 when I started, and a very male dominated work place. But things have really changed now, there are girls everywhere!
Back then the staff training involved multiskilling on all sections of the Zoo and you would spend up to six months on each section. This allowed you an opportunity to decide which area you would want to specialize in.
I have fond memories of working on the Primate section and in the Veterinary Department too. But my earlier years were predominately spent on the Australian Section looking after the Nocturnal House, koalas, dingoes, and what is now the Aussie Bush Walk.
Then there was the arrival of a couple of strange little animals with a highly specialized diet of termites. The Numbat entered my world!
I spent a considerable amount of time working out how to care for Numbats and how to trap termites to feed them. It was very challenging to start with, but with years of refinement, we have this down to a fine art now.
Numbats dine only on termites, roughly about 20,000 a day! Although we’d love to provide them with that many, it’s near impossible, so one of the things I helped create was an artificial diet for them. A custard that is cooked up every day with added nutrients and termites mixed through – yum! It took a lot of work and research to get the recipe just right, but now it’s a great substitute and keeps our Numbats healthy and in tip top shape. However, we try to give our breeding females higher percentage of termites during the breeding season.
Today I work in the Native Species Breeding Program area of the Zoo. This is an area visitors don’t normally get to see, but it is where all our conservation work takes place. In fact 1/3 of the animals that are cared for at the Zoo are part of the Native Species Breeding Program, where we breed animals and work with partners like Parks and Wildlife and the Australian Wildlife Conservancy to release them to the wild and keep them off the extinction list. It’s rewarding work!
I’ve been in this section of the Zoo since 1996. It’s where the majority of our Numbats live, where Australia’s rarest reptile, the Western Swamp Tortoise is bred and the carnivorous marsupial, the Dibbler is bred. Last year we welcomed ‘Miles’ the 1000th Dibbler to be bred at the Zoo. We also care for two tiny species of frogs, we’re trying to prevent them croaking in the wild, a small area near Margaret River.
I also hold the position of studbook keeper and ASMP Species Coordinator for Numbats, which is zoo lingo for saying I am the Numbat matchmaker. I make sure the genetics for the breeding program are managed properly and recommend which numbats get paired together for breeding. Due to the specific requirements of this species we’re still the only Zoo in the world breeding Numbats. After years of hard work it’s really rewarding to know that we have bred and released more than 225 numbats into the wild.
Not a bad little achievement, and something I never imagined I would be part of when I started at Perth Zoo 30 years ago!
Vicki Power - Perth Zoo Senior Keeper