Monday, June 13, 2016

Life in the desert

Mara Eisenbarth
Elephant Intern
Reid Park Zoo, Tucson Arizona

Hello from the wild west! 

This blog post is coming to you from the super hot, incredibly beautiful Sonoran Desert.  Tucson is such a change from the rainy, muddy spring in Pittsburgh...but i'm definitely not complaining! It's only been three weeks, and i'm as tan as I usually am at the end of the summer.  

But, this is supposed to be about my internship, and not how much vitamin D i'm getting, huh.  

I arrived in Tucson on a Sunday, three weeks ago, and started my internship with the elephant team on Tuesday.  My supervisor and I are working on a project together, so i'm on her schedule which means I work eight hours a day Tuesday through Saturday (more on the project later). 

The heat is definitely something that took some getting used to, especially working out in it 40 hours a week.  At first I was wearing shorts and my volunteer t-shirt, but soon I switched over to pants and pull-on sleeves, for a variety of reasons.  The elephant team work really hard to feed their elephants only the best, and to them that means providing tree branches to fulfill a majority of their diet.  To do this, they have asked tree trimming companies around the area to consider dropping off loads of certain types of trees to us instead of throwing them away.  When we get a load dropped off, it's unofficially my job (and anyone who isn't busy) to sort through the pile and trim the branches down to a manageable size as well as make sure there isn't anything in the pile that we can't feed out to the elephants.  Doing that with exposed legs and arms resulted in lots of scratches...until I realized pants and sleeves were really good ideas! 

In order to get all the work done around the elephant barn and yards, the team relies on volunteers every day.  Each day they have one or two volunteers that commit to helping that day every week.  As soon as I arrived, I worked alongside the volunteers and learned the ropes from them, and the keepers.  In the morning we clean the yards, scooping up poop, cleaning up leftover hay, and collecting all of the used tree branches.  When that's finished we help them unload the carts into the compost dumpster and then get ready to clean the barn.  There are three stalls, and three outdoor paddocks, as well as the two yards that the public can see.  After about day 2, Sue (my supervisor) asked me to make a power point outlining instructions for everything I had learned so far (which was a TON).  She wanted new volunteers to be able to go through this power point as training before they even started helping.  This way, it wouldn't all be on the keepers to make sure they tell the volunteers everything they need to know and be aware of.  It was really cool, after only a week, to be able to compile everything I learned into a format that would teach another person how to do the job I just learned.  They used it soon after to train a new volunteer, and the keepers said they loved it! Success! 

Most, if not all, of the cleaning is done in the morning so the afternoons are free for training and other things that need done.  To keep the elephants healthy in the over 100 degree heat, they usually try to get them in the pool in the afternoon, which has been pretty fun to watch!  Watching that from the public area has also been helpful in doing one of my favorite things: interacting with the public.  I love it all, the good comments and the bad.  It's really fun when people are interested in learning more about the animals I am dedicating my life to taking care of, but it's cool to educate those who aren't so supportive of zoos, too.     

Overall, my first few weeks have been very exciting and full of learning.  I'll introduce the elephants next post, and hopefully more about my new, exciting stay tuned! 

Left to right: Sundzu, Nandi, Semba (mom with 2 out of 3 kids)


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