A window inside life at Augustana College

Ask Me About My Internship!!

The ending of my final Fall Term ever brings bittersweet feelings. I’m so relieved to be one step closer to my future (I’m quite future-oriented). However, with the end of the term comes the end of my internship; one that gave me almost half a year of the most amazing experience.

 

My Animal Husbandry Internship at the Niabi Zoo began on June 3rd. I was immediately surprised by the amount of respect I got even on my first day. There were no stereotypical feelings of “Psh, silly intern… go make some copies and staple these papers together.” It also was a lot different from a lot of “shadowing-only” experiences. They immediately put me to work, that’s for sure!

My very first day was definitely an interesting one! Due to medical reasons, I was put in charge of monitoring a wallaby joey for almost eight hours. It was her first time away from her mom, and I had to make sure she was not in distress. Who else can say on the first day of their internship, they got to hang out with wallabies for eight hours?!?

 

Over the past 207 hours I spent at Niabi Zoo, I have learned so much more about my future career path that I could ever learn in any classroom. I got to know every keeper and animal on a very personal level and experience so many learning experiences that affected not just my career, but my own personal growth.

The zookeepers I worked with were incredible, and I feel like we all got very close. The two other keepers I worked with and I all had different levels of experience, but also brought something special to the table. It was pretty inspiring that a seasoned regular keeper, a new seasonal keeper, and an intern could all have so much respect for each other regardless of how much experience we each had. Of course, the regular keeper of five years took the lead in most of our activities, but it never felt as though he were talking down to us. He took both the new keeper, and I under his wing and showed genuine interest in helping us learn to be the best we could be. The three of us could be so efficient and hard-working, and still found so many moments to joke around and have a good time (and at one point race a Gator against a Golf Cart). It usually takes a while for me to really open up to people and show my true goofy side, so I surprised myself when I let a joke slip out of my mouth (and it surprised me more when everyone actually laughed at said joke).  On my last day, everyone tried to make it special. I was even asked, “Do you want to do anything special since it’s your last day?” I ended up choosing to feed bananas to the giraffes.

 

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I know it’s probably not advised to play favorites, but the giraffes were the animals that really made my experience special. Out of all the animals I worked with, I spent the most time with the giraffes. On the first day of my internship, I was stunned by their size, grace, and beauty when I stood nearby them. It was so cool to be able to experience the temperament of giraffe; matching their physical appearance, but also with an endearing softness when you look into their eyes. As I got to know the trio, Kenya, Mimi, and Twiga, I discovered each one had their own personality.  Kenya, our bull, is a lot like many hormone-ridden boys (he reminds me a bit of a Middle Schooler). We can’t let Kenya outside until we let the girls out first, because otherwise he would stay inside to be with the girls. During training, he even gets easily distracted by the girls and throws his head around in a sassy manner almost like he’s showing off to them. Mimi is our taller and darker female. She has a very quiet and mild personality, or at least she does until you show her treats, then she’s quite the beggar. She was pregnant this summer and it was incredible to see the maternal energy in everything she did. Finally, (again, not to play favorites) is my sweet little peach, Twiga. People always mistake her for a baby, but she is full grown and mature. I don’t think it’s just her short stature that makes people believe she is younger than her age. I am tempted to believe it’s also her curious personality. She has big eyes that she is always staring with, like she’s trying to analyze everything in her world. She can just barely reach to peak over the wall into the upstairs keeper area, and it’s always so adorable to catch her stretching her neck to spy on what we’re doing upstairs.

Twiga on the left, Mimi on the right

Twiga on the left, Mimi on the right

Being with such great people and animals provided many great times, but there were a lot of challenges as well. Each one was a learning experience for me to grow from. You never can expect animals to cooperate or behave the same way every day. It helps you build patience. One time I was almost half an hour late to work because the giraffes took so long to shift their stalls. I also had to say goodbye to so many great animals. The most popular animal leaving the zoo were the elephants. Even though I did not get to work with them, I was given the opportunity to watch the keepers give the elephants their daily baths. Just that one experience with them was breathtaking. It was sad to see them go to Arkansas, but seeing the pictures of them happy in the sun (posted on the day that it snowed!), made me so happy. I also had to say goodbye to the wallaby joey that I spent so much time with on my first day. She was maturing, but had a 50% chance of mating with her direct relatives (yikes!). Saying goodbye to those amazing animals showed me that sometimes you have to do what’s tough to do what’s right. I even dealt with loss in the worst way. Over the summer, our giraffe Mimi was pregnant, and due between July and August. We worked with her more than any other animal to ensure a healthy and comfortable delivery and excitedly anticipated a new calf. Unfortunately, on the day of the delivery, the calf experienced health issues only a few hours after birth and was lost. This was through no fault of the zoo, only about half calves born are expected to survive, but I felt like I just experienced the ugliest part of my career. After acceptance of the loss, I was able to reflect and realize how much I still loved my job, and how something really tragic could not stop me from pursuing my dream job.

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The positives of my career far outweigh the negatives. I still love and will always love this career path. In regards to my future career, I definitely found “the one.”

2 Responses to “Ask Me About My Internship!!”

  1. Thank you for that inside look at what it’s like to work at the zoo. I’ve lived in the area for many years and have visited Niabi dozens of times. So I’ve had little contact with the animals compared to you — yet it made me, sad, too when the newborn giraffe died. I’m glad you’re finding the good outweighs the bad. Good luck!

  2. Natalie,

    This is exactly how I got my start my senior year at Augie. I put in over 200 hours in a 3 month period at Niabi and got a job there right after I graduated. After working there for 4+ years, I took a position at the Toledo Zoo where I am now the elephant manager of our 4 resident African Elephants and manage a staff of 5 keepers, plus interns and volunteers. It is a very rewarding job and sometimes I don’t know where 13 years has already gone. I wish you the best of luck.

    Ben Whitebread
    Elephant Manager
    Toledo Zoo
    Augie Grad. Class of 2000

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