This summer, I spent most of my time interning at a local zoo that houses a multitude of different species. I was lucky enough to work with some amazing animals from small ducks to giant hippos! Before starting my internship, I had an idea of the work I would be doing. I knew zookeeping was very physical; you were always outside and there was a lot of cleaning to do. I am a plus-size woman, so I had to get used to the physical activity. Mentally, I was ready for the internship but physically, I was slacking. I had next-to no energy, even on my days off. It took a long time to build my stamina, but it was all worth it in the end. Although a lot of my days were spent cleaning and setting up exhibits/barns, I was happy to know I was contributing to animals’ lives.
Some of my favorite animals to work with this summer were Malayan Tapirs. If you don’t know what Tapirs (Tape-ers) are, they are closely related to horses and rhinos. The Malayan Tapir has a distinct “Oreo” pattern with black on both ends and a white belt across their midsection. They have a snout, like an elephant’s trunk, that is used for grabbing food. These gentle giants have such amazing personalities, and I loved building relationships with them. Throughout the summer I helped clean a variety of exhibits, holding areas, and even pools. I spent almost every day coming home smelling like a barn, but I didn’t mind because my passion for the work I was doing only grew as time went on.
One of the main benefits of gaining this hands-on experience was observing the relationships the animals have with the zookeepers I was working with. Animals can have such unique personalities and seeing them come to life when they interact with their keepers is truly inspiring to someone wanting to join the field. Gaining hands-on experience in any occupation is almost essential before joining the workforce. College is the time to explore your options and see if the career path you’ve chosen is truly right for you. Being able to observe the life of a zookeeper firsthand has helped me make decisions regarding my future career. If you are thinking about a specific career path, I recommend applying to internships or at least shadowing professionals as soon as possible. You will never know exactly what you want to pursue in life until you experience it firsthand.
Even though I was usually drained, dirty, and begging for a break, the little moments I shared with the animals made everything worth it. It was an unpaid internship; of course, I wish I got paid for my time there, but the opportunity to work with zookeepers was the motivation I needed to keep pursing this career path. If you are passionate about what you want to do in life, don’t hesitate to apply to an internship or two. Whether you love or hate it, it will help guide you throughout your career even beyond college. It never hurts to try!