My name is Heather McGahagin and I am going to be a junior in the Captive Wildlife Care and Education program. Right now I am working on my first internship taking place at the Salisbury Zoo in the middle of Salisbury, Maryland. It's a small zoo of only 13 acres dealing with a theme of new world animals, or animals from North and South America. I am working in the education department dealing mostly with running programs and providing care and enrichment to the education animals.
I have already been working at the zoo for two weeks now, the first week was before my internship was officially ok'd. Right now I have just been getting observations done of all the daily tasks and programs I will be taking part in at the zoo, ranging from Enrichment and Handling to Wildlife Encounters and Guide Tours.
I have on a few occasions now taken part in implementing enrichment to the education animals. We do this by looking in the notebook housed in the Visitors center and seeing which animals are on the schedule and what enrichment have been tried in the past. Exercise is one of the bigger and more entertaining tasks we can give the animals. For the guinea pigs and hedgehog we set up a little fence and let them run around for a bit. The chinchillas have huge balls that they run around in, being the visitor center has too many holes that the chins could escape through.
Handling has to be the most exciting part of my internship so far!!! I have to go through three handling sessions with Leonora, Lara or Brandon and give a 10 minute presentation to the three before I can be signed off on an animal. The education animals are divided into 5 levels varying on animal and the temperament of the animal. At the moment I have been rushed through the level 1 and 2 animals and am almost ready to give my presentations, I just have to study the animals a little more. Level one and two animals consist of the Screech owls, Broad winged hawk, Chinchillas, Hedgehog, Guinea Pigs, Ferret, Sun Conure, Corn snake, Bearded Dragon, Boa Constrictors, Ball Pythons, Hissing Cockroaches, Diamondback Terrapin, Painted turtle, Box turtle, and Spotted turtle. My favorite animals to handle so far have to be the owls and the hawk. It’s not everyday that you can just hold a bird like those on a glove and not have to worry too much about it getting away or trying to attack you.
Wildlife Encounters are where we take out three animals; a bird, mammal, and reptile, and give a short 30 minute presentation on them. The task is to distinguish between the three classes the differences and what puts that animal into that category. So I could take the Screech owl out and talk about how it has hollow bones, feathers, lays eggs, flies, and even talk about the differences in feathers. If the groups of students are small enough then they might gain the opportunity to touch the animals, depending on behavior of the group and the animal. Thursday I had the opportunity to observe a guided tour with a middle school in my town. The tour was led by one of the zoos more reliable docents, Lea, who was introduced to me as one of the better tour guides at the zoo. Needless to say it was a good experience to see how a tour should not go.
More recently I have been participating in cleaning out some of the animal exhibits. I helped out one of the other interns clean out the mammal cages, which took us no time. Then I have also cleaned out the Diamondback Terrapin and Grey Tree Frog tanks. Tree Frog took me maybe 15 minutes, where the Terrapin took me about two hours!!! Not only is it a large tank to clean out but you have to make sure the salinity is correct being Terrapins live in brackish water.
I have also taken on a small project of redoing the Chinchilla cages. I went out and made wooden shelves for both of the cages, one needed shelves and the other needed it's plastic ones taken out. I was lucky enough to make one set of shelves fit correctly, but the set I made for the larger Chinchilla we a weee bit too short. I hope to remake them and bring them in next week.
Right now things are going smoothly, though my biggest challenge would be learning all of the information on all of the animals. There are so many!!! Another smaller challenge would be handling the birds. The task in itself is fairly easy for the lower level birds. You grab their jesses, pull up gently and say “Step up”, then clip your glove to the jesses with the lead. It’s just clipping the lead to their jesses is the challenge, especially when you’re trying to keep an eye on the bird in front of you too.
I’ve learned so much this week, there is just too much to list! I have learned all about the basics of the zoos rules and programs, for example the two finger rule when letting people touch the animals. Also just the bare bones basics of the animal care and handling routine, like where things are located and briefly what is going on. But everything I am learning is probably standard in most zoos, so I am creating a platform for me to build upon when I go to get a job in the zoo field.
That's all for my first two weeks, hopefully next week will be just as exciting.