August 2, 2011

5 Things I have Learned During My Internship

By Program Intern Brittany Mielcarek

Animals Like to Learn.
As a program intern, part of my learning involves helping with animal care where I have the wonderful opportunity to learn about animal enrichment. Enrichment involves new ways of delivering food, new toys, and training. Enrichment is simply the addition of something novel to the environment. Come Play the Wild Animal Way Day took place in mid July. That annual event teaches our visitors all about animal enrichment. The mountain lion enrichment was the same training demonstration that can be seen on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons throughout the summer. Coffee was sprayed around the bobcat enclosure as enrichment to introduce a new smell. The bears were able to find and eat frozen melons. Enrichment varies from one species of animal to the next, but it is always a fun thing to watch.

Enrichment is vital for animals in captivity. We use program and exhibit animals as educational ambassadors to teach the public about the importance and welfare of animals native to New Hampshire. In order to keep the animals mentally and physically healthy, we use enrichment to showcase typical behavior of the species.

Baby woodchucks like water.
At the science center, all of the animals used in programs have daily access to enrichment rooms. Part of the outdoor enrichment room is a pool. While filling the pool one day, our young woodchuck climbed in and out of the pool repeatedly. The pool was a source of enrichment for the woodchuck because it was something new in its environment. I wasn’t sure if all woodchucks enjoy water or if it was rare. I recently read however that woodchucks are good swimmers. They all may not enjoy water, but they interact with it.

Animals that are nocturnal are most likely color blind.
As an intern, I am still learning. During an Up Close to Animals presentation about skunks, a young girl asked me if skunks were color blind. This question stumped me and my brain tried to quickly work its way through it to no avail. Turns out they are color blind. Senior Naturalist Dave Erler helped to clear up my confusion and I want to share what he told me.

A large amount of light is required to see color. Animals that are nocturnal are not usually active during daylight so developing the cells necessary to see color would be a waste of energy.

Beavers aren't so different from us.
I have gone against my norm and picked a favorite. That favorite is the beaver. Beavers are fascinating animals. They are the largest rodent in North America, second in size only to the capybara of Central and South America. Even though the beaver is seen as a nuisance, they have many human-like qualities as well as habits beneficial to the environment. Some human-like qualities include having family units and complex communication systems, using transportations systems consisting of canals, and storing food. Beavers also have many adaptations such as cheeks that close behind their incisors to allow chewing underwater and large, strong teeth to cut down trees. I encourage you to learn more about the wonderful world of beavers, whether on your own or during a program at the Science Center.

Baby birds don’t drink milk
It’s a common idea to give baby animals milk. However, birds are not mammals and do not drink milk. Birds lack the proper enzymes necessary to digest milk, similar to people who are lactose intolerant.

If you find a baby bird, please contact your local veterinarian or bird rehabilitator before feeding it. They can help you decide what to do.

Rocks rock!
Part of my internship is assisting with weeklong summer children’s programs. GeoCamp was one of these camps, focusing on geology and the natural causes of New Hampshire’s mountains. Most of New Hampshire was formed by glacial movement and the boulders moved by glaciers. It was fascinating to do activities with arts and crafts that could then be connected to things we saw on hikes with the children.

My internship isn’t over yet, and neither is the endless learning.

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