Where the Wild Things Are

Lions and tigers and bears-oh, my! For Miranda Santiago ’04, her internship at the Oakland Zoo can only be described as wild. The Fran Brossy Volunteer Internship Grant recipient and veterinarian-to-be spent two months this past summer shadowing one of the institution’s zookeepers and preparing the animals’ specialized diets, as well as cleaning their exhibits. The Oakland Zoo, in Oakland, California, is home to over 375 animals from 125 different species living in lush, naturalistic settings that mimic habitats found in Africa, Asia, Australia and, of course, California.

“The internship involved more work than I ever imagined,” says Miranda. “It was a lot of physical labor-cleaning, lugging things around, doing grounds-type work. In our ‘string,’ or section of the zoo, we took care of 300-pound tortoises, river otters, princess parrots, a hawk, a macaw, and kookaburras. In the reptile house, we worked with a skink, a bearded dragon, and a couple of pythons. I had the opportunity to feed the lions and tigers and hold a newborn lion cub. Since the zoo has bison running around the hills, I was also able to go on a veterinary check up for a bison that was ill.”

Through a generous gift from Frances Kay Brossy ’50, the Volunteer Internship Grant provides a $2,500 stipend to work with a non-profit charitable organization for the summer. This grant allows Scripps students, like Miranda, to do meaningful work with an organization that is not able to offer compensation. Miranda notes that the stipend helped offset expenses, particularly her housing costs for a summer rental on an apartment in Berkeley.

“The Brossy Internship made me realize how much I want to work with zoo animals,” she says. “I love the Oakland Zoo; they take such good care of their animals, which is very important to me. There are huge spaces that the public can’t see called night houses, where the animals have more room to roam. The zoo tries to give animals get the best kind of life they can.”

As part of this commitment to the good life, each day the Oakland Zoo’s keepers devise unique activities for the animals. “Since zoo animals have free time that they wouldn’t normally have if they were in the wild, sometimes they’ll put their excess energy into destructive behaviors like overgrooming or picking fights with the other animals,” explains Miranda. “For this reason, the zookeepers give the animals things to do that simulate some activity in the wild. While I was there, I designed a slide for the river otters, which is now in their exhibit. I was surprised that no one had already thought of it. They took to using it after only a couple of weeks, and I’m glad they’re enjoying it.”

Just as important to Miranda as caring for animals are educating the public about conservancy and protecting endangered species. “Zoos in the past were all about entertainment, and now they’re starting breeding programs. They’re wonderful places to protect some of the endangered species that we have,” she says. “The internship provided me with a platform from which I was able do other great things-like raising awareness about the bushmeat crisis in Africa. I worked with one of the zookeepers in the primate area to help plan the fund-raiser, I gave a presentation about the crisis, and we raised a lot of money to send food to the villages and start helping them learn to grow their own food. It was really rewarding.” (The Oakland Zoo’s Bushmeat Promise Program has helped spearhead the movement to protect African wildlife from its largest threat: illegal commercial hunting.)

Miranda so impressed the keepers at the Oakland Zoo that they offered her a full-time job as an alternate zookeeper when she finished her internship. However, Miranda is considering additional ways to enhance her future career in exotic animal care. “It’s nice knowing there’s always a place at the Oakland Zoo if I want to go back and do another internship on another string or shadow the vet there,” she says. “I might do that this summer or go to the UC Davis veterinary program for minority students. My internship at the zoo was an amazing experience.”?”