Senior animal behavior major Amanda Wollenweber was a primate intern for the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden.
What were your primary duties?
As a primate intern, my primary duties were cleaning enclosures and prepping diets. All four primate interns completed an animal wellness study. We observed our buff cheek gibbons, taking behavioral and space use data.
How did this experience impact you personally and professionally?
This experience helped me to figure out if the zoo field was a good fit for me. I went into the internship thinking I knew what type of primate I wanted to work with. However, as I’m leaving, I have found an appreciation for a new set of primates I thought I was not interested in. This internship allowed me to work with a large variety of primates, which is great experience.
What were some of the most rewarding parts of this experience?
I was up close with some of the most amazing animals on the planet. I worked with orangutans, bonobos, and gorillas. Being able to be so close and personal with some of our closest ancestors was very special. I was able to go in with some of our non-dangerous primates, such as the ringtail lemurs and pottos.
I’m not sure how many people can say they’ve had a gray bamboo lemur sitting right above their head. I also got to take behind the scenes tours of other departments! The photo included is me with the elephant Mai Thai, at my elephant tour. I was also able to tour the bird house, insect house, interpretive, rhino reserve, the lion area, and the giraffe area, as well as commissary and the animal hospital. Interns also participate in a series of lectures on many zoo topics, which I learned a lot from. I also lived in the intern house, which was a great experience. I lived right across the street from one of the best zoos in the nation – and I could get in for free whenever I wanted!
What did you learn about the industry?
Zoo keeping is primarily cleaning and diet preparation, with animal training and the other fun activities being small perks. To work with animals you have to get your hands dirty. It’s not all fun and playing with animals all day. In addition to this, the industry is very competitive with very few jobs. To get, it takes hard work and a lot of time dedicated to volunteering and internships. People spend years taking seasonal jobs to get a full-time job. You have to be dedicated and truly love what you’re doing.
What do you wish you would have known before you started this position? Or what would you tell others before they start an internship?
I didn’t realize there would be so many tough days. You have to have thick skin for an internship at this zoo. Interns are essentially unpaid labor, which means you may get stuck with the tasks no one else wants. However, in return, you’ll be working up close with animals you may never have gotten the chance to work with otherwise.
I would encourage others to think about what you want from this internship and consider very carefully which department would be a good fit. If you want to work with primates, elephants, or marine mammals, its a good idea to try to get in with those departments as soon as possible. If education is more of your thing, apply for a wild encounters internship.
If you want to experience a wide range of animals, apply for an internship with the interpretive department. Be sure to discuss with your department what you want from the internship. Finally, I would say to others, it’s okay if the zoo world ends up not being for you. Internships exist for us to try jobs out and get experience. You don’t have to fall in love with the zoo world. Many of us at the internship will not work in a zoo after this. Even if you know you don’t want to work in a zoo, taking a zoo internship will still give you a lifetime of priceless memories.