When I was a teenager, I decided I wanted to become a vet tech. I always loved animals and I was interested in medical care. However, I didn’t want to go to eight years of school and I knew that vet techs only required an associates degree. Even though I had decided on this career, I didn’t quite know what a veterinary technician even did. Once I did my research, spoke to people in the field, shadowed a tech, and looked into degree programs, I became an expert on what a vet tech is. Although I eventually learned, many people today still don’t even know we exist, and if they do, they don’t understand what a vet tech is, what our job entails, or how much work we do to care for their animals. If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me if I was a veterinarian when I told them what I do… So I decided that I would take it upon myself to further educate those who aren’t quite sure what a vet tech is, and hopefully help people gain a whole new respect for those in this field.
Schooling is generally where most vet techs begin. The field of veterinary technology has grown tremendously, and is predicted to grow even more in the future. With the growing field and higher standards of pet care, most veterinary technicians are required to have at least an associates degree, if not be certified. However, the veterinary field is slightly behind the human medical field, so many techs that have been working for years have learned everything through on the job training. Today, if you want to work as a vet tech, you usually need a degree.
I decided to attend Great Bay Community College in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Not only was it reasonably priced, but it was the only American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) accredited program in the state at the time. After two years, I graduated with an associates degree in science in veterinary technology.
I like to describe a veterinary technician as a nurse multiplied by ten. Think about when a person goes to a hospital. There’s one nurse that gives medication, one that will monitor a patient under anesthesia, a lab tech will draw blood, a radiology tech takes x-rays, a different nurse assists the doctor during the exam. Well, vet techs do all of that and then some. Not only are there just a few people to do all these jobs, but our patients can’t verbalize what is wrong with them and we can’t explain why we need to do certain things that might be uncomfortable. This is why one of the most important things a vet tech can know is how to properly restrain. This is the first thing taught in school, not only to keep the staff safe, but the animal as well. I was once told on an internship that if all you know is proper restraint, you are beneficial in a veterinary hospital. Other tasks vet techs complete in a day is surgery preparation, anesthesia monitoring, administering medication, giving vaccinations, calculating drug dosages, assisting the veterinarian during exams, entering medical information into the computer, educating clients, ordering supplies, trimming nails, cleaning ears, running blood tests, running fecal tests, running urinalyses, fixing broken machines, spending time on the phone with Idex, cleaning up messes, and updating the doctor on relevant medical information.
Veterinarians have so much on their plate, often times they rely on us to be aware of every detail of each patient. I hear veterinarians all the time ask questions like so what’s the deal with this cat’s eye again? Which dog has the heart murmur? Did he get his meds yet? Was her owner the one I needed to call? Most of the veterinarians I know have so much to deal with, they are often focused on the big picture, and they rely on technicians to intimately know every aspect of a patient, their owner, and the particular case. This is not to say veterinarians don’t know their patients, but when they get swamped, it’s almost impossible to keep track of every small thing. That’s why we are there to help them, even though at the end of the day the veterinarian ends up with all the credit because so much of our work is done behind the scenes.
There are some downsides to being a vet tech. Out of all the work vet techs do, they are incredibly under-appreciated and ridiculously under-paid. Veterinary technicians are paid an average of approximately $32,000 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. People always assume veterinary practices are “money-grubbing” and vets are “only in it for the money.” When in fact, veterinarians only make about $88,000 per year, and that is usually the top earnings. I knew a technicians who’s husband made less money than the hospital manager when he was right out of veterinary school. Plus, if the veterinarian owns the practice, a lot of their money goes back into the clinic. Veterinary staff work so hard, putting in so many extra hours away from their families in order to make sure each patient gets the best care possible. I’ve seen so many veterinary professionals skip lunch and hold their bladders because they are trying to get everything done, and it often seems impossible. Everyone I know in the veterinary community puts in so much blood, sweat, and tears and they do it because it’s a calling and they love animals, even on the days it gets hard.
An important fact to mention is that veterinary professionals also have one of the highest rates of suicide in comparison to other professions. This job can take a huge toll on mental health. It’s important to recieve proper help and talk to people when this job gets overwhelming.
Dealing with clients isn’t easy either, because they don’t always want to do what is best for their pet. Seeing animals in prolonged pain because people don’t want to let go, or good people making bad decisions that result in their pet suffering, or putting a perfectly healthy animal down because the owner was moving (I’ve seen that happen), having the doctor yell at you for making a mistake, because it falls on their shoulders, or dealing with an angry client. It sucks! Some days are hard, but I think there are so many rewards that it outweigh the bad. When the doctor tells you that you made a good call, or a client says thank you, or a dog wags his tail and looks up at you when you walk by, only hours after he just had major surgery. Those are the rewards that make it all worth while.
Because we all too often see a lot of unpleasant, sad, disgusting, upsetting, and horrible things in this profession, you have to have a sense of humor. I’ve spent many days dying of laughter in the veterinary hospital. You wouldn’t be able to get by seeing a cat who had it’s tail broken by the owner’s angry ex-boyfriend (seen it), or a cat with maggots crawling out of it’s anus (seen it), or see an owner abandon an animal at your hospital because they couldn’t afford the surgery it needed (also seen it), or having a chicken have projectile diarrhea all over the front of your scrubs (lived it), without also being able to laugh.
Although I love working as a vet tech, I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to do forever. Which is why I decided to venture out and head back to school to study animal behavior, because my ultimate career goal is to work in wildlife conservation and the vet tech program was always a stepping stone in my plan to get there.
Currently, I am working as a veterinary technician at the New Hampshire SPCA for the summer. They needed extra help on surgery days, which happens to be the area I am most experienced with (and my favorite!) I really love working at a shelter and I am hoping to pick up a part-time tech job near UNE for the school year.
Even though I decided to take a different path with a career, I truly feel that once you’re a vet tech, you’re always a vet tech. Working or not, you carry everything you have experienced and learned with you, and you will always be a veterinary technician at heart.
I first learned about prehensile tail porcupines when I was sixteen. I was on a class trip to Busch Garden’s where my classmates and I got to spend three days working behind the scenes in Tampa, Florida with the zookeepers. The keepers had this critter perched on a wooden platform where people could come up and pet it. I was reluctant, thinking the quills would be painful to touch, but they actually weren’t that bad! The featured photo on this post is from that experience (please excuse me while I cringe over that picture!) I later worked with these guys again at my internship at Wildlife World Zoo where I managed to snag a few of the quills they shed for a scrapbook.
Prehensile tail porcupines are very unique looking. They almost remind me of a cartoon character. Their bodies are covered in short black and white quills that defends against predators. They also have a velvety soft nose and a prehensile tail for which they were named. This tail is made up entirely of muscle and is used as a fifth limb to assist in navigating their habitat as arboreal animals (tree-dwelling) in South America.
The prehensile tail porcupine is classified in the rodent order by scientific taxonomy, according to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. They traditionally weigh about four to eleven pounds and are approximately twelve to twenty-four inches in length. This species of porcupine is nocturnal and an herbivore, consuming any vegetation easily found in treetops. Females reach sexual maturity around nineteen months and can continue reproducing until about twelve years of age. Babies are born with soft quills in order to prevent injury to the mother, these quills harden within an hour after birth. The baby prehensile tail porcupine also has the ability to climb immediately after being born. The average lifespan of a prehensile tail porcupine is twelve to seventeen years.
Fortunately, the prehensile tail porcupine is well adapted to fend off potential threats from predators! They stiffen their quills when threatened, but no species of porcupine can shoot their quills out of their body which is a common misconception. However, porcupines do shake their quills in order to intimidate potential predators which is most likely where the misconception originated. This porcupine does have some natural predators, such as large birds or big cats native to South America. Sometimes the porcupines forage for food on farms and are potentially hunted and killed by humans. As of right now, the prehensile tail porcupine is listed as least concern according to the Cincinnati Zoo.
To learn more about the prehensile tail porcupine, please check out the video below from Discovery!
That is a great question! Although the pronghorn is similar to deer or antelopes, they belong to a family all their own. They live across North America, spanning from southern Canada to Mexico, according to the National Wildlife Federation. They prefer to dwell in open fields, plains, grassy areas, and desert type environments. According to National Geographic, pronghorns are the second fastest mammal in the world only second to the cheetah. Clocking speeds of up to sixty miles per hour! Pronghorns are also known for having one of the longest land migration of any animal in the United States! Trekking in large herds about one-hundred and fifty miles one way between the Upper Green River Basin in Wyoming and Grand Teton National Park. Because of their speed, they are able to to easily outrun predators such as coyotes or bobcats, but also can run great distances at half of their maximum speed.
The pronghorn’s coloring is a reddish brown with distinct white patches on their stomach and throat. Some subspecies can have patches or stripes of black as well. They also have a unique white warning patch on their rear end that can be seen for miles and is raised when startled. Both sexes have large, black horns that split off into forward pointing prongs, which is where their name originates. Defenders of Wildlife says that pronghorns are commonly referred to as “Ghosts of the Prairie” due to their elusive behavior.
I had the opportunity to interact with a Sonoran pronghorn named Mario (pictured above) during my internship at Wildlife World Zoo. I reached out to his former zookeeper, Ashley Korenblitt, who I have remained in contact with in order to get some fun facts about this unique species. Ashley told me about the warning patch and how they fluff up their tail when on alert, which she says she finds cute. They actually show off this white patch in order to warn other pronghorns about potential danger. They have strong vision which is relied upon to avoid predators. Ashley also told me about their intelligence, and how they have the ability to recognize barriers and avoid them.
Pronghorns are herbivores and eat various grasses and shrubs found in their natural habitat. They migrate during the winter in order to have access to better feeding grounds. They reproduce in the late summer or early fall and the females have one or two offspring. The average lifespan of a pronghorn is about ten years.
According to arkive.org, before the European settlers came to North America, pronghorn numbers were in the millions. By the 1920s, the population had crashed to a mere 20,000 individuals. The Conservation Planning Specialist Group says that the pronghorn was one of the first species declared endangered in the United States. However, thanks to the tireless efforts of conservationists, we have managed to bring the numbers of pronghorns back up to about 700,000 across North America. They are currently listed as least concern by the World Wildlife Federation. Although their populations are thriving, they do face some threats. Urbanization, new fences, roads, cars, shopping malls, and people all threaten the safe migration of the pronghorn. These animals take the same routes during migration as their ancestors, but with habitat destruction for the benefit of humans, the pronghorn has to face change in migration route and separation of herds. There are currently efforts by various organizations, including WWF, that are advocating for keeping migration routes clear to keep the pronghorns safe.
The Sonoran pronghorn, which is the subspecies pictured above, is listed as endangered. In 2002, this species was almost completely wiped out by drought. Climate change, habitat loss, and human activities are listed among the many threats that have caused this species to become endangered. The good news however, is that the Sonoran is on the road to recovery thanks to conservation plans put in place by the United States and Mexican governments in the 1980s and 90s.
The addax antelope is one of the most critically endangered species of antelope. No one is certain of the exact amount of addax left in the wild with numbers ranging from only three to fewer than one hundred individuals. One thing however is certain, this species is critically endangered and extremely close to extinction in its natural habitat. Although on the verge of being wiped out in its native habitat in northern Africa, the species is fortunately thriving in captivity with approximately two thousand individuals in zoos and sanctuaries worldwide. I was fortunate enough to get to experience the addax antelope up close and personal during my internship at Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium, and Safari Park in the summer of 2016. As you can see from the featured photo, quite a few babies were born to the addax that summer.
Both the male and female addax have long, spiraled horns and a bright white coat. The coat color actually reflects light keeping them cool in their desert habitat. Arkive.org describes the addax as also having a have brown coloration and tufts of brown fur (that in my opinion resemble a toupee) around their forehead. The males are generally ten to twenty percent larger than the females, weighing up to three hundred pounds and standing up to forty-five inches tall measuring to the shoulder. The addax is very adapted to the extreme heat with specially adapted splayed hooves to help them through the sand. Addax antelopes are herbivores and actually receive most of their water through the plants in their diet. They produce highly concentrated urine to help conserve water and excrete dry feces, says livescience.com. They actually absorb and use every drop of water they consume! When addax populations were abundant, females generally produced one offspring a year which were born a light beige color for camouflage with their sandy environment.
At one point in history, the addax roamed the entire northern region of Africa but now the minuscule number of individuals left only exist in the Termit & Tin Toumma National Nature Reserve in Niger, Africa (IUCN). A social creature, addax naturally form herds with about twenty individuals with a strong male taking the role of leader. Before the significant decline of the addax, the antelopes would migrate each season between the Sahara and the Sahel with groups seen in the thousands.
The main reason for the rapid decline in addax population is overhunting. The meat and leather produced from the animal is valuable to the indigenous people. The addax is also slow-moving making it easy prey and no match for the modern weapons used for hunting today. Some other reasons for the near-extinction of the species is drought, desertification (the process of fertile land becoming inhabitable due to a variety of factors), as well as habitat destruction for agricultural use and expansion.
The short answer? Yes! Fortunately, the species is highly protected due to its critically endangered status. International trade is prohibited by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) agreement and the individuals left in the wild are located in a protected nature reserve through the Sahara Conservation Fund. The other upside to the tragic circumstances of the addax is that they are thriving in captivity. Many activists criticize keeping animals in zoos or sanctuaries but this is one of the many cases in which captivity has saved a species from extinction. Many organizations that keep some of the two thousand individuals in captivity are working on reintroduction programs in order to build up the wild populations.
The marabou stork is a unique species of bird. Known for its large stature, its long, hollow legs, large beak, and a droopy, pink wattle, the purpose of which is strictly for show, many would consider the marabou stork an unappealing animal. In spite of not having any feathers on their spotted head or legs, their bodies are covered in dark grey feathers. Unlike the traditional stork mythology, the marabou stork is associated with death rather than the bringer of babies. Sometimes called the undertaker bird, African folklore says this awkward looking stork was created by God out of remaining bird pieces when he ran out of animal parts; this is why its appearance is so unpleasant. Although unique looking, these birds have many fascinating characteristics.
Native to the sub-Saharan region in Africa, the marabou stork is very similar to a vulture. Often found scavenging near lion feeding grounds and waste sites, this bird feeds on almost anything it can find. The marabou stork is often found near grass fires due to a unique feeding behavior. The stork will advance towards the fire in attempts to catch any animals that are fleeing.
Marabou storks are very social creatures and can often form flocks of up to a thousand individuals. Sexual reproduction is reached at approximately four years of age. Mating pairs are generally monogamous, and they build large nests on treetops. Two to three eggs are laid during the breeding season and both the male and female incubate the eggs and feed the young. The chicks begin to leave the nest around four months of age. Marabou Storks generally live to about twenty-five years of age in the wild.
Because the marabou stork is a large predatory bird, they luckily don’t have many threats! The populations are actually increasing due to their ability to thrive near urbanization. Although sometimes traded at Nigerian markets, as of right now, the marabou stork is listed as least concern.
I was fortunate enough to work with a marabou stork during my time at Wildlife World Zoo. I always enjoyed watching our stork, Fred, gracefully wade in the tall grass or his impressive ability to accurately catch meat that was tossed to him from several feet away. It is my hope that these gangly creatures stick around for a long time!
**To read more about my internship and the other amazing animals I worked with, please check out my series of posts titled “A Zoo’pendous Summer” linked below!**
If you happened to see my most recent post about the three-banded armadillo, you would know that I recently attended a local event that had a New Hampshire based organization called Wildlife Encounters present. This organization provides education and outreach through live animal interactions. This program actually came to the University of New England during finals week and I had the chance to bond with an african spurred tortoise, also known as a sulcata tortoise, named Rex. I once again came across Rex at this particular event, clearly having a good time munching on some grass, so I decided to ask the wildlife educators some questions so I could tell everyone here about the african spurred tortoise!
Known as the largest species of tortoise in the African mainland, it is only outsized by the species of island dweller tortoises in the Aldabra and the Galapagos. The african spurred tortoise can easily reach one hundred pounds and is an average of thirty inches in length. A tortoise differs from a turtle in that they are generally land-dwellers, whereas turtles are more aquatic creatures. There are other small differences between the two species, such as tortoises having differently shaped feet that are better for digging rather than swimming. Both turtles and tortoises are classified as reptiles.
The african spurred tortoise, named for the spikes on their hind legs, inhabit the southern edge of the Sahara desert, making them well adapted to the extreme heat. Because temperatures in the Sahara can reach up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, these tortoises are known for digging dens up to ten feet deep in the sand to escape the heat of the day. They warm themselves in the sun during the morning hours to raise their body temperature from the night before when it is cooler. Their diet consists of grasses, leaves, flowers, and even cacti. The african spurred tortoise is most active during the rain season which spans from July to October and breeding season takes place between June and the following March. The average lifespan can range from eighty to one-hundred years!
The african spurred tortoise is listed as vulnerable with habitat loss being one of the major reasons. Populations have declined due to the urbanization and overgrazing by domestic livestock. The species is also eaten by native tribes and also used to make certain medicinal potions in Japan. Because they don’t reach sexual maturity until fifteen years of age, they have a hard time keeping up with reproducing enough offspring to survive, which means they could face extinction in the near future. Another big reason the african spurred tortoise is at risk is due to the fact that they are commonly captured and sold as pets in Europe and North America. Commonly bought as babies, the species quickly gets too large to manage and the pet owner is often found not being able to care for the tortoise anymore. This is what happened to Rex before he was rescued by Wildlife Encounters.
Simple conservation efforts to prevent habitat loss are important. However, one of the most important things we can do is to take a stand against the pet industry and say no more to the capture and trade of the african spurred tortoise! Educating breeders, pet stores, and owners about the risk such as, endangerment, their large size, and the long lifespan will help cut down on the demand for these guys as pets and therefore help to conserve the species.
Recently I attended an event put on by a local farm in Kingston, New Hampshire. While there, I came across an organization called Wildlife Encounters. This New Hampshire-based program provides education and outreach through live animal interactions. As I observed the various animals, one interesting little critter caught my eye. Quickly running back and forth within an enclosed area, was a small armadillo about the size of a softball. There are over twenty species of armadillos, all of which, aside from one, live in Latin America. These omnivores can vary in size and characteristics, but have one very distinct feature in common. They are the only mammal covered with a shell. This unique adaptation which provides protection from predators, is where they get their name. Armadillo translates to “little armored one” in Spanish. This armor is made up of boney plates that cover most of their body including the back, head, legs, and tail. The armadillo on display through Wildlife Encounters was a three-banded armadillo named Athena, after the greek goddess of war who is often depicted in armor, of course!
The three-banded armadillo is native to the South American rainforest, particularly Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, and Paraguay. They are approximately nine inches long, weigh about three pounds, and consists of a light brown color. This type of armadillo is unique in that it is the only species that can curl itself into a complete ball. The armadillo will often leave a small opening when curled up and will sharply close around any predator claw or snout that attempts to explore the opening, making this a powerful defense mechanism. They also have the ability to run very quickly to escape predation. This armadillo differs from the other species in that they don’t dig their own burrows, but rather find a home in abandoned ones. Although they prefer a solitary, there have been groups of up to twelve individuals sharing a burrow in the winter. They can live up to fifteen years in the wild and twenty years in captivity.
I don’t know about everyone else, but I think these guys are just the cutest! Athena reminded me of a small bug, not only in appearance but in the way she quickly scurried around her enclosure as well. I also observed her nuzzle her long snout into the blankets in her pen in what appeared to be an attempt to get comfortable, very adorable! Her handler Meghan, demonstrated the ability to close into a ball and it was fascinating to be able to see how nature has a way of working so perfectly. Her head and tail closed together like pieces of a puzzle. Athena is only about three, so hopefully she will be educating and entertaining people around New England for years to come!
The three-banded armadillo is listed as near-threatened due to habitat loss and overhunting for use of food. As of right now, the populations are declining and there are no significant endeavors to preserve this species, although many organizations are making efforts. The three-banded armadillo gained significant attention from conservationists in 2014 during the FIFA world cup. The species is commonly seen as a mascot for soccer in Brazil which was where the world cup was held that year. Many organizations urged FIFA to partake in conservation efforts.
So you’ve been inspired to save the armadillos! The biggest thing that can be done for the three-banded armadillo is to work on rainforest conservation efforts. Their biggest threat is habitat loss so getting connected with organizations dedicated to preserving the rain forests of South America is a great start!
**You can find part-one in the “Zoo’pendous Summer!” series linked here: https://mildnwild.com/2017/03/15/its-a-zoo-part-one-preparing-for-my-internship/
My first day interning as a zookeeper was in the Small Mammal department. This building housed a variety of critters from small primates, to exotic squirrels, two kinkajous, fruit bats, and even familiar critters like mice and a guinea pig; plus much more. The zookeeper I would be working with was Mitch. My first interaction with Mitch consisted of him pulling up in a golf cart smoking a cigarette and wearing dark sunglasses. Not the best first impression but I was willing to give him a chance. He barely grunted a hello, and once we zoomed away from the gift shop he grumbled “I’m really hungover.” I laughed, maybe a little uncomfortably but I have to admit, he grew on me over the next two months.
The Small Mammal building was essentially two long hallways on each side of the building with the public viewing in the middle. Our sides consisted of a line of wooden doors with padlocks. Each door lead to a small enclosure that house the various mammals. Directly opposite of each door, was the glass that the public could view the animals through. The public side of the building was air conditioned, however ours was not. This was due to the need for a natural environment for the small animals that were housed in the building.
I was fortunate enough to work with two other interns during my time in the Small Mammal department. Angelique was the one to show me most of the ropes and pretty much immediately took me under her wing. She was a nineteen-year-old, petite Hispanic girl who was very perky and sweet. Ashley usually came in the afternoons, she was one tough chick, but she warmed up to me eventually. Both of them had been working at the zoo as interns for much longer then I had so I learned a lot from them.
The first task of every day was to do some touch-up cleaning in each enclosure, take the food and water bowls out to wash them, and then wash the glass on the inside and outside of each enclosure. Touch-up cleaning consisted of squeezing in the small door and maneuvering around various jungle-gym type structures (these were monkey’s after all) with a bucket, paper towels, and animal-friendly glass cleaner. All the while, trying to not smack your head on a tree, or upset the monkey’s, and maybe keep some dignity while getting gawked at by zoo guests. Once we were done picking up piles of feces, dead cockroaches, and old food (zookeeping is not a job for the faint-hearted), we took the food and water bowls out of the enclosures and brought them to the sink to wash. Mitch prepared all the diets, which consisted of various fruits and monkey biscuits, which was put in the proper bowls and then we would redistribute the bowls to each enclosure. This was done every morning, along with hosing down the bat enclosure. Cleaning the bat cave (literally) was an interesting task that involved dragging a garden hose into a pitch-black enclosure. The hose often became kinked, killing the water pressure. The bats thankfully would shy away from the light of the door, which we often had to keep cracked open in order to run the hose through. This was generally a two person job that Angelique and I would complete in the morning, as Ashley didn’t come in until the afternoon. We definitely had our share of laughs when a guest would come by and press the button on the outside of the glass that illuminated the enclosure, allowing the public to view the bats. This generally caused the small bats to swarm frantically around our heads for a few moments, and the look of horror on a guests face when they realized what was happening was always funny.
The routine of cleaning and feeding took up most of the morning, however I was fortunate enough to see another department most days during my time in Small Mammals. Mitch was also on the hand-raising staff. This meant that he was one of the few zookeepers that bottle-fed the baby animals in the nursery. I saw a lot of different babies pass through the nursery during my time at the zoo. The most memorable would be the jackals, the young warthogs (Lion King pun intended), a baby wallaby, a badger, and two baby jaguars born during my last week. It was incredible to see how fast they grew, and the dedication of all the keepers that worked so tirelessly to stick to a very precise, round-the-clock feeding schedule.
Lunch was generally eaten around noon at a picnic table in the service area of the zoo. The service area consisted of multiple feed rooms, the veterinary clinic, a kitchen, the maintenance workshop, and housing for some of the staff. In Small Mammals, the day generally slowed down after lunch. Usually there was more cleaning and then the animals were fed again around four about an hour before I would leave. The Small Mammal building was very laid back and there was always a lot of laughter.
There were many memorable stories from the Small Mammal building. One day, I was cleaning one of tamarin enclosures (a small monkey) when this little guy just came right up and tried to grab my phone! He actually put it up to his ear, which I assume he saw guests do through the glass of his enclosure. I then tried to grab my phone back from him and he ended up slapping me across the face! I had a small cut from his tiny nails on my nose, but it wasn’t too bad. I definitely had a good laugh that I was slapped by a monkey. Another daily occurrence that always made me laugh was trying to clean out the exotic squirrel enclosure. These guys liked to jump out as soon as the door opened, but if you blew raspberries at them, they ran. I never felt more ridiculous slowly opening a door and loudly blowing raspberries at a squirrel. My favorite animals in the building were two squirrel monkeys. One was named Ms. Tiny and she loved to take grapes out of your hand.
There were a few animals housed outside the building, two blue macaws sat outback and a cage full of about twenty squirrel monkeys were housed in the front. The blue macaws were put out onto a perch in the ponds area every day. Mitch would have the two birds step onto a long wooden pole, which we would then walk over to the ponds and then gently perch them for a few hours before they came back to their home. One day, I tripped in the back in the mud and ended up rolling down a small hill in front of Mitch, Ashley, and Angelique. We had a great laugh about that one! The squirrel monkeys out front required daily care as well which included feeding and raking their enclosure. The monkeys would often jump on our backs when we were cleaning, which was always fun.
My time in the Small Mammal building was full of rewarding experiences. It was nice to have a more laid back day due to the very physically demanding days I had in the other departments. It was also nice to be inside when it was over one-hundred degrees outside. I will always fondly look back on the days when I monkey’d around in the Small Mammal building!
**Please stay tuned for the next post in my “Zoo’pendous Summer” series to read about the three other departments I worked in during my internship.
For tips on how to find animal related internships and volunteer work yourself, please check out my how-to article provided in the link below.
In the Spring of 2016, suddenly I was stuck at a crossroads in my life. I was 23 years old and feeling lost. I went to school, got my associates degree in veterinary technology, and was working in the field I had always dreamed of. However, something was missing. The veterinarian I was working for was difficult, and I was the only tech in his small practice so there was no one to learn from. I was constantly being yelled at for rookie mistakes, and was often lost under the pressure of the fast past clinic. I had attempted the VTNE, the veterinary technician national exam, and failed. I kept telling myself that lots of people fail certification tests the first time, no big deal. However, the months went by and I kept putting off studying and just lost motivation to try it again. That’s when I started thinking about my past and realized that I had always wanted to work with exotic animals and wildlife. The vet tech program was always meant to be a stepping stone in a plan to reach that much bigger goal. That’s when I decided to quit my job, go back to school, and search for zoo keeping internships I could do for the summer.
After being accepted into the University of New England animal behavior program, I started looking for zoo internships across the country. I decided that I wanted to spend two months out west in Arizona because my aunt and uncle agreed to let me live with them for the summer if I found an internship close to them. I also liked the idea of spending time with family that I didn’t get to see as often, including my eighty-eight-year-old grandmother. I started googling zoos near their town, and Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium, and Safari Park happened to pop up. After exploring the website, I was excited to see how many animals Wildlife World Zoo (WWZ) had at their facility, and so many different species! It is the largest collection of exotic species in Arizona. This zoo has even more animals than the Phoenix Zoo, and more impressively it was privately owned by one man. I applied almost immediately. Although I continued to apply to other internships, I had my heart set on Wildlife World Zoo.
Shortly after sending in my application, I received a call from Jamie the volunteer coordinator (and assistant curator, and senior zookeeper; this woman was seriously busy.) It was the call I was hoping for: I was accepted as an intern! I learned WWZ was very relaxed when it came to their internships. There was no uniform, I, for the most part, could pick my own schedule, and choose the departments I was interested in as long as there was space. I learned that really the only difference between an intern and a volunteer at WWZ was that interns had a required amount of hours and received a certificate stating you had completed all the hours at the end. The volunteers and interns had pretty much the same job, but it was probably the most hands on work than any other zoo I had looked into which is what really appealed to me about it.
About a month of preparation went into packing and planning for my trip. Finally, the last week in April had arrived. My family always plans a yearly visit to Arizona to see our extended family and we decided that we would all fly down together, and I would just stay for my internship. I gave myself a few days to get settled, and set up a meeting with Jamie the week before I started. My family decided to check out the zoo on the day of my meeting so we could all get a feel of where I would be working for the next few months, and of course check out all the animals.
Jamie came and picked me up at the gift shop in a golf cart, a common mode of transportation at large zoos. We made our way back to her office and sat down and discussed the departments and days I would be working. Although she didn’t have room in birds and primates, which was one of the departments on my list, she did have room in small mammals and hoofstock, my top two choices! She also added me in the ponds and carnivores department, another area I was thrilled to work in. I would work Friday through Monday 9-5. After our brief meeting, my family and I explored the zoo. Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium, and Safari park was so big we couldn’t even get through it all in one day. I left feeling excited for the next two months and couldn’t wait to see what this internship brought me.
The next few days came and went and it was finally time for my first day. It was my father, mother, and sister’s last day before flying home so I was happy they got to send me off on this new adventure. My first day I would be in the small mammal building. This building housed bats, small primates, rodents, and much more. It felt like the first day of school again. I was nervous and excited all at the same time. My mother eagerly awaited to take my picture by my shiny new rental car. I suited up in the appropriate khaki shorts, tee shirt, and sunscreen. I packed a hearty lunch and giant water jug to get me through the day. I laced up my sturdy work boots and posed by the car for a photo. Then I was off for my first day…
**Read part two in this series, linked below:
Don’t forget check out Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium, and Safari park on their website linked below!
For tips on how to find animal related internships and volunteer work yourself, please check out my how-to article provided in the link below.
I’m often asked about my many unique experiences I have had with animals over the years. I’ve been fortunate enough to have lots of animal interactions from a young age. Such as growing up visiting my grandfather’s farm, to volunteering at animal shelters, interning at veterinary hospitals, volunteering at a wildlife rehabilitation for birds, and of course my two-month internship at Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium, and Safari Park in the summer of 2016 (please check out my series of posts detailing that internship, a link is provided below.) If I had a nickel for every time someone exclaimed “ugh I am so jealous of all the cool animals you have gotten to interact with.” I would have enough money to buy my own giraffe (which I would not recommend, giraffes are smelly!) However, most people don’t realize that you don’t need to have an animal related education or career to have the experiences I have had. In fact, there are many ways that you could start volunteering, interning, or even find a job in animal related career today! I have compiled a list of helpful hints, tips, and ideas below. Check ‘em out!
The field of working with animals is vast. There are so many different options and a wide variety of opportunities. Ask yourself, what interests me? Is it dogs, cats, and bunnies? Is it veterinary medicine? Is it farm animals? Wildlife? Zoology? Knowing what you are interested in can narrow down your search.
Helpful tip: Make a list of your top three interests to narrow down your search.
The best way to find a job is to look of course! Almost all the internships I applied to were found online. You can easily type in something like “wildlife centers near me” on google and see what pops up.
Ask yourself some questions, such as:
These are all questions that can easily be answered by searching on an organization’s webpage.
Helpful tip: Most volunteer and internship information will be located under the “job” or “employment” tab on an organization’s webpage. If you can’t find it, don’t assume there isn’t anything available. Go to the “contact us” page and send an email, it never hurts to ask.
As said above, always ask if you can’t find an answer. The zoo I interned at didn’t even have internship information on their website, but I saw they had information for volunteering. If I had never emailed the volunteer coordinator and asked about internships, I would never have known! Always be assertive and ask questions, every application process is different.
Helpful tip: Offer yourself to a place of interest! Even if they don’t usually take volunteers, taking initiative and offering to help for free is appealing to those in charge. Put yourself out there and it’s almost always worth it.
You might have a friend or family member that has had a cool experience working with animals. Ask them about it! The animal field is all about connections, and your friend might be able to recommend you to someone in charge or even just give you advice on how to get started.
All your communications and behavior should always remain professional. Even if you decide against a particular place you were interested in, let them know. Don’t just stop emailing or answering their phone calls because you decided on a different place. You never know what the future holds and keeping contacts in related fields you are interested in is always a good thing. If you do decide to volunteer or intern at a particular place, remember just because you might not be getting paid, doesn’t mean you aren’t working. I take my volunteer work and internships very seriously. Always listen to the staff you are working with. Animals can be unpredictable and even dangerous and the staff members are very knowledgeable and the rules they are telling you are there for your safety and the safety of the animals.
Generally, volunteering or interning is the bottom of the workforce food chain, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t beneficial. Not only do you gain valuable work experience, but you get to show those in charge what you’ve got. Say you had your heart set on an internship but there are only volunteer positions available. Take it! You might be able to work up to an internship once a position is available. Same goes for taking an internship when you were really looking for a job. Do you know how many people get hired from internships? A lot! Even if it isn’t exactly the work you pictured, you are still getting your foot in the door and sometimes that is half the battle.
Working with animals is such a valuable experience and I hope this article was informative and helps you take the next step towards your dream!
Please check out my series of posts titled, A Zoo’pendous Summer! to read more about my zookeeping internship. A link is provided below.