On The Record
Jan 21, 2009 | 2740 views | 0 0 comments | 42 42 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Queens zookeeper David Morales was not especially fond of animals growing up. He never dreamed of becoming a zookeeper. But then, in a single day, everything changed. At the age of around twenty, said Morales, 41, he was taking a photography course and decided to go to the Bronx Zoo to take pictures for a class assignment.

"I fell in love with the zoo that day and thought it would be a great place to work," Morales said.

Soon afterwards Morales went to work for the Wildlife Conservation Society, the organization that manages New York City's zoos, and has worked there ever since.

In November of last year, the distinguished city zookeeper traveled to the Peruvian capital of Lima for a three-day symposium on the care and conservation of the Andean Bear.

"Different people came together from around the world who work with the bears in the wild and in captivity in zoos," said Morales, to raise awareness about the dwindling Andean Bear population, now an endangered species.

Estimates place the world's population at between 20,000 and 60,000, said Morales. The bear’s native habitat ranges across Venezuela, Columbia, and the Andean Mountain countries of Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia.

Morales, who specializes in the Andean Bear, admits that his choice of specialty isn't the most logical one for someone who has lived in the Bronx and Queens all his life - regions not known for their Andean Bear populations.

Nonetheless, when two young bears arrived at the Queens Zoo in 1995, Morales was smitten. Morales has taken care of Cisco (a male aged 16) and Spangles (a 17-year-old female) for the past 14 years, making him a U.S. expert in captivity training and care for the animals.

At the symposium in Peru, Morales participated as a panelist on a forum about the enrichment, husbandry training, exhibit design, and healthcare of captive Andean Bears. Morales was the only American on the panel.

Morales also spent several days at the local Huachipa Zoo in Lima teaching zookeepers new training and breeding development methods for Andean Bears.

"The trip was great. I got to meet all different kinds of scientists that study bears and I learned a lot of new things," Morales said.

Morales said he particularly enjoyed passing on his hard-earned knowledge about his city bears to his Peruvian counterparts.

"Our job at the Queens Zoo is to care for the animals here," Morales said, "and if we have any success its nice to share that with other zoos in Latin American and around the world."

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