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.