Detroit Zoo Hosts First International HAZWOPER Training

The Detroit Zoo recently hosted the first international Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) training, facilitated by the Alaska Sea Life Center of Seward, Alaska. Part of the Detroit Zoological Society’s (DZS’s) dedication to conservation includes annual training for DZS staff in HAZWOPER, which allows them to be prepared to respond immediately and help save wildlife affected by oil spills and other environmental emergencies locally, nationally and internationally.

The first international HAZWOPER training included 10 DZS staff members and eight other individuals from zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA). Currently, there are only 90 individuals from 50 AZA institutions who have this level of training, which included a two-day classroom course, an eight-hour online course on the nationally recognized Incident Command System, and an environmental disaster drill. The eventual goal of AZA and the Alaska Sea Life Center is to develop regional emergency centers across the country.

DZS staff has responded to three significant oil spills, providing assistance with the rehabilitation of several species and tens of thousands of animals.

Deepwater Horizon/BP
The largest marine oil spill in history took place in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010 when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and the BP pipe leaked an estimated 2.2 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf every day for nearly three months. This oil spill affected 400 different species of wildlife, including 8,000 birds, 1,100 sea turtles and 109 mammals. DZS Veterinary Technician Amanda Dabaldo traveled to New Orleans in July 2010 to assist with the recovery efforts.

Amanda spent two weeks working with the Audubon Nature Institute providing medical care for more than 140 juvenile sea turtles.

The Enbridge Oil Spill occurred in July 2010, when a broken pipeline leaked oil along 25 miles of river between Marshall and Battle Creek, Mich. An estimated one million gallons of oil affected thousands of animals including birds, mammals and reptiles – turtles were most affected. The Detroit Zoo, along with other AZA zoos including the Toledo Zoo, Binder Park Zoo, Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, Potter Park Zoo and the John Ball Zoo, partnered with teams such as Focus Wildlife, TriMedia Environmental and Engineering Services LLC, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to set up a rehabilitation center in Marshall. Nine DZS staff members spent more than 600 hours between August and October 2010, providing daily care for frogs and turtles.


In June 2000, the oil freighter Treasure sank off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa and 1,300 tons of fuel oil spilled near the largest colonies of African penguins.


Forty percent of the penguin population was affected by this oil spill; 19,000 of the birds had oiled feathers and went through the rehabilitation process, 3,300 chicks that were abandoned were reared and released; and about 19,500 birds were air-lifted and taken several miles up the coast and released.


Two DZS penguin keepers, Jessica Jozwiak and Bonnie Van Dam each spent three weeks assisting with this project.

– Bonnie Van Dam is the associate curator of birds for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Make a Difference at the Zoo

Saturday, October 22 is National Make a Difference Day and we’re celebrating with our incredible volunteer corps at the Detroit Zoo. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., guests can take part in a scavenger hunt as well as family-friendly hands-on activities to celebrate how volunteers make a difference at the Zoo.

Make a Difference for Birds

Guests can cut out window decals that help to prevent bird strikes, which kill millions of birds in the U.S. every year. One can be taken home and one will be left for use at the Zoo (while supplies last). Information will be available on other ways to help birds using items such as window tape, screens and paint.

Make a Difference for the Planet

Recycled T-shirts will be available for guests to turn into tote bags. Leftover millage signs (the ones with the cute animal faces) will be available to turn into journal covers, bulletin boards and other creative uses guests can find for them (while supplies last). Recycling plastic materials such as these signs helps keep them from winding up in landfills where they don’t disintegrate.

Volunteer Scavenger Hunt

Upon arriving at the Zoo, guests will be offered to take a “discovery tour”. This tour will direct visitors to locations around the Zoo where they will meet volunteers on duty and learn about what they do. Guests who complete the tour, fill out a form and turn it in at the Ford Education Center will be entered into a drawing for two tickets to Wild Lights – six winners will be drawn at 2 p.m. Guests will also receive a token item for participating. Guests who chose to do so may also include their email address on their scavenger hunt form in order to receive more information about either the teen or adult volunteer programs for Spring 2017. Volunteer Services staff will be on hand to collect the scavenger hunt forms and talk more about volunteer opportunities at the Zoo.

We hope you join us and learn more about our fabulous volunteers and how you too can make a difference! Also taking place this day is our encore Smashing Pumpkins event, when animals including the chimpanzees, polar bears, giraffes and “grizzly boys” are given Halloween goodies to eat, play with, roll around and smash. Learn more and view the schedule here.

String Holiday Lights Like a Pro

Looking to hang your lights like an expert this holiday season? Take a cue from the man who strings millions every year at the Detroit Zoo. Steven Greening, technical supervisor for the Detroit Zoological Society, leads the team that sets up more than five million LED lights in preparation for Wild Lights at the Detroit Zoo. Buildings, trees and more than 200 animal sculptures become illuminated as a spectacular holiday treat for hundreds of thousands of guests during 29 nights in November and December.

While lighting up the Zoo is far more intensive than decorating the average home – Steven’s team began their work in August – the tips he shares can apply to anybody, no matter the scale.

  • Stretch out light strands before hanging them. This allows the wires to naturally unwind and unkink, and ensures that the lights stay in place all season.
  • Mix white lights and colorful lights. Eye-catching white lights can be used to emphasize certain features in a landscape. Steven suggests buying the same color lights from the same source, as LED bulb colors can vary greatly between manufacturers.
  • Keep tension on light strands when wrapping tree trunks and limbs. When the temperature changes, loosely-wrapped wires can fall and look messy. Keep the spacing even and maintain it over the whole tree.
  • Reach new heights. Attach a BBQ fork to the end of an extendable painter’s pole to help reach tree canopies without using a ladder.
  • Maximize the space. If your existing landscaping includes lights aimed at bushes or trees, try using colored bulbs or lenses that match the holiday lights used. It will make the trees or bushes look fuller without using as many lights.
  • Most importantly, always follow safe practices on ladders and roofs. Don’t use staples to attach lights, don’t overload circuits and keep all electrical connections dry. Be sure lights are plugged in to a grounded outlet.

Wild Lights at the Detroit Zoo will be held from 5:30 to 9 p.m. on November 18-20 and 25-27; and December 1-4, 8-11, 15-23, and 26-31. Tickets are $10 in advance or $13 at the gate and will be available online for Members starting on October 1 and for the general public starting on October 15 at

Carousel rides and photos with Santa Claus will be available for purchase, and a 10-minute adaptation of the animated classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer will be featured at the Wild Adventure Zone 4-D Theater. This film will only be played during Wild Lights and tickets are $5 per person, ages 2 and up. In addition, the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition will be on display in the Ford Education Center.


Detroit Zoo Earns Top Honors for Customer Service Excellence

The Detroit Zoo recently received the prestigious William F. McLaughlin Hospitality Award for Service Excellence from the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau. This is a great honor, as it is the only award in the state that recognizes customer service excellence in businesses. Detroit Zoological Society Chief Operating Officer Gerry VanAcker and Guest Relations Director Alexis Means accepted the award on behalf of the Zoo’s dedicated staff and volunteers.

The staff at the Zoo works hard on a daily basis to ensure that each and every guest has a pleasant visit. During employee training, staff learns the Zoo’s rules for great customer service.

Grin and greet within 8 feet. Smiles are contagious, so simply smiling and greeting guests can make an impact on their visit.

Be a good listener. Taking the time to listen to guests’ needs by asking questions and concentrating on what they’re saying makes them feel as if we care about their experience – and we do!

Make guests (as well as staff and volunteers) feel important. If possible, use their name and treat them as individuals. Find ways to compliment them, but be sincere. By generating good feelings about doing business with us, they will return again and again.

Always say “yes” – within reason. Look for ways to help visitors whenever possible. If they have a request, as long as it’s reasonable, we can help.

Know how to apologize. If something goes wrong, it’s easy to say “I’m sorry” and guests appreciate it. Try to remedy the situation and make sure the visitor knows what has been done. Even if they are having a bad day, there’s always something we can do to try and make them more comfortable.

Give more than expected. Because the future success of the Zoo lies in keeping visitors happy, we try to find ways to set ourselves apart from other institutions. Escorting guests to locations when asked for directions is one way we can stand out. Don’t just show…go!

Treat all employees and volunteers well. It’s not just the guests who enjoy feeling appreciated. When we feel good, we’re better at making our guests feel good!

On the Right Track: Detroit Zoo Trains Ride High

Thanks to racecars, airplanes and dogged determination, the Tauber Family Railroad trains are running like well-oiled – and greased-up – machines.

The Detroit Zoo’s Tauber Family Railroad has been a longtime favorite of guests of all ages. In 1931, three years after the Detroit Zoo opened its doors, the railroad system was donated by The Detroit News and it wasn’t long before riding the train became as much a part of going to the Zoo as seeing the animals.

After serving an estimated 10 million riders, the original train was retired in 1949. In 1950, Chrysler donated three new trains, the Scripps, Reuther and Walter P. Chrysler. These trains – which the Detroit Zoo mechanics affectionately refer to as Scrippy, Ruthy and Wally – are still in use today, with rides offered daily from May to October, when the weather permits.

Running for eight hours a day, seven days a week will put a strain on any piece of equipment, let alone a machine that has been around since Harry Truman was in the White House. To accurately portray just how “experienced” the trains are, when they were donated, gas cost just $0.18 a gallon, Disneyland wouldn’t be opened for another five years, television viewers were a year away from being able to watch “I Love Lucy” and there were still only six hockey teams in the NHL.

When Tim Wade was hired by the Detroit Zoological Society’s (DZS) maintenance department in 2014, the trains were known to be less than reliable, though still safe. In the short amount of time that Wade has been a part of the DZS family, he has changed the entire way that the trains are maintained and repaired. Previously, mechanics would rob parts from one train to ensure the other two were running; now Wade makes sure only the most dependable parts are being used. Wade and the DZS maintenance team, which also consists of Ben Fritsch, Alvin Dillard and Ross Urtel, have integrated new fleet maintenance practices into the upkeep of the train; ensuring that when Zoo guests want to ride the train, they can.

Because of the loads that these trains carry, there is a need for proper maintenance and repair. By bringing his technical expertise, as well as his racing background into his work on the trains, Wade has been able to improve the efficiency of the railroad system. Wade grew up racing cars, which meant needing to be both the engineer and the mechanic when it came to maintaining as well as enhancing the vehicles he was racing. Wade has been involved in the mechanical trade as long as he can remember. He says that he got his doggedness and dedication to quality from his father, who was an aviation mechanic.

Having never worked on a train before, Wade will be the first to admit that initially the task of maintaining the trains was a little overwhelming. This was when Wade decided that he should think of the trains as a racecar, and after that, improvements really started happening. His idea was to treat the trains as if they needed to finish an eight-hour race, and anything less than that would be unacceptable.

As a mechanic, most of Wade’s work is done behind the scenes, which he says suits him, as praise has never been important to him. However, if he is having a bad day, he says walking over to the Africa Train Station and seeing the families smiling, waving and enjoying their time at the Zoo gives him a real sense of pride knowing that his work has made a difference in their experience.

And a legacy has been born, as the mechanics take special joy in talking about the trains with those who could one day step into their shoes. The DZS education staff periodically brings kindergarten “World Travelers” to the maintenance shop to see the trains, meet their keepers and hear the tales of Wally, Scrippy and Ruthy.