Our eyes met in opposing forces. My arm went to grab her, not knowing what her response would be. "SQUAWK," wham-bam, as she skidded across the pen. I knew right then that this chicken meant trouble. Oh, how the crowd laughed at the conflict between Kalimirchi and me. Kalimirchi is the bird I was assigned to present to the public in my position as an aide to the Buffalo Zoo.
Our mission as volunteer Zoo Aides is to inform the public about zoos in general and the care-taking of animals. This program is designed for teenagers and lasts all summer. After passing the bird, mammal, and reptile tests, we were trained to handle specific animals including snakes, turtles, rabbits, a hedgehog and a screech owl. Unfortunately, I was assigned Kalimirchi for two weeks straight, so as you can see, Kalimirchi and I were like peas and carrots for quite some time.
After getting pecked a couple of times by this befuddled bird, I finally got hold of her and began my normal two-minute talk. During my presentation, I always mentioned the animal's habitat, its daily diet, and the basic bird characteristics. My episodes with Kalimirchi were only some of my experiences with handling animals at the zoo. Natasha, a Russian rat snake, loved to get tangled in my clothes. As a result, I always tucked in my shirt when handling her. Occasionally, the screech owl would twirl around my arm and hang upside down. The owl built up so much stress at being exposed to the public that he would suddenly play dead! Barkley, the ferret, would not cooperate with boys but was easily managed by girls. Buck, an Angora rabbit, was a handful because he left a trail of droppings after every move he made. I had such fun handling these unique animals with their amusing and interesting personalities. My experience has helped me become more aware of animals and their importance to man.
Working at the Buffalo Zoo can be thought of as a packaged deal. I came in knowing little about wild animals, and came out with more knowledge and benefits than I ever expected. Not only did the hours meet the requirements of community credit for school, but I have more opportunities to get a future job at a zoo. I gained respect from the public when I gave them interesting information. Also, I learned how to speak to the public and got used to dealing with different people. Public speaking is considered a skill and will benefit me in years to come. I also realize the value of zoos. As a bonus gift, our Zoo Aide crew got a trip to Marineland at the end of the summer. As you can see, the zoo is definitely a great place to volunteer and a wise career move. fl
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.