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!)

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