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The Q? Blog

Taking Care of Small Mammals at the National Zoo

by Joanne -- Oct 15, 2015
Photo of YES! intern Joanne

My name is Joanne and I am from Virginia. I am a senior in high school. My favorite subject is chemistry, because last year I learned about the science of...

Joanne feeds a prehensile-tailed porcupine (Coendou prehensilis) in the Small Mammal House at the National Zoo. Photo by YES! intern Brook, Smithsonian.
Joanne feeds a prehensile-tailed porcupine (Coendou prehensilis) in the Small Mammal House at the National Zoo. Photo by YES! intern Brook, Smithsonian.

Hi! My name is Joanne, and this past summer I interned at the Small Mammal House at the National Zoo with my mentor, zookeeper Denny Charlton. You might be thinking, "Why would someone want to pick up after a bunch of different animals?" My answer is: because you don't help animals you would see in your backyard, but exotic and endangered animals that not many people get to interact with. There are so many different types of animals at the Small Mammal House, from saki monkeys to chinchillas to naked mole rats. There are also animals I've never even heard of before (who would've known that an agouti was like a big brown rodent?!). All these animals need proper care, so there’s a lot to be done.

First thing every morning, we did what you would probably expect any zookeeper to do: We cleaned up exhibits that were covered in food and poop and then fed the animals. But, that's not the only thing we did! We also prepared objects called enrichments, which lead the animals to display behaviors that they would normally use in the wild. We tapped our creative juices and knowledge about animals' behaviors to make enrichments that suited all the different animals.

Looking at the bigger picture, I helped the conservation effort of endangered animals by keeping them healthy, which also allowed the public to see these animals at the zoo! Animal science wasn't something I would've really considered studying before this internship, but now I want to learn more about it!

(Editor's Note: Want to be an intern at the Museum? Get details about the Youth Engagement through Science (YES! ) teen internship program.)

Categories: YES! Teen Interns