Bird Park Gives Fascinating Insights into the Variety of Nature

Students Work in Groups with the Stereomicroscope

May 19, 2014

The Vogel- und Naturschutz-Tierpark Herborn to the north of Frankfurt may be small, but it’s always a great experience for school classes – and not only because it’s home to more than 300 animals of 80 different species, from South African blue cranes and white storks to meerkats and muntjac deer. Another special highlight for schoolchildren is the opportunity to look through a stereomicroscope and gain fascinating insights into nature.

At the entrance to the Bird Park, visitors are greeted by brightly colored parrots – not in cages, but up to their acrobatic antics in the trees. Some of them can talk, others are so tame you can even stroke their feathers. In the aviaries, some designed for visitors to walk through and all displaying a rich variety of plants, pink flamingos and Australian kookaburras, red ibises, Asian myna birds, red-billed blue magpies and crimson-horned pheasants, blue-crowned pigeons from New Guinea and many other exotic species besides European white storks, little owls, eagle owls and snowy owls all vie for attention. Particularly popular with children is the cute family of meerkats. The many school classes that pay regular visits to the little zoo are also delighted with the Leica ES2 stereomicroscope. Biologist and zoo educator Britta Löbig uses it to give them fascinating insights into nature.

Fig. 1: Visitors are welcomed at the entrance by brightly colored parrots. Like this salmon-crested cockatoo, …
Fig. 2: … various African gray parrots ...
Fig. 3: ... and the colorful macaws.

Impressive: reptile skin under the microscope

One of the Bird Park’s primary concerns is to teach children and teenagers about the nature that surrounds them. Apart from the park’s own youth group “Bird Park Explorers”, around 60 school classes a year visit the park. The zoo educator Britta Löbig shows them specimens under the Leica ES2 stereomicroscope, for instance animal and plant cells or bird feathers. "In this way the young scientists learn a lot about biological structures and how living creatures are made up. Our young visitors are always extremely impressed by reptile skin, too.  We also show them various small creatures, such as freshwater shrimps, which we fish out of our pond," Löbig reports. "The Leica ES2 stereomicroscope is extremely robust, making it ideal for our school classes. There are no parts to break off and operation is very intuitive despite the high-performance optics."

The zoo educator would like to expand the service for school classes in future. "We plan to set up  facilities for the zoo school where we can give children and teenagers microscopy lessons. We also intend to use the rooms for exhibitions," says Löbig.

Fig. 5: Biologist Britta Löbig examines fecal samples under the Leica DM300 to monitor the animals’ state of health.

Monitoring animal health

A Leica microscope also proves useful for monitoring the health of the animals in the park. The biologists and animal attendants use the Leica DM300 compound microscope to examine samples of animal feces, for example. "We look out for anything populating the intestinal tract that doesn’t belong there – worm eggs or similar", Britta Löbig explains. "Adult worms are not detectable in feces, but you can easily see the eggs under the microscope. This enables us to decide whether the animal is healthy or in need of treatment." For the Bird Park team, this has the considerable advantage that they can check for parasites without necessarily calling the vet in.

Fig. 6: The zoo educator feeding the tame meerkats.

Compound microscope allows fast and flexible treatment

Worm eggs come in various shapes and sizes – round or oval. Beside bird feces, the team also examine samples from mammals. "We refer to comparison images to identify the worms infesting the animals. Coccidia for instance are relatively often found in animal excrements and may cause diarrhea. Here we have to keep an exact eye on the degree of infestation. Because we keep our birds in outdoor aviaries, slight infestation is quite common. This in itself is not a danger. But if the number of coccidia eggs increases, we have to treat the animals before their organisms are weakened," the biologist explains. There are different preparations depending on the type of worm – mostly liquids that are given to the animals orally. "If it’s our tiny zebra finches that need a dose, it’s quite a challenge," says Britta Löbig. "In spring and autumn, we carry out regular precautionary de-worming, too. We always do it when the animals move from their winter quarters into the outdoor aviaries and vice versa."

However, the team does not only use the Leica DM300 to examine fecal samples, but also to look for skin parasites – such as mites. "The compound microscope enables us to identify the type of mite. Thanks to the Leica DM300 we can consult with our vet and begin treatment quickly and flexibly. We are also in close contact with other zoological gardens all over Germany. In this extensive network we share information on the various mite species and the best way to treat them."

Fig. 7: The cute animals are extremely popular.

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