Zoo 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 adventures here on the Zoo’s website!
At the San Diego Zoo, one of the coolest and most exciting activities that you can do is the program Animals in Action. Through this interactive experience, you will get the opportunity to get up-close and personal with a few of the animal ambassadors the Zoo offers. Leading the program are some of the Zoo’s animal trainers like Kelly Elkins, Lead Animal Trainer, whom interns met with this week.
There is no doubt that Ms. Elkins has an absolutely amazing job. Not only does she get to interact with some of the animal ambassadors at the Zoo, but Ms. Elkins also gets to see the look on people’s faces when they realize that there is an actual cheetah less than five feet away from them. In fact, one of Ms. Elkins favorite parts of her job is seeing visitors’ reactions to being so close to wildlife that is normally halfway across the world. Moreover, Ms. Elkins absolutely loves getting the question “How can I do more?” from guests. She says that this question is asked frequently, because it is difficult to see animals right there in front of you that are threatened and losing their habitat, and not want to do something to contribute to conservation efforts.
All of the animals that the interns encountered face some sort of problem in the wild. With the cheetah we first met with, as of 100 years ago there were as many as 100,000 of them in the wild compared to the mere 7,000 living in the wild today. While the two-toed sloth that interns met is not currently endangered, habitat destruction is a large problem. Humans are also a threat, with the recent popularity of sloths causing people and businesses to purchase baby sloths without realizing how difficult it is to care for them. Habitat loss due to urban development is also a threat for the flamingoes that interns fed. Additionally, all zebra species are also affected by habitat loss as well as poaching and disease. Through her job, Ms. Elkins can inspire and educate guests on the wonderful animals they encounter and how they can do more to help them.
Just by visiting the San Diego Zoo or Safari Park, you are already aiding in conservation efforts. With your help, researchers at the Zoo can examine the risk factors of feline herpesvirus, a disease currently affecting cheetahs. You can hand-feed giraffes at the Zoo on the weekends for a $10 dollar donation, some of which goes to the Grevy’s zebra Trust, which aids in conservation efforts throughout Africa. More specifically, the conservation organization is working to vaccinate zebras in Kenya against the diseases they face. Ms. Elkins hopes that by connecting with these animals through the Animals in Action experience, that you’ll take the time to help them in the wild, one way or another.
Ms. Elkins stated that she always wants to do more with conservation. She even created a conservation award through the Animal Behavior Management Alliance of which she is Vice President. Therefore, the question “How can I do more?” means a lot for Ms. Elkins. It means that the guests she met with appreciated the experience and are likely to continue supporting the Zoo and all that it does for the animals that they encountered.
Emma, Conservation Team
Week Four, Winter Session 2019