Friday, April 22, 2016

The Transition... (3 Month vs 6 Month Interns)

As many of you might already know, the International Exotic Animal Sanctuary (IEAS) has an animal care intern program. This internship is definitely not a cake-walk; it not only challenges you physically, but also mentally and even emotionally. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at the testimonials on our website at: However, this internship is also extremely rewarding. The more work you put into it, the more you get out of it. Recently, I made the transition from a 3 month intern to a 6 month intern. The first 3 months are a probation period, after which you’re evaluated and if the staff feels that you’re ready for the next step, you’re allowed to stay for the remaining 3 months. During these final 3 months, you gain more responsibilities and by the end of the internship, you might even have the opportunity to earn the title of Assistant Keeper (which looks ten times better on a resume than “Animal Care Intern”).

 In the first three months, you learn the basics of zookeeping. Most of your focus is on learning the daily routine: diet prep, cleaning, habitat maintenance, safety protocols, tour etiquette, etc. Keep in mind that we currently have 73 exotic animals at our Sanctuary, so learning the specifics of the cleaning routines for every habitat can be a chore! Learning the personalities and behaviors of each animal will help you be successful and more efficient while doing these daily routines as well. You also have to familiarize yourself with the surrounding area a little bit, as you’re expected to go on produce runs to Brookshire’s in Bridgeport and Lowe’s Marketplace in Boyd as well as to the local recycling facility. These two grocery stores donate bins of produce we use to feed the resident bears to IEAS daily that the interns get to pick up and sort through.

I am putting our recently donated salmon oil into the grizzly bear diets, which are made daily!

Two of our 3 month interns, Dillon and Brenna, sorting through the produce bins.

So far, I have managed to survive the first 3 months and I am actually halfway through with the second half of my internship. I am now confident of the daily routine and know my way around the area fairly well, considering I’ve only ever lived in WI. For this session, we gained 5 new interns, leaving only 2 veteran interns (Maggie and I) to train them on our daily tasks (with the exception of the morning cleaning routines.) I’ve never been involved in training new interns on such a high level before, so this kind of leadership role was challenging for me as I’ve only ever worked with younger kids.

As part of the 6 month internship, I have begun learning to do drive-thrus. A drive-thru is basically a safety check. To do a drive-thru, you drive around the entire Sanctuary in a keeper vehicle and double check all the locks, house gates, mid-gates, pins, electric fences, locate the animals, etc. It might sound simple, but you really have to be on your game. Just think about it; if someone forgot to raise a mid-gate after cleaning, and that animal only has one water trough in their habitat, that animal could potentially be without water for almost 24 hours. As you can imagine, leaving a lock unlocked could be catastrophic as well. At IEAS we stress safety, which is why drive-thrus are imperative and cannot be taken lightly.

When we prove our observation skills during drive-thrus, we are given the responsibility to pick up the "little guys. We consider “little guys” to be our bobcats, servals, caracal, ocelots and coatis.  We are told the routine and how to pick up each habitat once by the keeper, then we are on our own without close observation and expected to pick up the habitats correctly and safely.  My main issue with this is trying to remember the area that each animal poops in. As with most things in life, practice makes perfect. Thus why I’m sure I’ll get the hang of it soon enough! 

 Billy, our caracal (pictured above), and Mindy, one of our white-nosed coatis (pictured below), are just two of our "little guys".

The next step is to be given the “keeper keys”. With these keys comes the responsibility to feed the bears and be a keeper in a section for a day, while having to direct of two interns. This task is of course under the observation of a keeper nearby. Our daily feedings are split into 2-3 different sections depending on the number of keepers we have available per day. The keepers have the responsibility of feeding the animals, in addition to making sure all safety procedures and routines are followed efficiently. If I’m able to do this, I will be able to earn the title of Assistant Keeper!

You can definitely tell there is a difference in responsibility between the 3 month interns and the 6 month interns. The 6 month interns have proved themselves to be reliable and thus are entrusted with several higher level tasks than the 3 month interns. Are you interested in becoming an intern? Visit our website at: to start your application today!

Maggie and I goofing off after a hard day's work! (Star Wars fans already know, but yes, Vadering is a thing!)

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Sapphire, Jewel of the Sanctuary

Here at IEAS we recently suffered a loss of one of our most beloved and well known residents. Sapphire was a 16-year-old cougar that came from another facility in Ohio that lost funding. When I got here 4 months ago, I was lucky enough to participate in the Emotional Enrichment Program with her.  Emotional Enrichment is a technique for improving and enhancing an animal's emotional life and minimizing stress, agitation, and irritation within the context of the animal's personality and biological instincts. It is a process wherein keepers, employees, and/or behaviorists create an emotional bond with the animal. 

One of Sapphire's favorite toys, a hanging buoy 

I got to personally know this amazing cougar during these sits. When I first started sitting with her, she would give me an initial hiss every time. Eventually, with time and sitting with her multiple times a week, the initial hiss changed to an initial purr. If she was in her house, she would come out and lay by the fence and would give me some of the loudest purrs I’ve ever heard. She was very affectionate and quickly became one of my favorites here.

Even though she was super affectionate, she could be just as sassy… especially in the mornings. Most people can relate to getting a tad bit grumpy when they’re hungry in the morning and Sapphire was no exception to this. When we would go to feed her, she would give us some of her famous cougar yells and hisses as we locked her out of her house. As soon as she ate, she was a whole new cat. We all loved her sassy attitude, and she was certainly the firecracker of the Sanctuary.

It was a pleasure getting to know this amazing cougar these past 4 months. After we were done with work, my highlight of the day would be to go sit with Sapphire and spend some time with her. She certainly captured my heart every time she would look at me, roll over, and purr. 

Sapphire captured the hearts of everyone who has worked here and have gotten to know her; she will be surly missed. She was her sassy self up until the very end, when her little body just could not keep up anymore.  She we always be remembered for her attitude at feeding and her purrs during afternoon
sits. She will hold a special part in the IEAS family. 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Emotional Enrichment Sits with Bengal Tiger, Sajani

Here at International Exotic Animal Sanctuary (IEAS), we have the unique Emotional Enrichment Program.   Emotional Enrichment is a technique for improving and enhancing an animal's emotional life and minimizing stress, agitation, and irritation within the context of the animal's personality and biological instincts. It is a process wherein keepers, employees, and/or behaviorists create an emotional bond with the animal.  Each intern that wishes to participate in this amazing experience can pick two animals to sit with to develop a relationship with these exotic animals. In this week’s blog, I want to share about Sajani, one of the animals with which I get to sit.

Many of our pictures of Sajani are of her walking towards
the camera person.  She is one that always enjoys the
human company, and will come right over to the fence to greet you.
Sajani is a female Bengal tiger and is eighteen years old. She came to the Sanctuary in August of 2011. Sajani was rescued from the Wild Animal Orphanage in San Antonio, due to its closing. 

Not only is Sajani one of the sweetest residents here at IEAS, but she is also the silliest. I’ve notice from sitting with her for the last month that Sajani is always being a goofball. She loves when people, be it visitors, interns, staff, or volunteers, come to pay her a visit. When people are around her, Sajani will rub her face on the fence and chuff at you. She truly loves attention from everybody.

My favorite thing is when I sit with Sajani. She will come right up to the fence where I’m sitting, chuff at me, lay down, and then go to sleep. Not only is this the cutest thing I’ve ever witnessed, but it also means that Sajani feels comfortable with me around to put her guard down and go to sleep. That is the best thing that can happened to you if you are an intern trying to build rapport with an animal.

On days that I can’t find the time to sit with her, I’ll still go and say goodnight to her before it gets dark so she knows I did not and never could forget her. Whenever I return from sitting with her and the other interns ask me how it went, I always say the exact same thing, “I love her so much!” And it’s true. It’s truly amazing how much Sajani has changed me from our sits. 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Life of an IEAS Intern

Interns are a vital part of the operations at IEAS. We assist the keepers here with a lot of their tasks, and gain valuable animal care experience. There are currently seven of us from different parts of the United States. Our days are full of food preparation, habitat cleaning, animal sitting and currently, a habitat construction project.

Each day starts at 5:45 a.m. when Interns work together on food preparation for the feline residents. It takes about an hour to prepare the day’s food for all of the cats, which make up about half of the animals at the Sanctuary. Most of the cats are served regular meat (15% fat content), while some are given lean meat (5% fat content). The meat, Triple A, comes from a special facility in Colorado, and has all the nutrients the cats need. Supplements, calcium and medications are then added specific to each resident. Once the food is prepared and the medications are all mixed in, it is loaded into keeper vehicles to be delivered to the different sections. Each Keeper, along with two Interns, will take the prepared food to their section and begin the feeding process around 7:00 a.m. They will lock the animals out of their housing, place the prepared food, and then allow the animals to return to eat. While they are eating, the animals can be locked into their housing to allow time for the habitat areas to be cleaned. Once the animals are finished and their habitats are clean, the past day’s dishes are collected. This process takes anywhere from one to two hours, followed by up to an hour of dish washing (Fun!)

Each afternoon the food preparation process is repeated for the bears. Food for the bears consists mainly of produce, which is donated from grocery stores such as Walmart, Costco, Lowes Food Market and Brookshires. (Thank you!) Prepared food is divided between the bear sections and delivered in the same manner as to the felines. And again, the end result is another round of dishes. In total, approximately 285 pounds of meat AND around 350 pounds of produce is prepared and fed to the residents, both felines and bears, of the Sanctuary each day.

Another important role of the Interns is time spent Animal Sitting, as part of our Emotional Enrichment Program. Each Intern selects a couple animals to spend time with for emotional enrichment. This time spent daily with the same Intern provides consistent friendship for the residents. The process entails sitting somewhere around the habitat and simply watching for the animal(s) to initiate contact. The desired outcome is that the animal(s) to be comfortable enough to fall asleep while we are visiting them. If an animal were to go into their house or start to pace, the Intern will leave so as to not encourage this undesirable behavior. Sits will last as long as the animal allows, ideally close to an hour.

I have personally selected to sit with Allie and Rausl, two of our White Bengal Tigers. My time sitting with them began about three weeks ago and the time averages about 30 minutes. Rausl seems to be taking a liking to me. He will come close to me when I first sit down, rub against the fence and begin chuffing (the tiger version of purring) as a sign of affection or acceptance. He typically ends up laying nearby. While Allie appears to recognize my presence, but does not usually relax nearby.

In addition to food preparation and animal sitting, the interns are currently reconstructing a vacant habitat to bring in back up to par and make it ready for a new resident in the future. Plants and grasses have been trimmed, housing structures have been refinished, perches have been repainted and new ramps have been constructed. We have also placed tree limbs for climbing and reinforced the perimeter of the habitat. 

These three: Food Preparation and Feeding, Animal Sitting and projects, like habitat construction, take up the majority of an Intern’s day at IEAS. However we do many other things like: Yardwork, Landscaping, Produce runs, Lead conservation education tours, Write grants, Various habitat maintenance, and much more. The opportunities for the interns here are truly amazing and get us ready for anything that we might be exposed to in the animals care field.