An Amazing Safari Adventure

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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!

Being immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of African and Asian wildlife is something that the interns have been anticipating since the beginning of our 7-week journey. On Wednesday, the interns had the opportunity to meet Mr. Roger Petersen and Ms. Torrey Pillsbury at the San Diego Safari Park. Mr. Petersen and Ms. Pillsbury are both Senior Mammal keepers and have been working at the Park for 24 and 31 years. They take care of the immense animal diversity including various rhinos, elephants, giraffes, and other hoofstock. It was nice meeting these two veteran keepers and listening to their vast knowledge about the animals in the Safari Park.The interns’ day started when we arrived at the Safari Park. We all introduced ourselves to Mr. Petersen and Ms. Pillsbury; their friendly smiles and welcoming demeanors made the interns feel at home instantly. We first spent time in Mr. Petersen and Ms. Pillsbury’s office, where they discussed some of their daily job assignments with the interns. They showed us two large record books where they keep new daily information on almost all the mammals at the Safari Park. Who knew taking care of animals involved so much writing!?

The day continued as we left the office and entered a caravan. This is where our adventure began! As we filed onto the truck, the interns noticed a bundle of acacia branches stacked up in the middle of the sitting area. We all realized what was in store for the rest of our trip at the Safari Park: we were going to be feeding the animals! With Mr. Petersen behind the wheel of the caravan, Ms. Pillsbury sat with us and discussed her career at the Park as we drove toward the main field exhibits. In the caravan, the interns had to prepare the animal food by removing the leaves off of the acacia branches. The task was long and tedious but well worth it when the time came to feed the animals.

Mr. Petersen made our first stop at the Asian Savanna, where we got to feed apples to three hungry greater one-horned rhinos. As I fed the rhinos and touched their leathery skin, Ms. Pillsbury explained the importance of their prehensile lips, which allows them to grab low hanging leaves. Her in depth explanation was demonstrated in real time as the rhinos poked their lips out for their tasty treat. After the interns ran out of apples and the rhinos subsequently became disinterested, we moved on to another area of the park. On the other side of the park we met another greater one-horned rhino named Bopu. Here Ms. Pillsbury fed him the branches from the acacia plant while further explaining the rhinos’ diets. She emphasized the compelling fact that all rhinos are herbivorous browsers and grazers. After saying our goodbyes to Bopu, Ms. Pillsbury, Mr. Petersen, and the interns made our way to African Plains to see one last animal. When we finally got to African Plains, we were pleasantly surprised to see a 17-foot tall reticulated giraffe walk in our direction. We had the opportunity to feed him the leaves we took off the acacia branches. As the interns put handfuls of acacia leaves up in the air, the giraffe happily snatched them with his purple, sandpaper-textured tongue. Feeding the giraffe marked the end of our safari adventure. Our time feeding and petting both the rhinos and the giraffe reinforced all the information we learned from Ms. Pillsbury.

On our way back to the office, the interns had the opportunity to ask Ms. Pillsbury a few questions. Surprisingly, her time with animals does not end when she leaves the Safari Park. She stated that she owns a few horses named Speedy, Lima, and Patty. When asked how working with the animals at the Park translates to working with her horses, Ms. Pillsbury responded that she believes that the opposite is true: that it is actually the time she spends with her horses that make a difference to what she does at the Safari Park. She said her ability to work so well with the wild animals is an acquired trait that she has learned from working with her animals at home.

Our time with Ms. Pillsbury and Mr. Petersen has given me a broader insight on the animals at the San Diego Safari Park and has taught me more about their characteristics first-hand. Being able to pet and feed the animals was an awesome experience that I’ll never forget!

Bami, Real World Team
Week Six, Fall 2015