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Learning to work with animal ambassadors

Hey everyone, my name is Kaylee, and I was an intern here at Zoo Atlanta this past summer! Working with the Ambassador Animal Team in the Wieland Wildlife Home was the opportunity of a lifetime. This area has a wide variety of animals: reptiles, mammals, amphibians and an invertebrate or two. In addition to getting an amazing experience, I got to do so many cool things during my time here. Out of everything though, animal encounters were my favorite! During animal encounters, I got to take different animals out around the Zoo and introduce them to guests. Our visitors were able to learn all about the specific animals, like how they got their name, cool facts about them, and even conservation tips on how to keep these animals safe in their home environments.

After a month into my internship, each of my fellow interns was able to pick their first encounter animal. I chose the red-footed tortoise. We currently have two in Wieland: Carlos and Little Foot. Carlos is the older tortoise; we aren’t sure of his age, but we do know he has been at the Zoo since 1980. Little Foot, on the other hand, is the young red-foot. He is 4 years old and still very small. The red-footed tortoises grow to about 14 inches long and can live to be about 50 years old! They are native to South America, but their habitat is in trouble. They aren’t labeled as endangered, but with deforestation occurring frequently in South America comes trouble for this creature. It’s very important to keep our forests safe, so recycling and limiting how much paper products we use are effective ways to help protect the forests.

After working on our first animal encounters for a few weeks, we got to pick another animal. This time I chose the blue-tongued skink! In Wieland, we have one named Reggie. Reggie’s species is native to Australia and is much larger than the skinks we have here in Georgia! Blue-tongued skinks can grow about two feet long. They are known for their beautiful tan and brown coloring. These colors help them blend in with the sand. Reggie has very short legs, so he’s not very fast compared with the other animals over in Australia. That means he has a lot of adaptations in order to survive. One of the most noticeable, and the reason the species got its name, is the blue tongue! That blue tongue helps keep their predators away. They will stick it out and huff and puff to make themselves appear larger; this will confuse the predator and cause it to leave them alone. Removal of blue-tongued skinks from the wild for pet trade is one of the threats this species faces. Fortunately, Australia has made it illegal to export blue-tongued skinks from the continent. When finding animals in the wild, it’s important to keep them there. Every animal has a purpose in its environment, but when they are taken away they can’t perform their duties!

Interning at Wieland was incredible! I learned so much from not only the animals, but also from the animal care team. The animals taught me that they each have their own personalities, and it’s important to understand that when working with them. Some days they may not be up to going out and meeting people. That is okay! They get tired just like we do. The team taught me how to properly care for the animals and how to have fun with what I do. Each animal care professional has his or her own unique way of making presentations to guests and enriching animals, which made every day an adventure.

Spending a summer at Zoo Atlanta gave me experiences I will never forget. I learned more than I could’ve ever imagined, and I was sad to see it end!
Ambassador Animals Intern

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