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An Amazing Safari Adventure

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

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Promoting Conservation with Your Bear Hands

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!

Traveling to foreign countries while learning about native cultures, values, and perspectives sounds like a vacation for most people. But for Mr. David O’Connor, however, these kinds of things are what he does for a living. On Wednesday, the interns had the amazing opportunity to meet Mr. O’Connor and learn more about his involvement in the conservation efforts at the Institute for Conservation Research. He is the Community-based Conservation Ecologist for the Conservation Partnership Development at the Institute. Yeah, I know, it’s a mouthful! We discussed Mr. O’Connor’s recent projects and how his work is advancing the efforts toward saving the animals he works with.

“How does your job relate to animal conservation?” is a question that most people may have trouble answering. I believe this is because of the fact that a majority of us cannot see the direct impact we have on animals. In Mr. O’Connor’s case, the simpler question would be, “How does your job NOT relate to conservation?” He studies different aspects of conservation on a daily basis while trying to understand how humans can be influenced to be more conscious of their impact.

Mr. O’Connor has been at the forefront of conservation efforts in various countries, but I am going to focus on his work in Southeast Asia. While working in countries like Laos and Cambodia, he has concentrated his time on bears, specifically the sun bear and the Asiatic black bear. Mr. O’Connor mainly works with native people, conducting studies and trying to figure out how to reduce the demand for these bears. He stated that the biggest threats to wildlife include habitat loss, pollution, climate change, and wildlife trade. During his time in Asia, Mr. O’Connor began a study on the socio-ecological factors of wildlife trade. In Southeast Asia, bears are most commonly captured and killed for bile, a liquid stored in their gallbladders and often used for traditional medicine. Mr. O’Connor conducted his study with the goal of investigating the drivers of why people are motivated to kill bears as well as the perceived consequences of killing bears.

He and his team first started by distributing 1400 questionnaires to both native Cambodians and Laotians as well as western tourists. Their results indicated that the natives reacted more sympathetically when told that their use of bear products like bear bile will cause a decline in wild bears. He also recorded a significant difference in knowledge and attitudes toward bear conservation depending on where the natives lived. Mr. O’Connor’s objective is to use results like these to contour the message that goes to the native people in order to reduce wild bear trade. He believes that an effective advertising campaign can be the difference between a thriving species and an extinct species.

As the interns listened to Mr. O’Connor’s presentation, we learned a lot more about his conservation work in the field. I found out the importance of working with and educating the people that directly impact wildlife conservation. I also realized that conservation efforts do not always have to involve working solely with animals. Mr. O’Connor stated that he loves studying where people and wildlife overlap. He finds joy in being able to give people a way to solve their situational problems. As Mr. O’Connor reiterated throughout his presentation to the interns, “the key to conservation is people”.

Bami, Conservation Team
Week Five, Fall Session 2015

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Animal Weight Watchers

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 jobs, and the blog about their experience online. Follow their adventures here on the Zoo’s website!

 Last Thursday, the interns met with Dr. Mike Schlegel and Dr. Katie Kerr. Dr. Schlegel is the Director of Nutritional Services and Dr. Kerr is an Associate Nutritionist. They are responsible for creating diets to give to the forage warehouse to later be given to the animals at the Zoo. Interns spent the day in the classroom as well as throughout different areas in the Zoo, learning more about animal nutrition.

The day started in the education classroom as Dr. Schlegel and Dr. Kerr discussed their career paths and also their daily job tasks. Interns took notes as Dr. Schlegel talked about his road to becoming the Director of Nutritional Services. He received a degree in Animal Production from Pennsylvania State University before getting both his Master’s and Doctorate in Ruminant Nutrition from Michigan State University. Dr. Schlegel then took on a number of jobs and research positions before ending up at the San Diego Zoo.

The day started in the education classroom as Dr. Schlegel and Dr. Kerr discussed their career paths and also their daily job tasks. Interns took notes as Dr. Schlegel talked about his road to becoming the Director of Nutritional Services. He received a degree in Animal Production from Pennsylvania State University before getting both his Master’s and Doctorate in Ruminant Nutrition from Michigan State University. Dr. Schlegel then took on a number of jobs and research positions before ending up at the San Diego Zoo.

Pictured above are Dr. Schlegel and the interns on their way to the Galápagos tortoise exhibit. Dr. Schlegel is the Director of Nutritional Services. His main job is supervising his team in creating and changing diets. He also evaluates body condition of the animals, communicates with other zoos about diet information, and formulates diets for reproduction, lactation, and hand rearing. Dr. Schlegel’s job is extremely important to the well being of the animals and the productivity of the Zoo.

Pictured above are Dr. Schlegel and the interns on their way to the Galápagos tortoise exhibit. Dr. Schlegel is the Director of Nutritional Services. His main job is supervising his team in creating and changing diets. He also evaluates body condition of the animals, communicates with other zoos about diet information, and formulates diets for reproduction, lactation, and hand rearing. Dr. Schlegel’s job is extremely important to the well being of the animals and the productivity of the Zoo.

You can find a number of these hibiscus flowers all around the Zoo. These vibrant plants come in a multitude of different colors, including red, white, yellow and orange. On our way to the flamingo exhibit, Dr. Schlegel stated that almost all of the hibiscus plants grown in the Zoo are used for food. He also noted that the tortoises especially love eating the flowers!

You can find a number of these hibiscus flowers all around the Zoo. These vibrant plants come in a multitude of different colors, including red, white, yellow and orange. On our way to the flamingo exhibit, Dr. Schlegel stated that almost all of the hibiscus plants grown in the Zoo are used for food. He also noted that the tortoises especially love eating the flowers!

The Galapagos tortoises are an excellent example of the importance of diet changes. Dr. Schlegel stated that about two years ago, the tortoises’ diet was changed from high calories to high protein. This had many positive impacts on the tortoises’ health. Dr. Schlegel and Dr. Kerr take pride in finding different ways to help the animals.

The Galapagos tortoises are an excellent example of the importance of diet changes. Dr. Schlegel stated that about two years ago, the tortoises’ diet was changed from high calories to high protein. This had many positive impacts on the tortoises’ health. Dr. Schlegel and Dr. Kerr take pride in finding different ways to help the animals.

Pictured above is fellow intern, Riley posing in front of the flamingo exhibit. The Zoo is home to a huge flamboyance of Caribbean flamingos. These awesome birds are known for their long necks, skinny legs and deep pink-orange color. Dr. Schlegel and the nutritional services department have created a pellet food to replace their typical diet. This is not only less expensive for the Zoo to produce, but also makes it possible to know exactly what the flamingos are eating.

Pictured above is fellow intern, Riley posing in front of the flamingo exhibit. The Zoo is home to a huge flamboyance of Caribbean flamingos. These awesome birds are known for their long necks, skinny legs and deep pink-orange color. Dr. Schlegel and the nutritional services department have created a pellet food to replace their typical diet. This is not only less expensive for the Zoo to produce, but also makes it possible to know exactly what the flamingos are eating.

In the wild, flamingos get their color from their natural diets of algae and shrimp. Dr. Schlegel and the rest of his team have replicated this by infusing their food pellets with carotenoid pigments. Carotenoids are the same things that make carrots orange, bell peppers red, and spinach green! The pigment used at the Zoo, called canthaxanthin, promotes good health and provides the flamingos in the Zoo with their bright color.

In the wild, flamingos get their color from their natural diets of algae and shrimp. Dr. Schlegel and the rest of his team have replicated this by infusing their food pellets with carotenoid pigments. Carotenoids are the same things that make carrots orange, bell peppers red, and spinach green! The pigment used at the Zoo, called canthaxanthin, promotes good health and provides the flamingos in the Zoo with their bright color.

When we visited the Hippo Trail, Dr. Schlegel taught us some important facts that contribute to the dietary needs of the pygmy hippopotamuses. I learned that pygmy hippos, like a few other animal species, have stomachs with multiple chambers. Dr. Schlegel also added that this adaptation makes pygmy hippos capable of digesting high fiber food in the wild. Dr. Schlegel and his team have to take facts like these into account when creating and adjusting animal diets. When we visited the Hippo Trail, Dr. Schlegel taught us some important facts that contribute to the dietary needs of the pygmy hippopotamuses. I learned that pygmy hippos, like a few other animal species, have stomachs with multiple chambers. Dr. Schlegel also added that this adaptation makes pygmy hippos capable of digesting hig

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Hungry For Knowledge

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 jobs, and the blog about their experience online. Follow their adventures here on the Zoo’s website!

Bami_W3_photoVisiting the San Diego Zoo is an experience in and of itself. From the fossa to the Komodo dragon to the giant panda, these exotic animals are breathtaking. Something a typical visitor does not see, however, is the effort that it takes to keep these animals happy and healthy. Specifically, diet is an important factor to maintaining the high quality of life of these animals. Recreating a similar diet to what the animal would eat in the wild is important yet difficult. This is where the work of our guest speaker, Ms. Deborah Lowe comes into the mix.

This week the interns had the pleasure of meeting with Ms. Lowe who is the Supervisor of Nutritional Services at the San Diego Zoo. We were able to visit the forage warehouse, where Ms. Lowe and her team prepare the food for almost all of the animals in the Zoo. After seeing the warehouse, we spent time in the hay barn, the grain room, and the insect storage room. At these places, Ms. Lowe and the interns discussed different aspects of her career.

Ms. Lowe’s position entails a variety of tasks along with an extensive and intriguing system. She first gets instructions from the Zoo’s nutritionists regarding changes in animal diets and nutrient proportions. From there, Ms. Lowe and her team create different combinations of fruit, vegetables, and meat depending on each animal’s needs. They then distribute the food throughout the Zoo every morning. A typical day for Ms. Lowe involves recording and updating diet information, ordering food from vendors, and supervising her team of six at the forage warehouse. When she is not doing any of the aforementioned, Ms. Lowe is taking on the jobs of her colleagues’ rotating positions. These include weighing, preparing, and delivering food to each exhibit in the morning. Ms. Lowe noted that her favorite position to work at is delivery since she finds the heavy lifting enjoyable. Additionally, Ms. Lowe also added that she often communicates with keepers as well as sets up schedules and training.

Throughout our visit to the warehouse, interns had the opportunity to ask her various questions about her career. When asked about the most challenging part of her job, Ms. Lowe responded in the most honest and sincere way possible. She believes that working with so many people is difficult. Not being able to accommodate everyone’s needs poses a challenge everyday for Ms. Lowe. She tries to overcome these obstacles by having a positive attitude and stressed the importance of coming to compromises. On the other hand, Ms. Lowe thinks there are many more positives to her career than there are negatives. One of which is working at such an amazing place like the San Diego Zoo. Her walk through the Zoo to the forage warehouse each morning reminds her why she loves her job, and seeing the births of baby animals only sweetens the deal.

Our time with Ms. Lowe taught me how important animal nutrition is and how much time and effort goes into her profession. Animal keepers and other members of the Zoo depend on the forage warehouse on a daily basis. Ms. Lowe’s job is vital and without her and her team, the Zoo would not exist. Although it may be overlooked at times, animal nutrition is a major key to the San Diego Zoo’s success.

Bami, Careers Team
Week Three, Fall 2015

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Growing a New Perspective

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!

Bami_W2_picAs I washed my hands, trying to get every bit of soil out from under my fingernails, I recollected my amazing day with InternQuest. All the knowledge and insight that I gained was only amplified by the activities that we did at the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research. This week, the interns had the most hands-on experience helping Ms. Emily Howe with a habitat restoration project.

My day started as I entered the lobby of the Institute for Conservation Research building located in Escondido, CA. After everyone arrived at the Institute, the interns were introduced to Ms. Howe, who is the Research Coordinator for Plant Conservation. Ms. Howe’s tranquil demeanor permeated through the room instantly. Her calm manner was almost symbolic of the life that she works with everyday. After introductions, the interns got straight to business.

Ms. Howe led us to a large, quiet meeting room before we all sat down at the first of many brown, round tables in the dark room. Ms. Howe began by discussing her current habitat restoration project at Lake Hodges, located just south of Escondido. Lake Hodges, which has recently fallen victim to two successive fires, is currently losing native grasses and shrubs to invasive plant species. Ms. Howe’s goal is to restore 25 different native plants species to the region. So far, she and her team have restored over 25 acres within two years. Ms. Howe looks forward to growing and introducing more native species in order to create a large impact on San Diego County’s ecosystem. Ms. Howe then shifted the discussion to her background, and how she got to the position she has now. She explained to the interns how being raised on a ranch drove her curiosity for plants. Ms. Howe’s story is not only fascinating, but also shows how life can take us in different directions as we grow.

As the day continued, Ms. Howe took the interns to the shade house located just outside of the Institute. This is where she and her team propagate native shrubs and grasses before transplanting them at Lake Hodges. The sun beamed down on the thin black netting that covered what seemed like thousands of young plants. The shade house provides a comfortable environment for the growing plants while protecting them from the harsh weather. We entered the shade house before being assigned the task of helping Ms. Howe with her habitat restoration project. For about an hour, we helped her transport coyote bush (baccharis pilularis) from small cones to larger pots. Doing this for the plants eases the transition from living under the shade house to being able to survive when they are transplanted to Lake Hodges. The interns started off by dislodging the roots of each plant from the cone before putting the plants into new, larger pots. We repeated this process until a total of about a hundred plants were transferred.

As our day winded down, Ms. Howe took us back to the meeting room where she concluded her presentation. The interns learned a lot about Ms. Howe during this time. Ms. Howe currently has a home garden consisting a variety of different species including native cacti, a sage bush, and other indigenous species. When asked how the average person can help with native plant conservation, she answered that planting native plants in a small area can make a huge difference. Our time with Ms. Howe at the Institute really opened my eyes as I gained a new outlook on the diversity of plant life in San Diego.

Bami, Real World Team
Week Two, Fall 2015

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A Slimy and Scaly Start

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!

Bami_W1_picFor our first week, we had the amazing opportunity of meeting Peter Gilson, a Reptile Keeper and Educator Guide at the San Diego Zoo. Mr. Gilson’s background is no less fascinating than it is motivational. He started off holding different internship positions while taking classes at Point Loma Nazarene University. After graduating with a major in Environmental Science, Mr. Gilson ended up working for the summer camps at the Zoo for eight years. Now, however, when he is not helping take care of the animals, he is taking the public on tours and presenting to schools around the county. Through years of dedication, Mr. Gilson ended up in a great position at one of the best zoos in the nation.

As Mr. Peter Gilson emphasized during our tour of the reptile and amphibian exhibits, “Conservation is multifaceted”. This statement could not be any more insightful. Most people are misinformed that conservation, by definition, only deals with the protection of an already endangered animal species. In contrast, conservation entails a vast array of different aspects and perspectives that I will be exposed to during my journey.

First stop on our adventure was seeing the Galápagos tortoises. With one of the largest colonies of tortoises in the world, the San Diego Zoo is at the forefront of conservation efforts. Mr. Gilson said that these amazing creatures can live an upwards of 150 years, with some living to almost 200! The Zoo has taken care of some of their Galápagos tortoises for over 80 years. This and other conservation efforts exemplify the long-term interest the Zoo has for not only these animals but for reptiles and amphibians as a collective. However, this has not always been the case. Mr. Gilson stated that before conservation efforts began, Galápagos tortoises were at major risk due to habitat destruction and degradation. This was in part a result of the human population bringing in a number of invasive species like goats, pigs, and cattle to the Islands. The Zoo’s efforts to reverse these effects have been particularly successful through breeding programs and spreading public awareness.

As the day continued, Mr. Gilson shifted focus to other reptiles and amphibians. We were able to learn more about different threats that these animals are subjected to and various conservation efforts the Zoo takes part in. Almost a third of all amphibian species are threatened with extinction. One of the most pressing issues driving this decline, as Mr. Gilson highlighted, is chytrid fungus. Chytrid fungus attacks the skin of amphibians and subsequently destroys their respiratory system. Its primary victims are frogs and salamanders. For the past years, the San Diego Zoo has actively researched chytrid fungus and ways to treat and prevent it.

During our time with Mr. Gilson, we visited the behind the scenes area of the amphibian exhibits. It was there that he talked about how he emphasizes conservation when educating the public. He stated that during tours and presentations, he tries to make it clear “what you can do to make an impact”. This includes improving water quality by creating less chemical pollution and nutrient loading. Nutrient loading includes the use of harmful fertilizers that leach their way into reptile and amphibian habitats. We can all do this by simply becoming more aware of what we use like weed killers and fertilizers that will eventually end up in the environment. Mr. Gilson’s efforts towards a more knowledgeable community can make a huge difference in the world around us. People like Mr. Gilson, who positively influence the actions of others through education, are truly inspiring.

Bami, Conservation Team
Week One, Fall 2015

 

 

 

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Straight Outta Conservation

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!

bami_profileHi everyone! My name’s Bami and welcome to the beginning of my exciting journey as an intern at the San Diego Zoo. An introduction would be fitting, so here are just a few things you should know about me. We’re all friend here!

Originally from Chicago, IL, I moved to San Diego when I was five years old. Whether it is on the court or in my community, my life has never been dull. Since the 9th grade, I have played basketball and volleyball. I am also actively involved in my school’s community. This includes being president of my school’s chapter of the California Scholarship Federation, as well as Vice President of Environmental Club. Outside of school, you will most likely find me playing basketball at the beach with my friends, working out at the gym, or relaxing with my dog, Duke.

My love for animals stared at an early age when I was first exposed to a multitude of species at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. From the chimpanzees to the red pandas, these early encounters with different species sparked my interest in biology before I even knew the meaning of biology. After I moved to San Diego, my curiosity for animals only increased. My mom used to take me to visit the San Diego Zoo almost every weekend during the summer. My fond memories of watching the lions rest and petting the goats are vivid when reminiscing about the zoo.

For the next seven weeks throughout InternQuest, I will be focusing on many different careers at the San Diego Zoo. From as early as junior high, the thought of choosing a career goal has been engrained in my mind. Questions like “What do you want to be when you grow up” passed through conversations repeatedly. Even though I have an amazing support group, I never delved into the science that I love until recently. It was not until high school that I thought of biology as a serious career path. I attribute my strong interest to my 10th grade biology teacher, Ms. Ross. She created an environment where learning became fascinating and worthwhile, and because of her and my other amazing teachers, I still continue to learn more about subdivisions of biology like zoology, anatomy and botany.

During the past few years, my career interests have slowly leaned towards ecology with an emphasis on plant and animal conservation. Although, I still have not completely decided on my career path yet, I hope the next seven weeks will help influence my decision. Participating in the Zoo InternQuest will not only give me valuable skills that I can use later, but also an experience that will last a lifetime. I hope you all follow me on my adventure through the San Diego Zoo!

Bami
Profile, Fall 2015