The internship program at Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge is one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences I have had in my life, and I truly feel like I am walking away from it as a completely new and better person. There are countless opportunities to learn many different techniques of animal care, from feeding, training, and enrichment, to reaching out for generating support through interaction and education of the public.
One of the first things I learned as an intern was how to prepare diets in the feed room. This is some of the more physically challenging work to be done, consisting of moving heavy boxes of frozen meat and lifting full food trays. Of course, there are times when it feels great to be in the cold feed room, especially on hot days and in the middle of winter when the weather outside makes the refrigerated room wonderful by comparison. At first, it can be tricky keeping up with all the duties in the feed room, but it is not a difficult task once the routine becomes familiar.
After becoming comfortable with the feed room, it was on to tasks closer to the animals.
For absolutely every aspect of animal care, there are incredibly useful tricks and techniques to learn that the staff is more than happy to teach.
The internship also involves guiding tours through the sanctuary and teaching visitors about big and small cats, as well as telling the specific stories of each of our animals. It is a chance for us interns to immensely expand our knowledge and to inspire guests that share our passion for these creatures. Nothing brightened my day quite like seeing the spark of interest in our visitors while I guided them, and nothing is comparable to feeling like I may have impacted a young future biologist.
Of course, one of the most thrilling and rewarding parts of the intern experience was training. As part of the internship, I was paired with one of the cats at Tiger Creek to train it for medical purposes.
I was fortunate enough to work with Gunther, a relaxed and somewhat lazy tiger that was actually born and raised at the refuge. I was working with him on learning the command “Paw”, in which he would put his paw up against the fence so that it could be checked for injuries. It is with immense pride that I can announce Gunther was a true star in his training sessions, and by the end of the term he would complete the command anywhere and anytime he was asked (as long as he knew a tasty reward would follow, of course)! Gunther seemed to enjoy the training sessions just as much as I did, and would even wait and watch for me to come up and work with him in the afternoons. Forming that connection with such an amazing creature and accomplishing a goal together was an irreplaceable and rare experience, and I am so grateful to my internship for providing me with it.
The TCWR internship entails a ton of hard work in all sorts of adverse conditions and is intensely challenging. But if you are truly committed and willing to put in the effort, you will get more out of the experience than you could have imagined.