Name: Molly Kukawka
Year: Junior Class of 2018
Hometown: St. Clair, MI
Internship: Animal Behavior/ Arctic Intern
Location: Toledo Zoo, OH
Working in the Animal Behavior department, I’ve experienced and have put into perspective, a lot of things.My whole definition of enrichment has changed. Before my internship I didn’t realize how complex enrichment is. One has to balance a lot of facets. Enrichment does not last as long as you think it does and a big thing to watch is matching the time and effort to make enrichment and time the animal will actually spend with it. This can be tricky in the Arctic, especially when it comes to ice. I can spend days layering ice and the bears will tear through it in minutes, and it’s not as enriching as it such be. Over time I have come to learn the individual bears’ preferences and favorites and I have come to appreciate and enjoy the enrichment process more.
The other major mind changing aspect of my internship is training. When my family and friends hear that part of my job is to train seals, their mind immediately goes to seals jumping through hoops and balancing balls. In reality training is a whole lot more complicated and takes a lot of patience. Training is used a lot today to desensitize animals to medical procedures and basic body examinations. The repertoire of behaviors is constantly being tested, perfected, and expanded. Communication is a huge gap to bridge (pun intended) and things can get lost in translation. Also, verbal and hand motion cues can get confusing, there are distractions everywhere, and you have to be the calm, patient, and stable epicenter of it all. Helping with training has taught me so much about the nature of perspective and motivation and I feel extremely fortunate to be a part of it.