Zoo Internship (Lions, and Tigers, and Otters Oh My!)
Back at RIT again and as always, there are new adventures to be had. I’ve been looking forward to this quarter for some time now and now that it’s here I barely know what to do with myself! Why? My internship at the Seneca Park Zoo.
Last year I had the chance to apply for the Zoo Internship through the College of Science and was lucky enough to be accepted along with about fifteen other upper-class students. This internship includes 8 hours a week interning at the zoo with a mentor zoo keeper and 2 lecture hours at RIT with frequent trips to various facilities within the zoo.
Now, I have my days pretty well booked from Monday to Friday so I have been completing my hours on Sundays. The internship opportunities are divided into two categories, “Zoo South” and Zoo North”. While students working in Zoo North are mainly busy in the new African exhibit (lions, elephants, baboons, etc.), myself and a few other student interns work in Zoo South.
Zoo South includes animals such as the ocelot, raccoons, vultures, hawks, eagles, geese, rhinos, sloths, tamarins, agoutis, snow leopards, tropical birds, sturgeon, and my favorite… the otters. Scratch that, in no particular order, the otters (Sara, Heather, Sailor, and Skipper), snow leopards (Kaba and Princess), tamarins (Nick, Thomas, and Tollo), and ocelot (Storm) are my favorites.
What does an intern do when they’re at the zoo? Everything! Waking up at the crack of dawn to drive into Rochester so we can start work on the diets early in the morning. We prepare and feed each animal their meals at specific times throughout the day. With different groups of animals handled by each zoo keeper all needing different diets it can get confusing. Between feedings we clean and manage their exhibits (you’ll never comprehend how much a rhinoceros can poop until you’re scooping it into wheel barrows).
But if feeding, cleaning, and picking up after the plethora of animals didn’t sell you on the spot, we also get to assist in the enrichment of the animals. Usually once a day we do something different for each animal or species in the zoo. These range from spraying new scents (perfumes and spices) within their exhibit, giving them a new way to access their food, a new special treat with their diet, or training with their keeper.
My favorite moment so far? Working in the South American Exhibit, preparing a new enrichment for the tamarins and sloths in which we carved and decorated a pumpkin for Halloween. We used kale for hair, a cucumber for the nose, squash for the ears, and filled the mouth with cheerios, dried cranberries, and grubs. Those monkeys went crazy! They came from all angles to run up to the pumpkin, grab a piece, and run off to snack on their little treat, only to repeat the process over and over again, sometimes bouncing off of me (primarily my head) on the way.
I’ve been lucky enough to follow Tina Fess as my mentor on Sundays and I’ve learned more than I was expecting to from her. With a few decades of experience at the zoo she has had her fair share of incredible moments. She has seen animals born and raised at the zoo, making amazing connections with the ones she works closely with. One of her favorite moments she shared with me was of her being able to hold a new born tiger in her arms only a few years ago.
The Seneca Park Zoo may not be the largest zoo but it is one of my favorites because the connections I have made there as well as how attentive they are to the animals and conservation as a whole. As an Environmental Science major I think this has been a great experience for me and even with the hard work that has come with it, it has been wicked fun.