Zoo InternQuest is a seven-week career exploration program for San Diego County high school student juniors and seniors. Students have the unique opportunity to meet professionals working for the San Diego Zoo, Safari Park, and Institute for Conservation Research, learn about their jobs, and then blog about their experience online. Follow their adventures here!
Peter Gilson is a Reptile Keeper at the San Diego Zoo. We all know that means he takes care of the different reptiles and amphibians, but what does he really do on a daily basis?
When I asked Mr. Gilson what an average day was like for him he smiled and said, “There really is no average day here.” He continued to explain the wide variety of activities that can take place during a day. He usually starts with cleaning enclosures, making sure fresh water is available, and that all animals are accounted for in the exhibits. Once all that is done, it’s feeding time! You might think that means just giving crickets and mice, but there is much more to it. Each animal receives a specific diet ranging from mice to crickets to fruit and you can’t forget the vegetables! Then the day has the potential to become very interesting, because the work can vary so drastically. He may become a carpenter and build new racks for exhibits, perform a total clean out of exhibits, or even redesign an exhibit, based on the needs the day. Whatever the job, keeping the Reptile House at a high standard is the goal. Mr. Gilson also interacts with the public, informing them about all of the different reptiles housed at the San Diego Zoo and educating them on how they can help save them. After this busy day winds down, Mr. Gilson will do a last run through his section of reptiles, once again checking water and accounting for each of the animals.
I asked Mr. Gilson why he chose this department and how he went about getting his job. Mr. Gilson explained that his love of reptiles started when he was living in Anchorage, Alaska, maybe due to the fact that there weren’t many reptiles there. When he came down to college at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, he had the opportunity to really observe them, and found them extremely interesting. Once in college, he got involved in many different internships within San Diego Zoo Global. These internships included spending two sessions as an Education Intern for summer camp, a session on Research and Husbandry in the Reptile House at the Zoo, and also a summer as a Research Fellow at the Institute for Conservation Research in the Applied Animal Ecology division. This latter internship turned into a job as a Research Assistant in the same department. Mr. Gilson was then hired on as an Educator at the Zoo, where he does a job share as a Reptile Keeper. For those unable to get these opportunities it doesn’t mean you can’t be a keeper at a zoo. Mr. Gilson suggests you gain experience any way you can, always be willing to help and learn new things. These all will give you experience for future jobs or more extensive internships.
Mr. Gilson feels that he is extremely lucky to have had all of these amazing internships and opportunities. They have helped him get a position here at the Zoo where he gets to educate the public, and work with some of his favorite animals, including the tuataras, Sunni the Komodo dragon, and a ball python named Monty. At the end of the day when Mr. Gilson was asked if he loves his job, he gave a resounding “YES!” I have to say it does sound pretty amazing, and might be just the career for one of you.
Scott, Careers Team
Fall 2012, week one