Five Fascinating Facts About Sea Stars

1.Sea Stars Are Echinoderms, Not Fish

Despite commonly being called starfish, sea stars are not a fish species. They do not have gills, scales, or tails like fish. They also do not have a backbone, so they are considered an invertebrate species. More specifically, they belong to a family called Echinoderms. Being an Echinoderm means that members of these species have five-point radial symmetry (even though some sea stars have different numbers of arms! See fact number 2) Some other species in the Echinoderm family include, sand dollars, sea urchins, and sea cucumbers.  Another interesting characteristic that makes sea stars unique is how they move through the water. They have small tube feet under their body that helps to propel them through the water. These feet also have suction cups which allows the sea star to attach to rocks and prey. There are approximately 2,000 sea star species, all of which exist in ocean habitats.

2.Some Species of Sea Stars Have Different Numbers of Arms  

Although we generally think of a sea star with five pointy arms, this isn’t always the case. In fact, some species of sea star can have anywhere from 10, 20, or even 40 arms, such as the sun star species. On the other end, a species called cushion sea stars appear to look like a blob with no arms. Sea stars have the amazing ability to grow new arms if one is injured. Some can even regenerate an entirely new sea star from a damaged limb. This process of regeneration takes about a year.

Common Sunstar

 Cushion Star. Photo by Joi Ito

3.Sea Stars Do Not Have Blood

Instead of blood, sea stars have a special circulatory system, called a water vascular system, that pumps sea water through their bodies. The sea water delivers nutrients to the sea star, as blood would in mammals.

 

4.Sea Stars Turn Their Stomach(s) Inside-Out to Eat

A sea star’s mouth is located on their underside. They also have two stomachs!  Their prey generally consists of  mussels, clams, snails, and other bivalves. When they find their prey, they wrap their legs around their shell and open it enough to push its first stomach through its mouth and into the opening. Then, they slide their stomach back into their body and the food drops to their second stomach where it is digested. This unique way of eating allows the sea star to eat prey that it would not otherwise be able to fit into its small mouth.

Sea Star Eating. Photo Courtesy of Rosario Beach Marine Laboratory, via Invertebrates of the Salish Sea, CC-BY-NC-SA

5.Some Sea Stars Can Switch Their Gender

Sea stars are gonochorous, which means they are born either male or female. Although many species retain their birth gender their entire lives, many species have the ability to switch their gender. For example, all cushion sea stars are born male and later switch to female for reproductive purposes. All sea star species can reproduce sexually or asexually by regeneration.

The Red-Bellied Lemur

***Please note that this article was originally written by Lauren Bucciero as a volunteer writer for the New England Primate Conservancy. The images in this article are slightly different from the original due to licensing agreements. A link to this article’s original publication on the NEPC’s webpage is available here.***

 

Geographic Distribution and Habitat
The red-bellied lemur is one of the rarest species of lemurs in its genus, Eulemur. This lemur is native to the tropical forests of Madagascar, a large island off the coast of Africa that is home to many unique species of animals. Madagascar is the only place in the world where all species of lemurs are naturally found. Red-bellied lemurs move quadrupedally throughout the trees at the middle to high levels of the eastern rainforest on the island. Their home range is relatively small compared to other similar species, at about 25-50 acres (10-20 hectares).

Photo Credit: IUCN Redlist

Size, Weight, and Lifespan
The red-bellied lemur averages 14-16 in (35-40 cm) in length and weighs approximately 4-6 lb (2-3 kg). Their tail is longer than their bodies, averaging 20 in (50 cm) in length and, although it is not prehensile, it is very important for balance. The lifespan of a red-bellied lemur is approximately 20-25 years, both in the wild and in captivity.
​​

WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

Anogenital:
Relating to the anus and genital region.Gut Microbes:
Bacteria that live in the intestinal tract.Incisors:
Narrow-edged teeth at the front of the mouth, adapted for cutting.Monogamous:
Having only one sexual partner. ​

Palmar:
Pertaining to the palm.

Prehensile:
Able to grasp or hold objects.

Quadrupedal:
Using four limbs/legs to locomote. This word comes from the Latin meaning ‘four feet.’

Appearance
Red-bellied lemurs are dichromatic, a form of sexual dimorphism in which males and females of the same species differ in color. Males have reddish-brown fur with white, teardrop patches around their eyes. These white patches are not white fur, but rather bald spots. Males have a scent gland on the top of their head. Female red-bellied lemurs have similar reddish-brown coloring, but have white bellies. They have no, or barely visible, white patches around their eyes. Both sexes have black tails.
                                                    Female              
                                                      Male              
                      Photo Credit: ©noisytoy.net
Diet
Red-bellied lemurs are almost exclusively herbivores, but they also eat small amounts of invertebrates like insects. Their diet typically consists of flowers, leaves, and large amounts of fruit. The red-bellied lemur has been documented eating from over 67 different types of plants species.
​​
Behavior and Lifestyle
Red-bellied lemurs are social animals. They live in small groups of 2 to 6 individuals, usually consisting of a mated pair and their offspring.These lemurs are cathemeral, meaning they can be active during both the day and night, depending on the season and food availability. However, they are usually most active during the day. ​Daily Life and Group Dynamics
Female red-bellied lemurs are dominant over males in a group. Females usually take the lead on foraging expeditions. During feeding, the group employs a sentinel to warn other members of potential danger, such as the presence of a predator. Red-bellied lemurs’ biggest predators are birds of prey, like raptors, and the fossa, a cat-like carnivore native to Madagascar. If danger is sensed, the sentinel gives off an alarm call that causes the other group members to freeze (sometimes for up to 15 minutes) or flee to find safety if necessary.

The group bonds through grooming activates. The lower incisors of the red-bellied lemur are designed like a comb for this purpose. Studies have also shown that the red-bellied lemur’s highly social behavior and close physical contact is linked to the group’s health and responsible for maintaining a healthy gut microbes among group members. Individuals’ gut microbes were analyzed​ and determined to closely resemble those of the other group members. Researchers suggest that having similar gut microbes within the group synchronizes the immune defenses of each member and likely prevents individuals from contracting dangerous infections that would put the entire group at risk.

FUN FACTS

The red-bellied lemur’s bottom incisors are designed like a comb for social grooming.

Their tail is longer than their bodies.

Red-bellied lemurs drool on toxic millipedes to neutralize the toxins and make them safe to eat.

Communication

Due to their small home range, vocal communication is not as important as other forms of communication for red-bellied lemurs. For example, although males are the only gender with a scent gland located on their heads, anogenital and palmar scent marking is common in both males and females to establish territory. Touch, body postures, and facial expressions send many different signals including, play, mating, and aggression.

Although vocal communication is less common, it is used under certain circumstances. As mentioned earlier, the sentinel that serves as a look-out during feeding will give an alarm call if potential danger is perceived. This vocal warning consists of a series of low grunting sounds. The red-bellied lemur’s normal vocalizations are said to sound like the grunting of a pig; however, they have also make a sound similar to a cat’s meow.

Reproduction and Family
Sexual maturity is reached around 2 years of age for both male and female red-bellied lemurs. At that time, they find a mate and form a monogamous bond.A female’s estrus cycle lasts one month, during which time she has a high fertility window of 1 to 2 days. If she is impregnated during that time, the gestation for the pregnancy is approximately 120 days. She gives birth between September and October, usually to one offspring. Twins are rare.The birth weight of a red-bellied lemur is a mere 2-2.5 oz (60-70 grams). All red-bellied lemur infants have female coloring until about 6-7 months of age, at which time the males begin to develop their white eye patches. Infant mortality rate is unfortunately very high. About 50% of all red-bellied lemur births result in death of the newborn. If the offspring survives, the infant is fully dependent on the mother for the first two weeks of its life and is carried on the mother’s belly during that time. After that period, the infant is then carried on the back of both the mother and father for another month, until the mother rejects the infant at 5 weeks. At that time, the father takes over carrying the offspring until he or she is fully weaned and independent at about 3 to 5 months. The offspring remains within the group for a period of 2 to 3 years until they leave to find their own mate. One generation of red-bellied lemurs is 8 years.
Ecological Role
Because red-bellied lemurs eat a diet that is rich in fruits and other plants, their ecological role consists of being an important seed dispenser. Many plant species require their seeds to pass through a digestive tract in order to properly germinate and grow. The red-bellied lemur is responsible for this process, as well as adequately spreading the seeds to different locations.
Conservation Status and Threats
Unfortunately, all lemur species face the highest threat of extinction among primates. As for the red-bellied lemur, the International Union for Conservation of Nature lists this species as Vulnerable (IUCN, 2008). The greatest threat the red-bellied lemur faces is rainforest destruction due to slash and burn practices for agriculture, as well as logging and mining. Other threats include being hunted for food and skins, as well as being captured for the live animal trade.The estimated wild population of red-bellied lemurs is thought to be 10,000 to 100,000 individuals; however, the population is unfortunately declining at this time. One issue that is thought to contribute to the decline in population is that when food supplies are low, many lemur species do not engage in breeding. With the rapid destruction of their habitat, more and more lemurs are not producing offspring and the red-bellied lemur’s population numbers continue to drop.

Conservation Efforts
Fortunately, there have been many regulations put in place to protect this species. Right now, wild populations of red-bellied lemurs can be found in five different national parks, two strict nature reserves, and six special reserves throughout Madagascar. As of 2009, there were a reported 165 individuals throughout the world in captivity in zoological collections. There are laws in place to protect this rare species from being hunted or captured for trade. The red-bellied lemur is listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). CITES is an international agreement between governments that put regulations in place to ensure the trade of wildlife and plant species does not put the survival of that species at risk. Under Appendix I, movement of the red-bellied lemur is controlled and trade is only permitted under specialize circumstances.There is hope for survival for the red-bellied lemur. Continuing to spread awareness about the issues of rainforest destruction, supporting companies that are ecofriendly, donating to causes that promote conservation of primates and their habitats, promoting ecotourism, and encouraging others to take part in these efforts are all wonderful ways to help the red-bellied lemur increase their population and thrive.

What Exactly is a Veterinary Technician ?

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.

So, what exactly does a vet tech do?

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.

 

The Downside

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.

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A Zoo’pendous Summer! Part Two

The Small Mammal Building

**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.

https://mildnwild.com/2017/03/15/how-to-find-animal-care-internships-and-volunteer-opportunities/

 

A Zoo’pendous Summer! Part One

Preparing for my Internship

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:

https://mildnwild.com/2017/06/01/a-zoopendous-summer-part-2-small-mammal-department/

 

Don’t forget check out Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium, and Safari park on their website linked below!

 

http://www.wildlifeworld.com

 

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.

https://mildnwild.com/2017/03/15/how-to-find-animal-care-internships-and-volunteer-opportunities/

 

How to Find Animal Care Internships and Volunteer Opportunities

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!

1. Reflect on your interests

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.

2. Do your research

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:

  • Do I want a long-term volunteer opportunity or more of a short-term internship?
  • If this internship is far from home, do they provide housing?
  • Do I want to make money or just gain experience?

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.

3. Be proactive

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.

4. Ask a friend

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.

5. Always remain professional

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.

6. Be willing to start from the bottom

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.

https://mildnwild.com/2017/03/15/its-a-zoo-part-one-preparing-for-my-internship/