Animals in Action

InternQuest is a seven-week career exploration program for San Diego County high school juniors and seniors. Students have the unique opportunity to meet professionals working for the San Diego Zoo, Safari Park, and Institute for Conservation Research, learn about their jobs, and then blog about their experience online. Follow their adventure here on the Zoo’s website!

Which person are you more likely to give $100 to: a friend, or your sister’s roommate’s second cousin’s aunt’s best friend? Most likely the friend, right? The San Diego Zoo had this in mind when it opened the Animals in Action show a little over a year and a half ago. The Zoo wants to give the public the opportunity to get to know some of the animals that live at the Zoo. After getting acquainted with the animals, the Zoo hopes that people will more actively participate in conservation and working to protect endangered species.

Ms. Kelly Elkins gave us the behind the scenes tour of the Animals in Action show, introduced us to some of the animals she works with every day, and gave us a look into her background. Starting out her professional career as a dance teacher, Ms. Elkins realized that she would rather be working with animals, so she attended Moorpark College and graduated from their exotic animal training program. She has been working for the San Diego Zoo the past 13 years, but she is still considered a “newbie” among her coworkers. The trainers in the Animals in Action program are dedicated to the animals, spending 30 to 40 years working at the Zoo.

Animals in Action is a one of the Zoo’s premium products and offers guests the most interaction with animals. Visitors are able to pet zebras, feed flamingos and get up close and personal with porcupines. The hour-long experience is packed full of both animals and information. With every animal that guests get to meet, the trainers share information about the animal’s abilities and its conservation status. On Thursday, we were able to meet a number of animals including: a Grant’s zebra, a cheetah cub named Roketi, flamingos, a porcupine, a cuscus and a clouded leopard. All of the animals are animal ambassadors and help to teach the public about conservation.

One of the interesting stories that Ms. Elkins told us was about a flamingo named Floyd. Floyd was born with a genetic defect in his legs that required surgery to fix. After the surgery, Floyd couldn’t support himself and had to be held upright 24/7 for two weeks. People from all different departments volunteered their time to help hold him. Floyd has recovered to become one of the tallest flamingos. Ms. Elkins shared how she thought that Floyd’s story is a testament to the Zoo’s commitment to one animal.

The animal that had the most impact on us was a clouded leopard. There are only about 300 clouded leopards in managed care world-wide. The San Diego Zoo is the only place where the leopards participate in a program like “Animals in Action” because the leopards are able to build relationships with the trainers. Ms. Elkins talked with us about how the clouded leopard and other species native to Southeast Asia are becoming endangered because of the palm oil industry. Corporations are destroying the leopard’s habitat, leaving tiny strips that are unsuitable for the clouded leopards to live in. Palm oil is used in many snack foods that we don’t really need in the first place. Ms. Elkins urged us to boycott goods that do contain palm oil. There are several apps that scan a barcode, and let you know if a product contains palm oil. The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo has one of these apps, be sure to check it out! Watching the clouded leopard and hearing about how it could become extinct was saddening. If we had not had the chance to see the clouded leopard we would not have felt as strongly, it would mean no more to us than a distant relation’s friend. We would have felt no obligation to take part in its conservation.

Hearing Ms. Elkins’ stories about Floyd and Ganda, the clouded leopard, were eye opening. They helped us to build a connection with the animals, which in turn inspired us to take do our part to preserve and protect endangered species worldwide. We learned that by doing something as simple as cutting out palm oil, we can help an animal living half-way around the world.

James, Real World Team
Week Five, Winter Session 2018

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