PITTSBURGH (WTAJ) — Every day around noon at the Pittsburgh Zoo, staff prepare to do a feeding round for the animals. At the California Sea Lion exhibit, you’ll be able to hear them barking, letting the staff know they’re hungry.
So what’s on the menu?
“As you can imagine, we mostly get seafood, sardines, anchovies, capelin, herring, and squid,” said Henry Kacperzyk, curator of Kids Kingdom at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium.
Kacperzyk has worked at the zoo for over 40 years.
“This is my dream job. You know, growing up in the city, I wanted to work with animals.
He said the Pittsburgh Zoo is truly one of a kind and one of the best zoos in the country.
“There were a number of things showing us in the top ten, which is pretty cool, and people who live nearby don’t have to travel a long way to get here,” Kacperzyk said.
During the summer months, Kacperzyk said they have a number of sea lion displays, and once you meet their California sea lions, you’ll fall in love.
“A lot of people look at them and think you’re doing tricks,” he said. “You know, you do tricks with your dogs, but we train behaviors, so we go to work with the animals, we do fun behaviors. You know, maybe throwing a frisbee and retrieving things… but we also do things like training them for blood tests, training them for ultrasounds. Any type of medical problem that arises.
They train these animals in different ways.
“We use our verbal voice commands,” Kacperzyk said. “We have hand signals and we will also do what we call ‘tactics’. Now, as they get older, animals can lose their hearing… I wear hearing aids, so maybe I use a visual.
Kacperzyk said that in captivity, sea lions can live 31 to 33 years, which is much longer than in the wild because they can go blind and lose their hearing.
“So that’s where the ‘tactics’ come in,” he says. “We learned that there are maybe three ways to get the same behavior. Looking at Maggie, our oldest female, she probably knows about 170 different behaviors.
Sea lions also have an artistic side.
“We taught them to paint to relax, and they are rewarded for it and they do a good job. Hawk loves to paint and our goats paint too.
Kacperzyk has a deep appreciation for their animals and wants to help educate the public about the importance of protecting these species.
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“People don’t realize you’re helping conservation in the wild, and you get appreciation and learn more about the animals we have here in captivity. We hope to make well-rounded individuals who come to the zoo and appreciate these animals and support the legislation and the various programs that allow these animals to continue to exist in the wild.