Monday, August 8, 2016

Welcome to White Oak!

Name: Lauren Silla Class Year: 2017
Hometown: Cleveland, Ohio
Internship: Wildlife Conservation Intern 

Location: White Oak in Yulee, Florida

Hi Everyone! I am currently a senior at Otterbein University majoring in Zoo and Conservation Science. This summer I am completing an 8 week animal care internship at White Oak Conservation in Yulee, Florida in one of their ungulate sections called “East.” This section includes giant eland, bongo, dama gazelle, gerenuk, lesser kudu, nile lechwe, roan antelope, slender-horned gazelle, cape buffalo, babirusa, giraffe, and okapi.
White Oak is truly a unique place and much different than a traditional zoo. White Oak has a long history dating back to 1768 when it was used for rice and later timber production. In 1982 Howard Gilman initiated a conservation breeding center on property to contribute to the conservation of imperiled species through reproduction, research, and in-situ support. Today, the 12,000 acre, AZA certified facility, houses roughly 30 species such as the cheetah, rhino, okapi, Pere David’s Deer, Eastern grasshopper sparrow, and many more. What makes White Oak so amazing to me is the large habitats and natural social structures the animals live in. Hoofstock have multi-acre pastures with large herd sizes. This allows the animals to reproduce naturally and interact with conspecifics as they would in their natural environment. 

All of the hoofstock at White Oak have similar pastures to this
My internship entails working closely with the Wildlife staff to provide daily care to the animals. My day starts out at 7:20 AM when all of the interns and I walk to the hay barn for the morning meeting. Most of the interns live in the Animal Science Building on property so we have a short 3-minute walking commute. All of the wildlife staff along with the vet staff meet in the break room and discuss pertinent events from the previous day and any procedures or special projects that need to be completed for that day. We then break off into 4 sections: birds, carnivores, east (antelope), and west (rhinos & equids).
This is when my day starts looking different than a typical zoo internship. Instead of driving to a barn to prepare diets and shift animals onto exhibit, we have a truck and trailer that we fill with all the hay and grain we will need for the day. Then, we drive to each species habitat where we count and examine animals, check fences, then feed and clean. The morning feeding/cleaning run is when the keepers get the best look at the animals and also when we perform necessary medical procedures. In the afternoons we usually have a small project such as limb pick-up, weed-wacking, mowing grass, or bleaching drinkers. The keepers are truly a “jack of all trades” so whether it’s fixing a fence, chain sawing a tree that has fallen, bottle feeding a calf or hand restraining a gazelle for a medical procedure, they do it all! The last task for the day is usually cutting browse for some of the antelope, okapi, and giraffe. This is a very important part of the animals diet and it’s very convenient that White Oak has acres of woods to cut from.

I am having an amazing time interning at White Oak so far and I cannot believe my time here is coming to an end. To be around all these incredible species and experienced keepers everyday sure does make the time fly by!
Mario the Babirusa enjoying his watermelon enrichment    

Filling up the giraffe hayrack is one of my favorite tasks!    

We cut browse daily for many of the species

Hand restraining a lesser kudu for a routine medical procedure

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