Gators and Tigers and Kids, Oh My!

Fred and I after the Crocodiles and Alligators presentation
Fred and I after the Crocodiles and Alligators presentation

If there were one word to describe the summer of 2015 for me, it would be “unexpected.” I never anticipated the degree to which my internship at Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo would positively impact my life.

I had known of the zoo’s summer internships since the spring of 2014. However, I didn’t apply until this past winter with the help of a good friend and fellow applicant. We both applied for the Animal Care and Education internships. The Animal Care internship allows interns to indirectly work with the animals (categorized as Predator, Hoofstock, Farmyard, or Rainforest) through tasks such as diet preparation and feeding, enrichment, and some training. The Education internship entails caring for the education animals (reptiles, rodents, small mammals, and birds). It also includes activities such as conducting on-site presentations to school children and educational talks at the zoo.

Me practicing proper alligator restraint with Fred
Me practicing proper alligator restraint with Fred

Ultimately, I was selected for a more flexible Volunteer Office internship. Although this unexpected decision was disappointing at the time, it would turn out to be a blessing in disguise. This internship was only 2 days per week, which allowed me the extra time needed to succeed in my Physics summer classes. My main responsibility was to stand at various animal exhibits and present about the respective animal to the public, utilizing satchels that contained fact sheets about the animals and “bone clone” model skulls. Later in the summer I assisted with Zoo Patrol. In this one-week program, children ages 6-14 hear zoo keeper talks, receive behind the scenes tours and hands on learning, animal enrichment activities, and participate in games and crafts. I also was able to learn about Predator and Rainforest diet preparation through my friends in the Animal Care internship. Finally, I had the privilege of learning one method of alligator restraint with Rainforest Reptile Shows (Fred, the alligator I am pictured with, was part of a roadside “zoo” for many years and was only fed hot dogs, causing him to develop metabolic bone disease. With the care of Rainforest Reptile Shows, he is now healthy and well).

Me presenting about the bald eagles with a feather and food model
Me presenting about the bald eagles with a feather and food model

The staff of Beardsley Zoo was overwhelmingly friendly, welcoming, and supportive. I learned an incredible amount of facts about the animals, which has peaked my interest in the zoo/exotics aspect of veterinary medicine, as well as information about conservation and the daily operations of a small AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums)-accredited zoo. I am immensely thankful for the twelve weeks I had at Beardsley this summer. This internship gave me something to look forward to each week; I always left feeling better than when I arrived. I just can’t stay away from my “crazy zoo friends” – I will be volunteering with the annual Howl-o-ween event this month, and over winter break I will be returning to be trained in handling of the education animals. This internship taught me to “expect the unexpected,” and I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything.

 

Two of the zoo's goats
Two of the zoo’s goats

Me presenting about the pronghorns
Me presenting about the pronghorns

Petya, Beardsley's male Amur Tiger
Petya, Beardsley’s male Amur Tiger