Nick Kennedy can’t remember the last time he went to the zoo. He thinks he might have been 7 or 8 years old.
But Kennedy isn’t likely to forget his most recent trip to the Dickerson Park Zoo, which he took last week with other students in his OTC biology class for a behind-the-scenes look at the zoo’s operations.
“Ive never gotten a chance to go behind the scenes. I learned a lot about the life cycles and the diversity at the zoo,” said the Springfield resident, who is considering a career in conservationism.
About two dozen OTC biology majors were given the extensive tour by zoo staff, which included a look in the elephant barn, the commissary, the hospital, the reptile and amphibian facility and the giraffe station.
“These students know they like biology but not all of them are sure what sub-discipline appeals to them the most,” said Stephen White, OTC biology instructor.
Students saw the area where the zoo’s herd of elephants is kept, which includes three cows and two bulls. The zoo is one of the leading facilities in the country when it comes to elephant research.
At the commissary, the students saw the types of meals prepared for the animals.
“I learned a lot about the various animals and how varied their diets can be,” Kennedy said.
Ariel Braswell of Branson, who plans a career in marine biology, said it was interesting seeing what it takes to feed the animals.
“It’s interesting that they feed the wolves alfalfa pellets. I thought they’d be served meat,” she said.
Craig Hunter, reptilian and amphibian keeper, showed students the procedures in place when handling venomous snakes. That included the handler required to wear a badge identifying the snake being handled in case the handler is bitten and loses consciousness. The badge tells emergency personnel what snake was being handled and what anti-venom to use.
Hunter said he has never been bitten and it’s been at least 40 years since there’s been an incident.
White said students keep a journal of what they experienced at the zoo.
“The main thing is that the experience shows them the dedication required to enter the animal husbandry field, and exposes them to some of the realities of running a zoo,” White said.
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