And so it begins. Last week I began my internship at the Philadelphia Zoo as an Environmental Education and Animal Behavior intern. Myself and about fifty other college students travel the Zoo three days a week, manning “education stations” to teach kids and guests about how we care for our animals and encourage them to learn about our conservation efforts. In addition to our stations, all interns are responsible for a research project on the behavior of a specific in-house animal that we will later present to the public.
My first day was tough; many of the interns had already been there for a few weeks, and it seemed like they already knew everything about the animals in the zoo, down to their names, ages, and what they like to do for fun. I was daunted, at the least. We got our schedules, and the acronyms were everywhere. The Philadelphia Zoo has acronyms for pretty much everything. There’s MAC (McNeil Avian Center), REY (Reptile Exercise Yard), RACC (Rare Animal Conservation Center), PECO (I’m still not sure what it stands for, but it means our primate house), and so many others. The first ten minutes after getting my schedule was mostly “What’s this? What does that mean? Where is that?” I tried to find my way through the Zoo’s winding pathways, while pretending to know where I was going and attempting to give directions to confused guests. I had no clue what to do for my project, and our designated time was spent wandering the Zoo trying to find an idea.
By the third, day, however, things had improved immensely. I am starting to learn the names of the animals close by, including all of the goats we have in our kids’ petting zoo. The information is starting to stick, and I can semi-confidently point people in the right direction without pulling out my map to “show them where it is.” Running from station to station throughout the Zoo has helped give me a basic knowledge of the information I need to know for the various tools we use as talking points, and the other interns are all very helpful and friendly. Talking to guests is becoming easier, as well; at first I was awkward and reluctant to call out to guests, but I can now approach kids relatively easily, asking if they want to touch whatever I happen to have in my hands, whether it’s an enrichment toy or the steel mesh we use in out Tree Top pathways. I’ve finally chosen my project species, the Red Kangaroo, and will be observing inter-group behavior while looking for displays of dominance among the females.
My second week will start soon, and I am truly looking forward to it! It is extremely rewarding to be able to remember facts about our animals, and I know I will only learn more as the summer progresses.