Danielle is a junior on the UGA Equestrian Team. She is currently studying Animal Science and had the opportunity to participate in an internship with the Atlanta Wildlife Animal Rescue Effort (AWARE) during the summer of 2017.
This summer I interned at the Atlanta Wildlife Animal Rescue Effort (AWARE). As an Animal Science major I wanted hands on experience with wildlife. I worked with a variety of animals such as; opossums, rats, snakes, turtles, waterfowl, songbirds, red tailed hawks, owls, bobcats, skunks, bats, and foxes. I can honestly say that interning at a rescue center for the first time; I had no idea what I would be in for. It wasn’t always sunshine, rainbows and cuddling cute animals. In fact, it had very little to do with the cuddling of cute animals. The majority of our time was spent taking care of animals that were very ill and injured. On my very first day, we operated on a goose that had a fishing hook imbedded in its tongue and drained an abscess on a baby fox. From that moment on, I learned the reality of the positive and negative effects humans have on wildlife. It was great when Good Samaritans brought in injured animals who they felt needed our help. However, sometimes those creatures needed our assistance because of the actions we as humans have taken in their natural environment. For instance, we once operated on a goose with a fishing line wrapped so tightly around its leg that its leg tissue began to die. There were many sad moments this summer, however there was no better feeling than seeing animals we rehabilitated get released back into the wild! I even had the opportunity to release a rehabilitated red-tailed hawk at UGA’s intramural fields.
One of the most important things I learned was that every single action taken at the wildlife refuge, matters. If I placed a stick or perch in an animal’s enclosure the wrong way, I could easily and unintentionally hurt the creature. My supervisor taught me that the best thing we could do as interns was to speak up and ask a lot of questions. Just because I knew how to clean a Barred owl’s enclosure, didn’t mean I could clean a Red Tailed Hawk or a Blue Heron’s enclosure. Entering these bird’s enclosures without being cleared on their handling could get me seriously hurt. You have to really pay attention when operating in a wildlife animal rescue because it is very easy to make mistakes. Just because you know how to clean dishes and do laundry at home, does not mean you know how to perform those same actions at the wildlife center. Tasks such as those have very specific protocols that help keep our animals healthy and prevent the spread of disease.
I learned patience. For instance, I cared for orphaned baby mice that could not even open their eyes. I had to feed them several times a day by dunking their noses in their formula. They had the tendency to bathe themselves in the formula that had the consistency of thick oatmeal. After they ate, I would have to take a cotton swab and clean their entire bodies. This was a process that was tedious and required a lot of patience.
I learned about precision. Many times, the animal’s lives depended on how I performed a technique. For example, we often accepted orphaned baby opossums. Due to their young age, we were required to tube feed them. Tubing an opossum is a very fine technique that requires concentration and precision. If the tube bunches up or doesn’t go in far enough- you can aspirate the baby opossum. Aspiration means fluid goes into their lungs and they can die almost immediately. It was scary knowing I could kill an baby opossum, but it was very rewarding once I nailed the technique.
I learned about responsibility. Usually interns would be responsible for feeding baby birds. Some baby birds needed to be fed every 30 minutes. It would be my responsibility to remember to feed the baby birds, and know each bird’s feeding schedule. Feeding baby birds was another procedure that could be easy to mess up if you were not careful. If the syringe did not enter correctly or go sufficiently down their throat, they could aspirate. Or, if you were not careful and formula fell on the baby bird’s skin, they would lose all their feathers and die. It was frightening at times having such a big responsibility, but knowing an innocent animal’s life was in my hands pushed me to be the best I could be.
This internship also provided me with a unique hands-on opportunity. This past year I added Entomology as my minor. It just so happens that at AWARE they raise their own mealworms to feed to the animals. I had the opportunity to provide daily care for the mealworms and learned how to breed and successfully manage both the mealworm and beetle colonies. I was required to complete a project for my internship, and I created the Dubia Roach Manual which will help AWARE begin breeding and caring for Dubia roaches that can also be fed to the various wildlife. This was an excellent hands-on experience in the entomology field, which will help me decide what future career path I want to take.
The AWARE internship was an amazing and indescribable experience. I made best friends, gained valuable knowledge, and was provided hands-on experience in a unique and challenging environment. AWARE is primarily staffed by volunteers and they rely on donations from the public. The average cost of care for each animal is 81$ and sometimes we received over ten animal intakes in a single day. AWARE is constantly looking for more volunteers to assist at the center. I would recommend this internship to anyone. I have only completed my internship two weeks ago and I already miss my AWARE family very much!