There could be no better way to begin Zoo Internquest than with a guided tour of the Zoo! Add an excellent educator and some giraffe saliva and the equation is complete.
So we Interns began our first session.
Our tour guide was JeNae Olson, one of the Zoo’s educators. Her job involves working with the Zoo’s animal ambassadors, leading Inside Look tours, Backstage Pass and much more. Many Zoo educators visit nearby schools to teach students basic biology and conservation. Mrs. Olson sees her job as a unique opportunity to help visitors and students connect with animal species around the world.
One of Mrs. Olson’s favorite jobs as an educator is working with the Zoo’s animal ambassadors. Animal ambassadors are representatives of their species that are trained to interact with humans. She also enjoys working with underprivileged school children through the School in the Park program. These children, some of whom have never been to the zoo, have the chance to learn biology outside of their classrooms. With hundreds of animal species as their textbooks, learning comes to life at the San Diego Zoo!
You might think that someone so involved with animals would have a degree in biology or zoology, but Mrs. Olson holds a bachelor’s degree in English, not biology, and she is a certified teacher. Mrs. Olson related that her lack of animal background works both as an advantage and a disadvantage. There’s always something new to learn, which keeps away the “same-old” blues. However, it also means that she has to work twice as hard to keep up as an educator. If you are interested in becoming an educator, Mrs. Olson recommends pursuing a degree in your area of interest. “It will make things easier for you,” she said. “If you’re interested in handling animals, look into things that will get you that experience.”
In addition to picking up animal smarts, I noticed another challenging skill that Mrs. Olson has mastered: she can give a captivating and informative talk about conservation while simultaneously walking backwards through a crowd!
I’ve always thought that I was an observant zoo guest, but I was surprised to note that I started to look and think differently about the animals in the Zoo as Mrs. Olson talked to us about them. As we fed the Bactrian camels she told us their personal stories and I found myself automatically paying closer attention to the camels’ behavior.
It didn’t seem to matter whether Mrs. Olson was talking about wombats, Visayan warty pigs, or the Indian one-horned rhino brothers. With every story and bit of information that she shared, we became more connected to the animals. At the beginning of our tour, Mrs. Olson said that she sometimes likes to call educators “interpreters”. One of the most important parts of her job is to “interpret” the message of conservation and to present that message to Zoo guests in such a way that they not only remember it, but want to act on it and to make a difference. What an important job! It certainly gave me something to think about.
Amy, Careers team