A Zoo Keeper’s Trip to Malaysia

In early November I embarked on a 2-week trip to the city of Malacca, Malaysia to take part in an animal welfare improvement project at the Melaka Zoo and Night Safari.  This trip was a collaboration between the Orangutan SSP (Species Survival Plan) and Animal Projects & Environmental Education (APE) Malaysia.  APE Malaysia works to improve the lives of animals in captivity as well as lives of animals in the wild.

After 32 hours of flying, I was joined by several AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) professionals from all around the United States.  Our group also consisted of animal care professionals from the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) located on the island of Borneo.  BSBCC is currently home to over 40 sun bears, most of which are confiscations from the illegal wildlife trade.  They work on rehabilitating the animals in hopes of releasing them back into the wild.

Our goal for the 2 weeks at the Melaka Zoo was to help improve their sun bear and orangutan habitats as well as teach their zoo keepers about positive reinforcement training and enrichment.  Positive reinforcement training is important because it helps build a positive relationship between the keepers and the animals.  This builds trust and allows the keepers to train the animals to do such things as making its easier to weigh animals, being able to check animals’ body parts, and being able to easily shift animals from one area to the next.  Enrichment is something that helps stimulate natural behaviors of the animal.  This can be anything from scattering food around an enclosure (stimulating foraging behavior) to adding scent from another animal to their exhibit (stimulating their senses).

Each AZA zoo keeper was assigned one group consisting of 4-5 Melaka zookeepers to work with.  I was working with the Zoo’s Reptile Team.  Our animals included everything from lemurs to macaws. One of the amazing things about Malaysia is that we are in the heart of the rainforest and have so many natural items to work with.  We made enrichment puzzle feeders out of the very large bamboo that grows there.  I also worked with the team to train their lemurs.   Both the keepers and the lemurs caught on very quickly and the lemurs loved their raisin rewards.




lemur-training enrichment

During the afternoons we also worked on construction projects in the sun bear and orangutan yards. We were lucky enough to have some individuals on our trip that work in the maintenance department of AZA zoos and were able to help build these awesome structures as well as improve the water feature in the sun bear yard.  The end result turned out fantastic and the bears and the orangutans loved their new and improved homes.



Sun Bear Habitat before
Sun Bear Habitat after

Overall I had an amazing two weeks in Malaysia.  I got to meet awesome zoo professionals from all over the world and work together to help improve the lives of animals.  As an Asia Section Zoo Keeper here at the Virginia Zoo, it was the experience of a lifetime being able to see the natural habitat of the animals in my care.

Bethany Baran, Virginia Zoo – Asia Trail of the Tiger Zoo Keeper