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Ring-tailed Lemur with Baby

Up Close With Our Animal Caregivers

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Learn More about what it takes to Care for our Amazing Animals.

Meet Jen Bates, Safari West Animal Care Specialist

Getting Up Close and Personal with our Lemurs! As told to Athena Rusha

Meet the Lemurs that Jen knows personally and cares for daily. Dad Ziggy and mom Betty are the parents of three boys, Zuri and Marley who are a year old and the new baby born April 7, 2021. They all have different personalities, says Jen, that seem to go with their appearance.

The black markings around Marley’s eyes are pointy, so he looks a little wild. Of the two youngsters Marley is much more active and inquisitive than Zuri, who is calmer and more cautious. If Marley sees something new, he will immediately investigate; Zuri will follow him a short time later.

Betty is definitely the boss of the troop. Ziggy defers to her; he waits until she says its okay to eat. She sometimes shares her food with him, but he always shares with her. Jen says that Ziggy is one of the most laid -back lemurs she has seen. He is calm and patient with the boys, too.

The youngest boy, Kai, is still clinging to Betty. He takes turns riding on her stomach or on her back. He is still nursing only and has not yet started to eat grown-up food. He will start venturing away on his own soon but will run back to mama if the least thing startles him.

Jen says that one of the best things about her job is that no two days are the same. There are so many ways to benefit the animals in her care: enrichment, medical care, habitat design to name a few. She can quickly see that her care has made a difference for them.

The Ringtail family gets enrichment twice a day. This can vary from a bamboo wreath (tasty and edible) to a puzzle feeder made from bamboo tubes with part of the diet inside, or coconut husks hiding a favorite treat. Keepers enjoy creating enrichment for the animals in their care. It’s fun when there are unexpected results. You think that the animal will react one way, and they use the item in a totally different way, but it is still a success.

If she were forced to choose a favorite animal, Jen would say the primates. But she has a few other individual animals that she has a soft spot for. One of them is Lucky Ducky, a White-faced Whistling Duck with a winning personality.

Animal care has some difficult aspects; nothing is perfect. Jen says the hardest thing about medical care is that the animal can’t tell you what’s wrong. You know that they are acting “off” but you can’t put your finger on what the problem might be. Here is where attention to detail, patience, compassion, hard work, dedication, and persistence pay off. When you solve the mystery of what the problem is and fix it, it is a fantastic feeling.

If I were to give advice to my younger self, Jen says, “take the opportunities when they are presented to you.”

About Jen Bates:
Jen, mother of a seven-year-old girl and a four year old boy began her career as a volunteer at Safari West starting in 2009 and was hired as an Animal Care Specialist in 2012. She has been a supervisor since 2017. One of the great things about Safari West is that you can gain experience on the job says Jen. When asked how she decided to work with exotic animals she said, “I came to Safari West for a safari tour and never left.”