Since my last post, I have spent two weeks here in Waco at the Cameron Park Zoo, and it has been a busy two weeks! As a swing intern at the zoo, I will get to work in all four mammal departments; elephants, hoof stock, primates, and Texas carnivores. Last week, I mentioned that I would be going to the elephants first. I quickly found out that I would be not only working with elephants, but lions, tigers, and rhinos as well! I would have never guessed that this would be the set up, but that is just the way Cameron Park does it, and I couldn’t be happier.
In these two weeks, I have gotten to experience a lot at the zoo. As you may have guessed, a decent portion of my time is spent cleaning out barns and the exhibits. Yes, elephant and rhino feces are just as smelly and heavy as you think they would be, but hey, it’s a great workout right? Cleaning the barns and exhibits honestly isn’t as bad as you would think. I start work at 8 and usually, between me, the keepers, and other interns, have everything cleaned by lunch time. Music and good conversations make cleaning seem very fast. That leaves a whole lot of time after lunch to do the other things we need to do. This includes preparing diets. I help get together all of the food needed for each animal and have learned a lot about the diets and eating habits of these animals. We prepare enrichment items as well. These are used to help the animals use their natural instincts in a way that they would in the wild but may not get to do on exhibit. For instance, tigers really do love cinnamon (who knew Hollywood researched so well), which gets them to move around and explore to find the source of the scent. For elephants, we will scatter treats around the exhibit so that they move around and search for them.
In our afternoons, I have gotten to watch training sessions with the animals as well. I have watched target training with rhinos where they hit a pole with their horn or face, tigers and lion training sessions where they learn behaviors that would help the keepers in case they need to treat the animal, and lastly elephant training where they learn different behaviors to help the keepers give baths and move them on and off exhibit. It is so cool to watch an elephant kneel and move their ears on command so that bath time is easier. I have also gotten to watch the elephants paint, which is an enrichment activity that actually helps them get used to TB testing for when they get tested each year.
All of these activities have been amazing to watch, but the animals themselves are even more fun to watch and observe. Our two female elephants, Tanya and Tembo, have great personalities. Tanya makes spitting noises whenever she is happy and is the dominant one. Tembo will follow quietly behind Tanya and is more shy. Our three rhinos love mud. We have two females, Ethel and Babe, and a male, Jabba. Ethel loves to start trouble and is the youngest. Babe is basically a cranky elderly rhino who just wants Ethel to leave her alone. Jabba, well he really just loves hay. The cats are my favorite. Our lions are gorgeous. Kai is the male and loves to play with 5 gallon buckets. Shamfa and Leia are our females. Shamfa just wants to be friends with Leia, and Leia wants no part in it which causes Shamfa to roar loudly. Finally our tigers are little balls of fire. We have one female Maharani, or Mani for short. Then two males Bemo and Kucing. Mani is quiet and very observant. Bemo is Mani’s son and loves to be vocal and loud, especially at dinner time. Finally Kucing loves to show he is boss and does so by strolling around all puffed out to make himself look bigger. I love being at the zoo so much and will miss these animals after my last week with them.
It is important to remember that I am always under the supervision of a keeper when watching training sessions or near the animals, so no need to worry! The zoo takes safety protocol very serious and is a wonderful place to work. One more week with my cats and large grey things! Can’t wait to see what the next week has in store!