Before getting into the animal care internship here at Oakland Zoo, I was a bit weary of my qualifications. I was worried that even though I was accepted as an animal care intern for the Summer of 2017, that I was in a bit over my head. I was at the time still a student at Humboldt State University as a Marine Biology major, so my interactions with land animals was very limited. When entering the internship, each intern is placed in a different String that is compiled of different exhibits. I was placed in the very large String 9 which consisted of: Savanna Aviary, Reptiles, and Zebras, Hillside Aviary, Rainforest Aviary, and one of the Tamarin exhibits at the zoo. From the get go, we were put to shadow our zookeepers and volunteers in charge of the string. I was expecting to be on training wheels for a very long time since my experience with animals was in all aspects marine, but they were very open to have me work and learn by being hands on. Three days a week for three months, I learned a lot about the animals in my string and the different enrichment and training techniques they use. Our tasks ranged from exhibit maintenance, assisting with training sessions, feeding, observation, and interaction with the visitors. I loved being able to explain my tasks to the visitors when they were watching us and educating them the things I learned about the animals while working here.
We also got the opportunity to make our own project as an intern. The project had could have been something that would enrich the animal within their exhibit or a research project on a specific animal. Enrichment is a great way for animals to choose how to interact with their environment. A great time to provide that enrichment is with feeding. We have many enrichment items here at Oakland Zoo for the zebras, specifically for eating. Where we were lacking, is in items that are best suited for the winter. I made "puzzle treat feeders" that could be used in the winter to avoid contact on the ground and reduce messiness from mud on wetter days. This project really gave me an idea of how these animals choose to interact with their environment. I saw their minds working to figure out how to use the feeders and they seemed to be happy to solve them and be rewarded with a treat in the end.
One of my favorite memories was being able to help the zoo as well as the Golden Gate Audubon Society in rescuing herons and egrets that were trapped in a fallen tree in downtown Oakland. The zoo, without hesitation sent the interns out to help. This gave me a glimpse to the many things Oakland Zoo participates in. Their support for conservation and the well-being of animals does not stop at the zoo. We were able to rescue at least a dozen birds that day. Being able to assist in this rescue was amazing. I went home feeling great about what we did and happy that some of those birds were able to be helped.
I had an unforgettable experience as an intern. I was given the opportunity to do a lot on my own toward the end, which helped increase my bond with these animals. Coming to the zoo didn't feel like a job. Yes, maintaining the exhibits and taking care of these animals is no small feat. It is hard work. When the days felt long, you were rewarded by seeing a goal reached in training sessions or when an animal seemed to enjoy the foods you provided or the enrichments you gave them.
The zoo becomes your second home and the relationships you grow with the animals and the people that work here is truly amazing. I have grown to love the Oakland Zoo and continue to work in different areas since I finished my internship last summer. I know when I eventually move on to pursue my career in marine biology, I can use the techniques I learned here and transfer them to that sort of setting.
Don't make the mistake that I did and assume that your lack of experience is a setback. This internship provides you with all the tools you need to succeed. If you are open to learning and have a strong work ethic, you'll enjoy it as much as I did. I encourage people to apply and get to know the zoo on a different level. These are memories you can't buy. The zoo is just going to get bigger and better, why not try and be a part of it?
Learn more about Animal Care Internships and apply here!