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Zoo InternQuest is a seven-week career exploration program for San Diego County high school 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 on the Zoo’s Website!

This week our intern group experienced a behind-the-scenes look at some of the endangered amphibians and reptiles in the Zoo’s care. As interns, we learned ways to keep an eye on how we affect the environment, such as being aware of how household chemicals can harm ecosystems. Our group of interns had the opportunity to meet with Peter Gilson, a keeper and educator here at the Zoo, as he gave us a tour of the popular Reptile House and surrounding exhibits House and surrounding exhibits.

The first exhibit Mr. Gilson showed us was of the Galapagos tortoises. Interns were greeted by some of the 14 Galapagos tortoises that are a part of the Zoo’s conservation efforts. Amazingly, some of them have been at the Zoo more than 80 years, which illustrates the Zoo’s long-term commitment to conservation of the species. Since it was feeding time, our intern group had the special opportunity to have a hand in feeding lettuce and kale to the tortoises. In the wild, these tortoises wouldn’t have access to that kind of food. One of the primary factors of the tortoises decline in the wild is habitat loss. As more people inhabit the islands, more space is taken away from the tortoises. These tortoises have no concept of fear, which puts them at risk because they aren’t afraid to approach humans. One of the best ways to help conserve these creatures is awareness. One of the ways the Zoo is helping to conserve these animals is by setting up a Species Survival Plan, in the hopes of removing this species from the list of endangered species.

Once the tortoises had their fill, Interns paid a visit to the local and exotic amphibians. Here we met another species the Zoo is working to conserve called the Panamanian golden frog. This critically endangered species of frog, native to Panama, is virtually extinct in the wild. The Zoo is actively involved in its Species Survival Plan, which entails breeding these beautiful creatures in the hopes of saving the species from extinction.

One of the greatest threats to these frogs is a disease called chytrid fungus. Chytrid fungus is detrimental to frogs because it keratinizes their skin. When a frog’s skin becomes keratinized, it means the frog’s skin dries and thickens. Since all amphibians breathe through their skin, this disease makes it impossible for the frogs to breathe eventually killing them. Scientists aren’t sure what causes chytrid fungus, but there are theories for both climate change and humans bringing in the disease. One thing we can do to help the amphibians who live around us is to be conscientious of what chemicals we use around our house. For example, pesticides and herbicides are detrimental to amphibians because they absorb the poison into their skin. The best thing to do is to use chemicals that don’t have negative effects on the environment.

All in all, it was a fantastic day! Our intern group fed Galapagos tortoises their lunch and learned about some of the Zoo’s conservation projects, which encourage people to be responsible in their role as humans. People have the power to save endangered species, but need to remember to use natural resources wisely. Even people in their daily lives can participate in conservation. Be mindful of what chemicals you’re using to spray around your house, and also how you dispose of these harmful chemicals. Little things like this can make a big difference in our world.

Celine, Conservation Team
Week One, Winter Session 2015