My Experience in the Life of a Zookeeper

This summer I interned at the Dakota Zoo in Bismarck, ND as a zookeeper. The zoo is a nonprofit organization that works with many other nonprofit conservation organizations around the world. As an intern I gained knowledge of animal husbandry, animal training, enrichment, dietary requirements of animals, general knowledge of behavior, disease, proper animal handling, chemical immobilization and restraint techniques, as well as helped guests understand the importance of wildlife conservation and preservation through teaching them about the Dakota Zoo Conservation Fund and its mission “to support and promote wildlife conservation on a local, national and international level”.

In this photo I am rewarding Ted the grizzly bear with a sweet treat after a good training session! He stands almost 10 feet tall!

The Dakota Zoo houses around 128+ species of animals at their facility. I worked 45 hours a week with every animal in the zoo. It was a very fast paced job where I was almost always on my feet. My GLI theme is natural resources and sustainability and I am also majoring in wildlife biology and minoring in nonprofit administration. This experience furthered my understanding of my global theme and challenge because it gave me face to face interactions with the public and helped me learn how to interact with people and inspire and teach them about conservation and sustainability. I got to give keeper chats on North American river otters all summer and also informally talk to guests about our animals and why we have them. The second way this experience furthered my understanding of my global theme and challenge is that it allowed me to experience a conservation organization first-hand and learn how they practice sustainability to help the environment and how they encourage others to do the same. The zoo tries to “go green” and be sustainable wherever possible, using low voltage fluorescent bulbs and comfortable but energy-conscious temperature settings for public areas of buildings. Office paper is shredded and repurposed as animal bedding, and aluminum cans, cardboard is recycled saving landfill space and energy. Building and fencing materials are also recycled or repurposed whenever practicable and they also re-utilize animal shelters, enclosures and even buildings. The third way this experience furthered my understanding of my global theme and challenge is that it allowed me to not only work with the public and teach them about conservation and sustainability, but it also allowed me to work hands on with some of their conservation projects allowing me to get an all-around experience of what goes into protecting the environment and wildlife.

In this photo I am giving a keeper chat and educating a group of guests on North American river otters! The otter in the photo is named Gary!

One of the projects they were a part of was a monarch butterfly project where they raised up monarchs from eggs and then released them into the wild. They also raise money for other threatened or endangered species like tigers or black-footed ferrets by hosting events at the zoo and then they send the money they raise to conservation organizations around the world that are working on the forefront of those conservation projects. I got to help organize a small tiger fundraiser this summer and we were able to get about $500 to send to tiger conservation projects happening around the world! Another project I worked on this summer was training the four macaws the zoo has to help eliminate some of the aggressive and territorial behavior they were displaying as well as improve the daily enrichment they were receiving. My project was successful and by the end of the summer the macaws were much less aggressive and much safer to work around! The macaw project gave me some animal behavior/training experience and more experience with reaching out to other organizations to gain more knowledge to help improve the enrichment and training program the zoo had in place. This internship helped broaden my views on world-wide issues affecting wildlife and conservation today and I learned that I can not only work towards fixing local conservation issues but world ones as well even from such a small organization located in North Dakota. This Beyond the Classroom experience was part of the beginning steps to my future in education, wildlife conservation and sustainability.

In this photo I am target training Baby the scarlet macaw for the macaw project I worked on during this internship!
In this photo I am feeding Selene the arctic fox! She had just completely lost her white winter coat for the summer!
These are red-ruffed lemurs I got to work with! I had just finished giving them new enrichment and food for the day!

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