When I was a kid I think the very first instance where I realize I loved animals was when my older brother would bring home injured pigeons and cats and dogs, stray animals and I just fell in love with taking care of animals since I was like seven years old. Becoming a volunteer was sort of the first stepping stone in getting into this system as a full-time employee. And just basically the love of working with animals was the main reason how I got involved working at the national zoo.
They gave me the basics of understanding what my responsibility were and what I needed to do to become a keeper and after I was a volunteer for several months I was able to get a job here, but in terms of formal training I didn't have my degree when I first started back in '97 but as time went on I eventually obtained my Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology.
On a day to day basis the basic thing that we do is that we want to make sure when we come in the morning they're well, they're not sick, everything's normal. We get a head count of all our animals that we're in charge of and then at that point if there are animals that need any medication or any special treats in the morning we'll give them their medications in the morning and then we could continue through our day and basically after that were involved with many things such as research, behavioral watches, cleaning stalls, you got to do the dirty work too and then also the basic things of actually talking to the public so that they will learn more about the sloth bears and all the other animals in Nature Trail are and learn what they can do about conservation.
I think the favorite part of the job is when I'm actually talking to the public and they learn something new about an animal that I work with. You can just see sort of like a light bulb flash in their head and they're actually, "Wow, this is something really amazing. I've never knew about this about this particular animal" and then the other second favorite thing is when the animals are actually enjoying the enrichment item (toys and food treats, are used to help re-create an animal's natural habitat. The enrichment items encourage animals to exercise their natural instincts to play, learn and grow.) we have put out in the yard for them.
For example the sloth bears we can use big boomer balls. We drill holes into them and we actually put their kibble into the boomer ball and they will roll it around for minutes to sometimes even hours to try to get the food out of the boomer balls to anything you could imagine. I think the best advice I have for kids is basically if you love to work with animals just follow your passion, your desire to work with animals and if you're really determined to do that you'll always find a way to do what you're trying to accomplish. So if you like to learn more about the National Zoo and all the animals that are here, if you want to look at the live webcams like the lion cub webcam you can go to www.nationalzoo.si.edu.
Video: Federal Wildlife Officer
Meet Gabriel, an officer that protects wildlife for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Learn about his tools and what he does on patrol.
We see wildlife [wild animals] all around us, you know, all the time and they see us. You come outside and you might see some deer or even a box turtle out by the lake. You might look up in the sky and see an eagle or osprey. All of these things need to be protected.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, our primary purpose [is] to conserve, protect the habitat for wildlife. We have to have the type of law enforcement [making sure people obey the law], you know, to go about regulating [maintaining] those rules.
What's your day like?
This is my office. Coming outside every day, you know, breathing this fresh air. I live on the refuge, I come outside. I take a little lap around just to see what's going on. And then I can deal with anything from helping with a fishing group, kids that come on the refuge [that] want to learn about fishing, archery, different things like that, hunting.
What do you do on patrol?
When I go out on a patrol, it can be anything from a vehicle patrol to a foot patrol. On foot patrols, like I said, going out into the refuge, different areas of the woods; also different bike paths. Just seeing what's going on. You know, introducing myself to different visitors, making sure they're safe, making sure they're not lost. Checking hunters as well as fisherman.
And on a vehicle patrol, just making sure that everybody is going the correct speed limit out there. I mean we have specific speed limits to make sure that no one hits wildlife.
What equipment do you use most for your job?
I have my trusty GPS that I can just clip on me and I can make sure that I get back to the, to my truck when I need to. 13,000 acres is a lot of woods. You know you do a few turns around and you don't know where you're heading.
There was one time when I went off. I was looking for a hunter and I couldn't find him and I also couldn't find my way back. You know so the moral of the story is to always be prepared. Come with the compass, come with a GPS and I routinely, now make sure I have a compass or GPS on me when I'm doing my different patrols, You know, just so I can make sure that I'm not the one that's lost.
What other tools do you use?
There's 13,000 acres at Patuxent Research Refuge, so I can't be everywhere. So I have these cameras set up. These are hunt cams where I can set up on [in] different areas of the border and I can see what's going on. And they can be my eyes when I'm not around.
I love what I do. It gets me up out of bed everyday and I don't regret a day of work ever. So if you like playing outside right now, imagine doing it when you're older.
Meet Megan, who helps working dogs at U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Find out how to start working with animals and why your dog's needs healthy teeth.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
We get to work with dogs all day long.
This is Candy, so we’re just gonna do a physical on Candy. Candy is here so that we can get her back into our working dog program, which means that she’ll be a detector dog looking for any type of contraband [illegal goods], like narcotics [illegal drugs]. So, what makes that a little bit different from a pet dog is that, is that she has a little bit more, usually energy, excitement to work, excitement for toys.
Why do you check Candy’s teeth?
We check to make sure her gum color looks ok and we look at all of her teeth. The teeth can help make sure that they’re not developing tartar or gingivitis [swollen gums]. In working dogs, [we] really have to make, in all dogs, especially working dogs, you wanna make sure that they don’t have any dental disease. That can really inhibit [stop] them wanting to play with the toys, have bad breath, not eat well and be in pain.
How can you tell if your dog’s in pain?
They [the dogs] can’t speak to you and tell you where things hurt and what they’re feeling that day. Sometimes, a lot, they [dogs] don’t do anything, which can make it challenging to decide that they’re in pain, but sometimes it’s as simple as their work ethic [hard work] is. They don’t want to work as hard that day, which means that they may not want to play with the toy as excitedly as they normally do. They may not want to jump to, up and down off of things or jump high, or search high and low.
Advice for kids
To become a veterinarian, it takes a lot of hard work and school. You have to really apply yourself to all of your different courses, not just sciences or animal related courses.
But to develop the idea that they want to be a veterinarian, as much exposure [experience] as they can get to the veterinary field and that can come through volunteer work in veterinary clinics or even in rescues and shelters.
Video: Wildlife Biologist
Wildlife biologists study wild animals and how they interact with their environment. Learn how they protect wild animals.
I absolutely love being outdoors, getting to study new species [group of animals] all the time. Learning about how they affect the ecology [animals and their surroundings] of an environment [where the animals live] is fascinating to me.
Conservation really means protecting wildlife and when I say wildlife, I'm not just referring to animals, but I'm talking about animals, plants and their habitat [where the animals live] so that our future generations can enjoy the wonderful landscapes and scenery that we can today.
What's a refuge?
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Refuge System is actually the largest set of land and water put together specifically for the protection of wildlife, including endangered species [animals at risk of dying out]. We have about 564 as of today, but we're constantly growing.
What have you experienced working with U.S. Fish and Wildlife?
I had the experience of working at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge studying an endangered species [animals of risk of dying out] which will now be delisted [removed from the endangered species list] soon, called the Delmarva fox squirrel. And they're these big over-sized squirrels that seemed to be getting hit by cars a lot because they're so slow and sluggish. Most squirrels go tree to tree to tree. Well these guys are so slow, that they come down the tree, go on the ground, all the way up the tree, down the tree and again. So but their populations are coming back now.
What do you do with the information you collect?
Everyone that's a wildlife biologist typically does it because the love being outside; they love being outdoors. But when you collect all that data [information collected] and all that information, there's a time when you have to be in the office to kind of analyze [study and examine] everything to see what the trends [a direction of something changing] are, to see what the [animal] populations are doing. And that is very important data and very important things to do.
What can kids do now to protect wildlife?
I would say the most important thing that kids can do to protect wildlife is to be knowledgeable. To share that information with their classmates, to explore the outdoors, whether that be a small patch in their backyard or a bush or at a park or at a national wildlife refuge, like where we're at now, at Patuxent National Wildlife Refuge. To get out and explore, make observations [watch something carefully] or your own and do your own biology in your own backyard.
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