Sunday, May 13, 2012

Audubon Nature Institute- Narrative (Non-Fiction Story)

Welcome back to my blog! In this edition, I would like to share a story with all of you, the amazing experience I had during my primatology internship at the Audubon Nature Institute's Zoo  in New Orleans, Louisiana during the Spring of 2010. It all began as part of a school assignment, heading to the zoo to practice some behavioral observation techniques. However, I made a few connections, a touch of networking, and followed-up for some potential internship opportunities. After a successful interview, and some back and forth with HR, the primatology department welcomed me as a Spring intern. Before I knew it, my first day was upon me. I can still recall being so nervous and excited; I really did not know what those first days would have in store for me! 

That morning, I remember arriving at the zoo early with my Starbucks, which I decided to ditch in the car. Soon enough, I was transformed into the keeper uniform, rigid knee-high rubber boots, protective gloves, and some other zoo-sanctioned accessories. Suddenly it hit me; I will really be getting my hands dirty and providing and supporting the kind of primate care I have been looking forward to. After a quick safety video and some colleague introductions, off our team went to attack the objectives for the day. As we exited the staging building, we stepped onto a bleach pad, really reinforcing the importance of not introducing harmful microorganisms into the primates' environment. So, on with the work; daily activities spanned maintaining the habitats, preparing the feedings, administering enrichment interventions, and some behavioral observations of specific primates. Interestingly, the primates chosen for observation were either showing some inconsistencies in activity or appetite, or a new primate pair that were slowly getting to know each other. The internship included other observational activities to better understand the behavioral differences between the various primate species. 
Infant Sumatran Orangutang enjoying her jungle-gym 

As the week went on, I began taking some milestone exams, demonstrating my knowledge of species-specific issues and care management practices. I began to appreciate the hard work that keepers and veterinarians do every day across all animal institutions. The people I worked with were inspiring, and they all really enjoyed that they did. They provided great support when the time came for my large, final internship project: the redesign of one of the primate exhibits. After some deliberations, I selected Stella's exhibit, a very special black and white ruffled lemur. I did have a soft spot in my heart for Stella, but her exhibit was outdated, worn out, and did not support her old age. Stella is considered one of the oldest lemurs in captivity, at over 31 years old (in 2010). She suffers from a neurological disorder that is common among lemurs, which can manifest itself in some stumbling and walking sideways. She needed an exhibit that could provide some comforts, particularly because she was housed alone (which is not typical for lemurs). I worked to design a warm, unique exhibit featuring softer grass, ramps to each level of stone area, more sleeping materials, and decorative paintings to improve the ambiance of her indoor enclosure. The design and implementation was a great success, and the semester soon began to wind to an end. I wrapped up my observations, exams, and transferred back my daily responsibilities to the remaining team members. 

Stella: Black & White Ruffed Lemur, enjoying a palm fran in her renovated exhibit

I continue to maintain some really great relationships with my old colleagues in New Orleans. They continuously inspire me to work hard towards my goals, and support the establishment of my non-for-profit organization, Passion for Primates. And, I look forward to my annual trips to New Orleans to check up on a very special lemur. This was a special time in my life, and one that no doubt has laid the foundation for future success.

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