Into the Trenches

Driving into the Safari for my first day of work, my heart was in my throat and my palms were sweating. I was excited, nervous, anxious and thrilled. This is what I’ve been studying to do; this is the dream that I had hoped to achieve for years now.

I got out of the car and met the woman that will be my boss and coworker for the next three months. She introduced herself as Shelly. “Welcome,” she said, “let’s get to work.” With that I began my first week of work at the Safari in the predator department.

I did it. My first week as an intern at the Safari Park is complete, and I have just three words: dream come true!

As some of you may know, working in the zoo field has been a dream of mine since I was 9 years old, and to finally be able to step over those fences and walk past those signs that say “Keepers Only” is something that I have been waiting to do for a long time. Sure the work is hard, but to me it is the best job in the world.

Below is a list of the three sections of the predator department and some of the animals that I have worked with so far:

  • Cats: Tigers, sand cats, leopard and jungle cat
  • Bears: Syrian brown bear and Himalayan bear
  • Dogs/Wolves: Hyena, African wild dog and Israeli wolf


Because the safari is so small and the South American section is very close to the predator department, I am also working with Bard’s tapir, couati, and rhea. During the first week of my internship, I worked in every section of the predator department, and did my best to prove to my boss that I wanted to be here and that I was willing to work.

Several times this week I realized how much my education at Unity College has put me ahead of the curve, and how the things I have learned in my classes are helping me with this internship. I’ll give you an example. On Tuesday, my boss Shelly told me to clean out the tigers’ and leopards’ indoor enclosure spaces and wash them down. She said she would be back in twenty minutes. I automatically grabbed the industrial soap and broom to wash out each individual space—we have two tigers and two leopards and each holding area is pretty big. I’m scrubbing the floors and rinsing them out, and about half way done when Shelly comes back and says, “Wow you actually used the soap. Most of our interns just hose down each space and call it quits. I’m impressed.” I thanked her for the compliment but thought, of course I used the soap—do you know how many diseases could be floating around in here that could transfer between the cats or to humans?

Diseases that can transfer from one animal to another or from animal to human or vice versa are called zoonotic diseases and students learn about them in the Introduction to Captive Wildlife Care and Education class at Unity, and are also talked about in other classes. I always think about the potential for disease transfer when working with animals, but I realize now that it’s something most people don’t tend to think about, and thanks to my Intro class I had the heads up.

Until next time.


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