Zoo InternQuest is a career exploration program for high school students. For more information see the Zoo InternQuest Journals. For more photos see the Zoo InternQuest Photo Journal.
In my opinion, we interns concluded our program days at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park with the best “end-of-term” present ever: we traveled through Asia and Africa, all in the span of a couple of hours! Not literally of course; we traveled unbuckled in the rear of a field keeper’s truck to meet up close and personal the rhinos, giraffes, deer, cattle, and other animals that live in the Park’s Asian and African enclosures. Field keeper Torrey Pillsbury was the tour guide during our visit, while her fellow field keeper, Michelle Gaffney, was our dedicated chauffeur.
As we bumped along, awed in wonder by the zigzagged horns of the addax and the smooth, caramel coat of the Javan banteng clone that we were a mere ten feet away from, Ms. Pillsbury explained to us her role as a caregiver to the hundreds of animals that roam the exhibit. Like a mother who must account for the daily whereabouts of her children, Ms. Pillsbury must note the actions of all the animals under their watch. Like a parent, it is essential for the field keepers to take notice of the health, appetite, and socialization patterns of the animals. But, in addition to those tasks, a lot more often than the human mother, Ms. Pillsbury must mark in their field keepers’ diaries any births or deaths that occur in the giant multi-species herd. And just as any human mother would bring her child to the doctor when he or she isn’t feeling well, so too do the field keepers call for medical assistance when an animal is under the weather.
The animals especially appreciate their “moms” when it’s feeding time. We helped distribute afternoon snacks by serving the rhinos mouthful after mouthful of apples and the giraffes strings of acacia leaves. Serving the majority of these animals is probably even more messy than feeding a child. The rhinos weren’t too much of a trouble to feed. Plopping the red apples in their mouth was more like a basketball shooting game than the monotony of spooning the baby food into the mouth of an infant over and over again. But the giraffes were quite a different story, yet still fun to feed. Their long, busy, and never shy tongues would find food wherever it lay. We had to make sure we held their snack up and out of the truck or else in a blink we would be eye-to-eye with one of the many long-necked creatures that circled the vehicle.
As we exited the field, I thought about all that these seven weeks have treated me to. Not only have I discovered so much about the beauty of animals, as we saw on our mini safari, I have also discovered the wonders of the endless horizon that is science. Thanks Zoo InternQuest- you’re more than I ever imagined!
Andrea, Real World Team