Out of the Classroom and into the Woods

Hannah Garland, Natural Resources Intern

When you are a young 20-something in college, you are often pressured to figure out where exactly you are in life as well as where you want to be. Understandably, that can be a very stressful journey. One of the expectations along that journey is to get an internship or a summer job. Frankly, there are lots of places that you could just “get a job.” However, the moment that I talked to Ben Kirkland, the Natural Resources Manager at Chehaw, I knew this wasn’t going to be just any old summer job. I was definitely right about that too.

As a Wildlife Management student, Chehaw has offered me the opportunity for hands on experience about things that I’ve been reading and studying in my classes. I’ve gained a completely new perspective on where I’d like to go after graduation due to Chehaw’s long and interesting history.

This different perspective was definitely going to make or break my resolve, because I learned being an intern wasn’t just stalking deer and taking pictures of foxes. Sometimes it was being chased by a swarm of bees while checking a bluebird nesting box or learning humility by lending a hand shoveling poop in the Zoo. On the other hand, during my time at Chehaw I have helped (and even started!) a prescribed burn and gotten to watch the ecosystem reap the benefits. I have seen Longleaf pine trees that were planted when the first timber companies cut down their previously untouched predecessors, which means they are over 60 years old. I have seen a family of Wood ducks thrive because of the safe home provided for them. Not to mention the countless other types of wildlife I have seen not only living, but thriving, due to the long history of proper management that has been put into practice on the Park.

I look at Chehaw and see a thriving ecosystem that will be there for many generations after me to enjoy. I have seen, and participated in, Wildlife Management as a whole rather than the small snapshots offered elsewhere. I have become a better Wildlife student, and eventually a better Wildlife Biologist, because of my experience.

So, in summation, if you want to have the run-of-the-mill intern experience, you can keep walking because Chehaw isn’t for you. If you want to have a once in a lifetime chance to see wildlife history in the making, be surrounded by amazing people who will treat you like family, and to continue the rich tradition of preserving a place where wildlife and people can thrive together- then take a trip down to Chehaw. I promise, it will be worth it.

I would like to give a special thank you to Mr. Kirkland for being an amazing mentor who has taught me more than any book could ever hope to.

Being a Zookeeper is More...

Kaitlyn Burrell, Zookeeper
Being a zookeeper is more than scooping up animal waste. It is more than spending time with cuddly critters. It is more than putting on a show for a crowd's entertainment. It is not locking animals up and using them for financial gain. These are the most popular stereotypes about the zoo industry.

But as a former zookeeper, I can tell you that working in this field is so much more important than all of that. Being a zookeeper is about realizing the significance of the lives of animals and doing everything in your power to protect them. It is educating the public on the importance of endangered animal conservation in the hopes that someone's heart will be touched. It is taking care of the animals within the zoo itself and providing them with a happy and healthy lifestyle. This is what zookeepers work for everyday.

Many people believe that zoos only exist to bring in revenue. I can tell you first hand that this is not the case. Some of you may have visited Chehaw during our Native American Festival and passed by the conservation booth set up by the zookeepers. Everything on that table was a product of a zookeeper's own time, money, and labor. Every cent made from selling those items went straight to conservation programs for Cheetahs, Black Rhinos, and Guatemalan Beaded Lizards. The zookeepers who sacrificed their time, money, and labor received nothing in return other than the satisfaction of knowing that they helped make a difference in the battle against extinction.

Another strong stereotype against zoos is based on the belief that animals can't possibly be happy being "locked up" rather than being in the wild. I assure you that I have never seen as much joy in any living thing as I have seen in Bogart the Bactrian camel when he runs and bounds around his exhibit after seeing his keeper's golf cart pull up. The happiness seen in Roswell and Ellie, our two cheetahs, when they are rolling around in their lush exhibit grass on a sunny day is unmistakable. When our Black Bears (Daisy, Rosie, Theodore, and DJ) receive surprise enrichment, they can certainly be seen enjoying themselves. Not once have I ever been under the impression that our animals felt imprisoned or oppressed in any way. They simply enjoy the good life that is being fed every day and living in a safe environment where predation and poaching are not a threat.

Having the opportunity to be a zookeeper has been a huge blessing. The most valuable things I have learned from working at Chehaw are respect and compassion for the animals that I had the chance to work with. My time here has provided me with the most amazing memories I possess. This zoo, along with its residents and faithful employees, will always have a special place in my heart.