Career’s Digest

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Have you ever wondered why the animals at the Zoo eat what they do? Meet Michael Schelgel and Katie Kerr, two of the three nutritionists at the Zoo and Safari Park. Dr. Schelgel is the Director of Nutritional Services and he supervises Dr. Kerr, the Associate Nutritionist at the Zoo. They are in charge of formulating and improving the diets of all the animals in the Zoo.

Kylie_W4_picDr. Schelgel has been working in his position for 10 years, but has had a wild journey getting there. He received his bachelor’s degree in animal sciences from Pennsylvania State University where he originally wanted to become a vet. While he was there, Dr. Schelgel got excited about nutrition and pasture management. Dr. Schelgel then went to Michigan State University to pursue a master’s and doctorate in animal sciences. There he learned about the grazing systems and hosting of steers. Five years later, Dr. Schelgel received his master’s degree and began to work on his PhD in ruminant nutrition.

After completing his PhD, Dr. Schelgel worked for the Pennsylvania Beef Council for 6 months and later instructed an animal science class at Delaware County University. He first became introduced to the Zoo when he traveled with a student to San Diego where he discovered a job opening at the Safari Park. In 2001, Dr. Schelgel was hired as an Associate Nutritionist for two years before the position was eliminated. Before getting hired back in 2005, he did a postdoc with Disney’s Animal Kingdom through the University of Florida. Since 2005, he has held the position of Director of Nutritional Services for both the Zoo and Safari Park.

Dr. Kerr started working at the San Diego Zoo only 2 months ago. She first graduated from Colorado State with a bachelor’s degree in biology and zoology, and had a keen interest in nutrition. Dr. Kerr then took a year off to complete an internship at the Saint Louis Zoo. She also began talking to a wide range of people, asking how to get into zoo nutrition. At a conference her mother encouraged her to attend, she received some advice involving which steps she should take to become a zoo nutritionist. Dr. Kerr went back to school to receive a master’s and doctorate degree from the University of Illinois where she studied both domestic and big cat nutrition. Before getting hired by the San Diego Zoo, she completed a postdoc position at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Now at the Zoo, Dr. Kerr enjoys being the Associate Nutritionist where she is in charge of a variety of exotic animal diets.

On a daily basis, Dr. Schelgel and Dr. Kerr ensure that all the animals are fed well by improving and adjusting the animals’ diets to fit each animal’s needs. Their job is similar to being an executive chef at a restaurant because they do not work directly with the food, but instead give directions to the other chefs who manage the preparation of the food. They perform body-conditioning examinations on various animals to make sure they are healthy and not over or under weight, and assist the animal hospitals when creating diets for sick or quarantined animals. All of the diets are based on the amount of energy an animal will get from the foods. To ensure the animal is receiving the correct amount of energy, they use simple math and computer programs along with their extensive knowledge of animal nutrition.

One reason both Dr. Schelgel and Dr. Kerr love being nutritionist is because they find their job similar to solving puzzles and finding solutions to problems. A majority of the time, there is very little information on a specific animal’s diet, so they must extrapolate from a more known similar animal’s diet to fit the needs of the other. They are both learning new things all the time and will continue to discover new information as the years go on.

Finally, some advice Dr. Kerr shared was to explore and take advantage of different opportunities that are even remotely interesting. Dr. Kerr explained that in order to land her dream job, she needed to think outside of the box because there was no direct path for her to become a zoo nutritionist. Dr. Kerr stresses the importance of networking and encourages people to put themselves out there. She says that you never know just whom others have connections with and urges people to let others know how interested they are in a specific subject.

Kylie, Careers Team
Week Four, Fall 2015