Living in the DC Metro Area, our family has many favorite places to visit but the Smithsonian National Zoo tops our list. Over the years it’s become the place where we’ve marveled at animals, learned about wildlife, and developed an appreciation for conservation. It’s also been the place where the kids have some of their fondest memories. We’ve said goodbye to favorite animals like Randall the giraffe and Happy the Hippo, watched the elephants embrace their new Elephant Trails habitat, pressed our noses to the glass while naked mole rats scurry through tubes- practically trampling each other, enjoyed catching a full display of plumage by proud peacocks upon setting foot in the Outdoor Flight Cage, and so much more.
Zoos make great outings for animal lovers but how do you continue to foster great learning between visits?
Picture books and non-fiction texts, zoo web cams, and apps all serve as great ways to continue the learning at home and one of my new favorites apps is TailsUp! Created by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, this free and easy-to-use app for iOS and Android is a fabulous way for kids to learn about tons of animals in a fun and age-appropriate way. Featuring vibrant photos and differentiated game play, TailsUp! is designed for kids ages 9-11 but can be enjoyed by younger kids and parents alike.
How to Play TailsUp!
After downloading the free app, select a category of animal from a variety of decks (Endangered, In the Water, Giants, and more) and decide how challenging you’d like the game to be. Easier levels allow players to choose to guess animal photos or photos of animals with accompanying names before going wild with their guesses!
The most unique (and challenging) level queues up photos of animals’ rear ends! Kids who pride themselves on knowing animal species will have fun trying to identify them by their tails!
Start game play by tapping the phone to your forehead and a countdown clock gives you 3 seconds to get ready. Players get 60 seconds to name the animal and even unsuccessful attempts provide great learning. The photo reappears along with a fact about the animal for kids to add to their animal knowledge.
Older kids with social media accounts can share the trivia on their accounts but I appreciate that the app recommends for kids to ask their parents first and provides an added barrier to sharing by having kids fill in missing letters in an animal name to unlock this feature.
Note: When the 60 second clock starting the countdown, the mobile device activates the front facing camera so the player can see themselves during game play. The video can be played back at the end of the round. While kids may find this feature interesting, I didn’t feel it was so necessary because getting immersed in the silly video could detract from the great learning that can occur from reading the animal facts presented on the same screen.
Encouraging kids to explore nature through app play helps kids better understand the natural world. The wide selection of animals that kids can learn about through TailsUp! provides an enriching learning experience for any animal lover.
How TailsUp! Impacts Conservation
The free app does feature in-app purchases of additional or customizable decks. The proceeds go towards AZA’s animal conservation efforts that assist with saving and protecting the most vulnerable wildlife species from extinction. There’s also a tab called Conservation where kids can read to learn more about what they can do and find other accredited zoos and aquariums that are part of Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
Encouraging Kids Towards a Zookeeping Career- Advice from an Expert!
Since TailsUp! was created by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, I had the opportunity to interview Kenton Kerns, Small Mammal House Biologist at the Smithsonian National Zoo. Often times trips to the zoo inspire kids to want to learn more about animals or can be the first step towards thinking about a career in animal sciences. I asked Kenton about being a zookeeper and what parents can do to encourage their kids if they’re interested in becoming one too. Here’s what he said!
Tech Savvy Mama (TSM): At what age did you know you wanted to be a zookeeper?
Kenton Kerns (KK ): I always knew I wanted to work with animals when I was a child, but I knew I wanted to be a zookeeper the moment I started volunteering at the National Zoo in college. Once I was behind-the-scenes at the zoo and saw firsthand how many interesting jobs and activities go on every day, I realized this was the career for me!
TSM: What do you love most about your job?
KK: The animals. We do this job to take care of animals with the hope that our work will help save animals and their habitat, and they make it all worthwhile. They’re always doing something different and keeping the job fresh.
TSM: What is the most challenging part of your job?
KK: The animals. It’s difficult taking care of something that can’t tell you what it wants or why the animal may not feel well. That is why it is so important for a keeper to know as much as possible about the biology and behaviors of the animals in his or her care.
TSM: As a zookeeper, I imagine that you work with all kinds of animals. What are your favorite animals to work with and why?
KK: I work at the Small Mammal House, so I work with small primates like howler monkeys, saki monkeys, and lemurs, carnivores like fennec foxes and sand cats, rodents like agoutis and porcupines, and sloths and armadillos. They’re all interesting in their own way… but golden lion tamarins are definitely one of my favorites!
TSM: Can you give me an idea of what a day in the life of a zookeeper is like?
KK: There is really no such thing as a typical day at a zoo, but generally it starts at 6:30am when we have a quick morning meeting to discuss the schedule and duties for the day. We spend the bulk of the day feeding morning diets and giving morning medications before cleaning every exhibit. The middle of the day is spent making the next day’s diets, creating enrichment activities, leading animal training sessions, or working on special projects like redesigning exhibit spaces. After lunch, we give out the afternoon diets and medications, make notes on what happened during the day, and head home.
TSM: What can parents do to encourage kids who want to become zookeepers?
KK: Parents should encourage their kids who want to be zookeepers to take part in any activity that involves animals. Consider joining 4-H or Future Farmers of America, take a job at the local pet store or vet office, become a dog walker or lend a hand at the stables… surround yourself with animals! Learn as much as you can through classes, workshops, and books. Visit zoos and talk to the staff and see what their experience is like. If you can, volunteer or intern at a zoo in college.
TSM: What are some other careers that can stem from experience working in a zoo as a zookeeper?
KK: My colleagues have become managers at zoos (assistant curators and curators), moved into jobs in horticulture, nutrition, or veterinary sciences, become more involved in research at a lab setting or in the field around the world, or gone back to school to get a master’s degree or a PhD. The possibilities are endless!
TSM: Besides your own zoo, what are some of your favorite zoos to visit?
KK: Zookeepers love visiting other AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums)-accredited zoos! Each zoo is different and has some ideas to bring home and try!
Huge thanks to Kenton for his time in answering our questions! As huge fans of the Small Mammal House, it was especially fun to get my questions answered by a zookeeper at a zoo we regularly visit. Kenton didn’t know that the National Zoo was right in our backyard or that it was one of our favorite places to visit but it’s especially exciting knowing that we might see him at work during our next visit.
No compensation was received for this review or publication of this interview. Thanks to TailsUp! for arranging the interview. All opinions are my own. Images courtesy of TailsUp! and the Smithsonian National Zoo.