The Organized Ramblings of a Wildlife Keeper Apprentice
by Carissa SullivanLee, 2018 CuriOdyssey Keeper Apprentice
As I sit here gathering my many thoughts, I find myself stumbling over all of the incredible experiences, moments, and memories racing through my wandering mind. I’ll let you in on a little secret—this isn’t the first time I’ve attempted to begin writing this blog post. Every time I sat down to begin typing, I would become blissfully overwhelmed with my thoughts and somehow couldn’t even manage to get a single sentence down. It became this ritual of me opening up a blank document, resting my fingers over the keyboard in anticipation, daydreaming and reminiscing about the past 12 months, all the while gazing down at a barren, white page that was begging to be filled. Now, you might be thinking, “Wow, such an elegant way to describe procrastination!” and to that I say, “Darn, you caught me.” However, the important thing take away is why I was procrastinating. After digging down a bit deeper, I realized that the real reason I was hesitant to begin writing this is because I knew that this final assignment signified my time here at CuriOdyssey was nearing its end. And for me, that was an incredibly hard truth to face. So, rather than writing this blog post as a goodbye, I’m choosing to write it more along the lines of a reflection, where I can look back on my apprenticeship and all of the amazing experiences that it entailed.
I grew up about 10 minutes away from Coyote Point, so my family and I were very frequent visitors to CuriOdyssey, or the Coyote Point Museum as I remember it. I have incredibly fond memories of going there as a kid, frolicking up and down the redwood hall, roaming through the animal habitats, and being amazed by all of the exhibits and animals (yes, that even includes the taxidermied animals, too!). Because of all of my childhood nostalgia surrounding this wonderful place, you can imagine I was very excited to learn about the Wildlife Keeper Apprenticeship at CuriOdyssey. Though it had changed a lot since I had last been there, it was very refreshing to see CuriOdyssey’s innovative approach to revamping the concept of interactive learning. From the hands-on exhibits (that they develop in-house! Mind-blowing, I know), the engaging education programs and camps, and the fun-filled pop-up events, to the animal encounters and feedings, the chance to see California native wildlife up-close, and the important emphasis on conservation issues, CuriOdyssey really does have it all.
If you’re used to working or volunteering at a large facility or zoo, you might be wondering how things are different working in a smaller setting like CuriOdyssey. Maybe you’re thinking, “Well, if it’s a smaller place, then there are fewer things to do, right?” As if! I actually think you take on more responsibilities working at a smaller facility. Though, I’m confident you’ll come to love that because it means you get to take part in all of the many aspects surrounding animal keeping, like making diets, helping with veterinary procedures, handling or training animals, working with the pump systems, exhibit maintenance, and more! Another plus of a small facility is how close you’ll become with all 8 (that’s right, only 8) of the Wildlife staff. Everyone has their own personalities, strengths, and twists that they add, so it’s up to you to figure out how you can help contribute to their well-oiled machine of a team. Besides the giggles and laughs, everyone has an incredible amount of knowledge and experience to offer, so take advantage of that! Try your best to soak up as much as you can while you’re here. I could probably write a page on each of the keepers alone, but I think it’s best that you get the chance to learn about everybody on your own, free of any preconceived thoughts. All I will say is that it is pretty rare to be amidst a group of coworkers that you can feel so comfortable around, so remember not to take that for granted.
Now that you’ve hopefully come to realize how awesome it is to work at CuriOdyssey, I think we can delve into what the next year holds for you as an apprentice (or curious guest, if you’re visiting this blog for the inside scoop!). Initially, it will seem pretty overwhelming trying to get into the swing of things because no day is really the same. You’ll have to remember what days certain things get cleaned or thoroughed, what days certain animals get fed, which animals are in which service areas, how to tell same species animals apart, etc. Even a task as simple as packing up the cart with the animal diets in the morning may seem daunting at first. I’ll admit, even though it’s been a year, there are days when I still leave something behind (bloodworm drops, I’m talking to you!). However, as time goes on, you’ll be amazed at how easily you’ll start to remember all the little things and how efficient you’ll become. That thing that once racked your brain will no longer be given a second thought, and what once took you an hour may only take you 30 minutes!
What I’m about to say next may seem like a non sequitur, but bear with me for a bit. If you ask any of the keepers to name one of my favorite hobbies, they would probably tell you that I love to bake (mainly to fuel my slightly oversized sweet tooth). Because of my love for baking, I came up with this corny, but fun idea of creating a recipe for success utilizing “ingredients” that I believe could help you make the most out of your apprenticeship. Though, after much thought, it’s dawned on me that my experiences as an apprentice don’t in any way define what your experiences will be like. Some of the things that I’ve learned or picked up along the way may have worked well for me, but you might not find that to be the same case and vice versa. As the apprentice, it’s up to you to figure out not only what works for you, but also what you need to do to improve upon and challenge yourself. When it comes down to it, this apprentice level position truly is a pivotal point in your career path. It’s a time for you to gain experience, learn from long-time keepers, broaden your knowledge and interests, and absorb all that this position has to offer. Hopefully, by the end of your term you can say sayonara to the internships and apprenticeships because this position really does set you up to be ready for a permanent animal keeper position.
Although I generally don’t live by cheesy phrases like the one I’m about to share, I believe that it is actually fairly fitting in this situation. I’m sure you’ve all heard of this one before, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” Even though I probably will shed a tear or two (or fifty) on my last day, I think it’s important for me to think back on this year long apprenticeship with a happy heart, knowing that it has helped me grow to new heights (unfortunately, I only mean that metaphorically), taught me invaluable lessons, and offered me the chance to work with such an amazing group of people.
I think for many of us, it can be easy to either forget why we do our jobs or why it is that we love our jobs. However, the keepers here at CuriOdyssey will make sure that you’ll always have the answers to those questions.
As sad as it may be when you move on from this position, just remember that you never really know what excitement the future has in store. Who knows, it may even surprise you!