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My Favorite Weekend of the Year

August 26, 2010

All year our park educates and inspires our guests about conservation and the animals we have here at our park. However, we pick one special weekend each season to make these important messages a focus. It’s time for Wild Days at Busch Gardens this weekend, August 28-29.

Not only have we invited our famous friend, Julie Scardina, to do some shows in the Globe Theatre, but we’ve invited some of our friends from Busch Gardens in Tampa, too. One of the trainers coming from Tampa used to work in Williamsburg and although we are really excited to see her, what we really want to know is what animals she is bringing with her.

Guests will be able see all of their favorite animals with some fun additions for the weekend. The wolf trainers will be doing some special talks in Wolf Valley, the team at the Highland Stables will be doing some braiding demonstrations with the Clydesdales, animal shows with Julie Scardina in the Globe Theatre, as well as all over the park, with animals, all weekend long.

Although most of us can’t wait for Wild Days weekend, the week leading up to the event is a ton of work. Think about all of the extra cleaning you do when the in-laws come to visit and you can imagine our week. We also have rehearsals for trainers and animals to prepare them for the event.

Come see us for Wild Days. It is always my favorite weekend of the season.

For more information about the event, check out our website:

Animal Trainer at Busch Gardens



August 24, 2010

Recently we added some new logs to our stage. We thought it might be fun to watch the wolves jump over two sets of logs instead of just one. Since the wolves already knew the behavior “leap,” the only real hurdle was to show them that “leap” over the new set of logs was the exact same behavior as “leap” over the old logs.

I went on stage with Sikko during one of our Wolf Training Spotlight Tours to show him these new logs. Wolves can be super cautious of new things. So instead of asking for the leap, I was going to give him a “follow” signal up and over the logs. When I guided my hand up and over the logs, instead of leaping, Sikko climbed right on top. The old logs are smaller and too wobbly for a wolf to do this. But these new logs are big and sturdy. So there he stood “perched” atop these new logs. It was so neat and unexpected, and he looked so magnificent standing up there, I decided to start capturing the behavior.

Capturing a behavior simply means that we see a behavior happen and we reinforce it. We are “capturing” the exact instant that we see something we like. It’s a method of training we can use if we see a wolf exhibit a cool behavior. We don’t actually have to teach them how to do the behavior, like when we “shape” a behavior through the use of operant conditioning. We just have to reinforce them for doing it on their own. Sometimes this is a science, as the wolf might not always do that behavior again. You might not ever get another opportunity to reinforce the behavior again. But if you reinforce it the first time, and you’re lucky, you just might see it again and again.

Sikko hasn’t fully learned “perch” yet, but he knows how to climb up on those logs and look handsome. So hopefully within the next couple of sessions he’ll have it all figured out.

Next time you come to Wolf Haven, look for Sikko in a show or a tour, and see if you can capture his new behavior in a lovely photo. I’d like to personally thank Sikko for his creativity; I’m not sure I would have come up with that behavior on my own. I’d also like to thank our observant tour photographer for being in the right place at the right time.

Wolf Trainer at Busch Gardens

What’s in a Name?

August 23, 2010

Choosing a name for an animal is more important than you might think. The animals you meet at any of parks are considered Animal Ambassadors. Not only are they ambassadors for Busch Gardens, but they are ambassadors for their species. We want to choose a name that means something, will resonate with our guests and could possibly be an education tool as well.

The process in choosing their name can vary. Even before a new animal arrives, we begin learning about their natural history. This research usually leads to some bright ideas about possible names. Most of the time, we will submit the names to our Zoological Manager and he helps to make the final decision. Last summer we even had a contest posted for our guests to help choose names for our new Gray Wolf pups. Below are just some examples of animals you might meet at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg.

Patrick the Scottish Blackface sheep

Patrick was born on St. Patrick’s Day this year. We really didn’t have a choice, did we?

Otus the Eastern Screech Owl

When Otus came to live at Busch Gardens the scientific name for the Eastern Screech Owl was Otus asio. It has since changed to Megascops asio.

Carumbe the Red-footed Tortoise

The word carumbe is the Amazonian Tupí word for male tortoises. This is the native language where you would find the red-footed tortoise.

Roca the Cuban Rock Iguana

Roca is a Spanish word meaning rock. These iguanas are commonly found on rocky coastal areas on Cuba.

Next time you visit us at Busch Gardens come introduce yourselves to the animals.

Animal Trainer at Busch Gardens

The Eco-Friendly Job

August 19, 2010

Most gardeners have had the opportunity to garden organically by hand-picking potato bugs and pesky beetles from their rose garden. (This is the 21st century spin on what my parents called “chores.”) Today I got another opportunity with my personal favorite, the bagworm.

Bagworms are nothing like the tent caterpillars or fall webworms, which form condo-nests high up in trees. These nests can be removed with the aid of a pole pruner from a distance.

Bagworms create individual homes in subdivisions and proceed to exfoliate your plants. If you are sufficiently attentive, you’ll catch up with them while the area is still rural and there are only a few to remove. Come to the problem too late, and you’ll be removing plants altogether. All of these pests are larvae at this stage, and can seriously damage trees or shrubs that they inhabit. The adult moths only serve to perpetuate the problem.

The good news is that the worms are generally species-specific, so an infestation is limited to certain plants. Unfortunately, juniper is a favored species, with lots of varieties of juniper and cedar here in the park. Just keep alert and care for your plants regularly to try to eliminate the bagworms before they become a problem. Sometimes it’s easier to just do it the good old fashioned way, and organically pick them off yourself.

Landscaper at Busch Gardens

Meet Akisa and Adana

August 17, 2010

We have some new arrivals … two red-ruffed lemurs. “Akisa” and “Adana” were born on April 21 at Busch Gardens, Tampa. The names were chosen from Malagasy words, which is the native language of Madagascar. Akisa means playful and she definitely fits her name. Adana means peaceful and she is the more reserved of the two. The trainers are calling them Kisa and Ada for short.

Although, their main diet is a variety of fruits and veggies they have some favorites. The trainers are very popular when they have bananas and grapes to offer. The team is welcomed each morning with the lemur’s very loud raucous call that can be heard up to a mile away.

Once the treats are gone, the girls want to play and be scratched. You know when a lemur is really comfortable with you when they offer their armpit for you to scratch. You can tell a good trainer when they are willing to do it.

The team and I are currently training the lemurs to go into their kennel. We are also getting them comfortable with a leash and harness. This will be extremely important when they begin going to education programs and media events. It is kind of hard for me to concentrate on training when Kisa keeps trying to steal the banana from my hand.

Two of our trainers flew to Florida recently to pick them up. They spent a few days working with Kisa and Ada’s Tampa trainers and made sure the girls were comfortable with them before bringing them back to Williamsburg.

Guests will be able to see the lemurs August 28 and 29 during Wild Days, but don’t be surprised if they make some appearances around the park before then.

Animal Trainer at Busch Gardens

The Ever Changing Circle Bed

August 16, 2010

My fellow landscapers at Busch Gardens call it “the circle bed” but guests know it as the large bed of flowers in front of Das Festhaus.

With each new season come new plants and a new design to the area. Through the years there have been numerous incarnations, from Maypoles to baskets elevated over the bed. This summer season, you’ll find the bed has become part of the “Clocktoberfest” experience of IllumiNights.

In winter, it has regularly featured violas over spring tulips but Christmas Town has changed that. A 50-foot tree occupies that space for the rest of the season, with an amazing light display.

No matter what the season, the plants in the circle bed have their work cut out for them. This bed receives full sun and is visible from near and far. This visibility requires a clear design to showcase the Festhaus building, while maintaining interest for photos of friends and family as they relax along the wall. Our plan involves seasonal changes of annual plant material, with routine maintenance, but otherwise very limited alterations between.

What will the next version look like? Fall normally brings lots of mums to the park. Perhaps some will make it over to Oktoberfest. Come check it out.

Do you have a favorite picture of the circle bed? I’d love to see it. Post it here.

Landscaper at Busch Gardens

David Cook … True American Idol

August 13, 2010

American Idol is a must watch at my house every season. Both of my daughters love music, and enjoy watching the show from beginning to end. So, it was a no-brainer for me to see David Cook in concert at Festhaus Park this past Sunday. We had an opportunity to sit in the VIP Skybox for a great view of the show.

Not only is David Cook a great singer and performer, but he relates with his fans and audience. He paused between a few songs to have fun with his fans (pulling two young girls on stage that had brought a sign with them asking for guitar picks. He also pulled a father on stage that had a “man crush” on the bass player.) He performed songs from his first album and all of them were great. Toward the end of his performance, he played a couple of songs off of his new album.

I met a young lady at the show who is a big fan of David Cook. She truly appreciates all that he stands for and all he does to support cancer research. She is a survivor herself, and wanted to pass on her appreciation to him. He is a lot more than a performer to many people … he is truly an American Idol.

At the end of the show, he and his band mates took some time to meet with fans and take pictures and sign autographs. We got a chance to be a part of this experience, and what a treat it was. Although my youngest daughter portrays a shy image at first, she was the most excited to get to meet David Cook and quickly came out of her shell.

It was a great show to be a part of. I look forward to enjoying more concerts at the park, and to hearing more of David Cooks new CD!

Park Operations Manager at Busch Gardens