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So you want to be an Elephant Care Intern?

Hi all! It’s Caleb with the Elephant Care Team again! Regularly, young students ask us how to be a professional elephant caretaker. A perfect first step is to do an elephant internship! In college, I had the opportunity to be an Elephant Intern at Zoo Atlanta, and now, over six years later, I am our team’s Intern Coordinator! As Intern Coordinator, let me share a roadmap of what to expect as an Elephant Intern at Zoo Atlanta.

The first step to becoming an Elephant Intern is applying for the elephant internship! Ideal candidates for our elephant internship are in college or recent graduates with a life science degree (in biology, zoology, psychology, etc.) and want to pursue a career in professional elephant care and management. Prior experience working with and around animals can elevate a candidate significantly!

After applying and (hopefully) landing an interview, I highly recommend candidates research Zoo Atlanta’s Elephant Care Program. Zoo Atlanta is currently home to three African elephants and recently built and opened the Zambezi Elephant Center and African Savanna Habitats in 2019. Two of our elephants, Kelly and Tara, are 40 years old and considered geriatric females. Our male, Msholo, came to Zoo Atlanta from San Diego Safari Park in the summer of 2019. In addition to researching the program you’re hoping to intern with, come to the interview prepared to eloquently detail your previous experiences and share your passion and personality while answering traditional interview questions.

The Elephant Care Team can only take a limited number of interns per semester. When an intern is selected and starts, their internship is divided into two parts. The first half of the internship is introductions to the Zoo, the elephant area, and training on all the team’s routines. Interns are introduced to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Standards for Elephant Care and Management and will understand performance expectations and limitations, including safety. The Elephant Care Team has multiple routines, including our morning routine, cleaning the Zambezi Elephant Center routine, the naked mole-rat routine, and the meerkat routine, and interns are trained to assist care team members and complete training in all of them! At a certain point in the internship, interns will learn proper professional elephant care techniques and, under keeper supervision, begin participating in elephant care opportunities, like baths or foot scrubs!

In the second half of the semester, interns go through a series of specialized topic units discussed and facilitated by each member of the Elephant Care Team. Our current topics include Public Speaking and Storytelling, Observing Elephant Behavior, Enrichment, Animal Training, and Job Searching and Interviewing. Each topic has tasks or assignments for interns to complete by the end of their internship that will develop their skills as professional animal caretakers. Corresponding tasks range from narrating the Elephant Care Demonstration presentation to completing multiple elephant training observation sessions with the Elephant Care Team.

As a member of the Elephant Care Team, numerous people have inspired me and molded me into the elephant care professional I am today. Many of these people were people I met during my internship. As our team’s Intern Coordinator, I get so much joy from being in a position where I can provide these learning opportunities for the next generation of elephant caretakers. If Zoo Atlanta’s elephant internship interests you, or you’re interested in more information, I highly encourage you to check out!

Caleb U.
Keeper II, Elephants

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl