Tuesday, June 6, 2017

My High School Internship

Ever since I was little I knew that I wanted to work with animals. I didn't have imaginary friends, I had imaginary kittens. I would have tea parties with my stuffed animals rather than dolls. I would love doing animal reports in school because I got to spend a lot of time learning about an animal and then got to present about it to my classmates.

When I was old enough, my parents would sign me up for the day camps that our local zoo had in the summer, and then I moved up to doing the week long camps they offered. During that time I was learning so much and I was so excited to get to be at the zoo so often!

As soon as I was old enough, I because one of the teen volunteers at the zoo. I would work as many hours as I could every summer for the next 5 summers.

I knew the zoo like the back of my hand by that point, but I still wanted to learn more to be able to do more!

My senior year of high school, I was able to get an internship position at the zoo where I was able to work up close and personal with a lot of animals. It was a dream come true to be able to see what my dream job of zookeeping would really be like, and I loved every second of it!

Don't get me wrong, it wasn't at all glamorous, but there was something about spending a morning cleaning out the giraffe barn before being elbows deep in a salt water jelly fish tank that made me extremely happy.

I worked with a variety of exotic animals, which I was grateful for because I was able to see how the care works for each of them. Fish, Reptiles, Insects, Birds, Small Mammals, Large Mammals, Rodents, Felines, etc.

I've got a lot of funny stories about a lot of different animals and their amazing personalities!

Did you know that Giraffes can throw temper tantrums?

While I was there, there were two giraffes - one of which was much older than the other. The older one would get extra vitamins in his food every day, and would also do some extra training (which meant extra treats) so that he was amply prepared for his regular checkups with the vet. The younger giraffe would very often dump his food out and then run around and throw his head back in protest of not being given the same extras! He would throw a temper tantrum! Sometimes he would even try to reach the older giraffe's food!

I learned really quickly how to put up his food so that he wouldn't be able to dump out the whole thing.

The best part was getting covered in giraffe hair and having to explain to people what it was... Haha

One of my other favorite animals to work with were the Binturongs. There's nothing better than spending time with an animal who smells like buttered popcorn. They were so beautiful, and had such strong personalities! I had the opportunity to prepare their food for them on many occasions and even that was fun. It was like making a big fruit salad most of the time!

As you can imagine, I wasn't alone with a majority of the animals that I was working with. I was supervised by the keeper I was assigned to for the duration of my internship. However, there were a few things that I was able to do on my own!

I would manage a small building in a section of the zoo, which included jellyfish, cichlids, a lizard, a sand boa, and a tailless whip scorpion (which was always fun to talk about because one was used in one of the Harry Potter films, so people have sometimes recognized it).

There was only one time when I was left alone to clean, and that was with some red panda cubs. they stayed up in the trees and watched me while I cleaned. I raked up a lot of leaves, and cleaned out their little water feature that ran through the enclosure. I also moved around some of the wood that they use for climbing to make it so they could explore a little bit more. They were really adorable, and I was able to get a lot of photos of them.

During my internship, the biggest thing that I was trained on and learned was safety when it comes to wild animals. Not just my own safety, but the safety of the people who come to the zoo. Part of the internship included me being able to design and set up an enclosure. In my case, I set up a little aviary for an assortment of birds. Before that I had very little knowledge about how much thought goes into setting up an enclosure.

You have to keep in mind the birds' natural tendencies, making sure the ropes and branches aren't too thick or too thin for the birds to perch on, that they have the ability to hide but are visible enough for visitors to view them - and the safety of the keeper. If the keeper needs to get out of the enclosure in a rush, they don't want to be stepping over and under a million things trying to get to the exit.

Now I did my internship before the whole Harambe thing... But even then it was top priority to ensure that the enclosures couldn't be entered by the people visiting the zoo. Even people who would try. There are locks and keys, double door systems, alarms, nets, tall fences, etc. (Of course there were signs, but no one tends to read or pay attention to signs.)

I could go on and on about my internship! It was what made me really serious about going into this field - what made me want to study the care and management of exotic animals in addition to wildlife ecology.

Anyway... Haha I'll see you on Thursday! I'll be posting a selection of photos that I took during this Internship.

What do you think about your local zoo? Or about my internship? Let me know in the comments :)

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