Zookeeper, John Brown, left, observes as Georgia Southwestern University student Jennifer Stravetsky feeds "browse" to Sam Houston, Chehaw's Black Rhino. Five GSW biology students are at the Chehaw Zoo for a hands-on course in zoo keeping.
ALBANY, Ga. -- Chehaw Park's Education and Animal Care Department and the Georgia Southwestern State University Biology Department have formed a new a alliance in producing potential future zoo keepers. This fall Semester the University and the Chehaw Zoo will collaborate in teaching a class in Zoo Animal Care and Maintenance.
"It has always been a dream of mine to see Chehaw used to engage students as a learning institution," said Doug Porter, executive director for Chehaw. "This new and exciting partnership will not only be beneficial to the park and the university but to the greater community of Southwest Georgia as well."
According to Kevin Hils, Chehaw zoo director, the class will be a hands-on practice oriented course in which more time will be spent working at the zoo than sitting in the classroom. The goals of the course are to introduce students with a passion for animal husbandry and conservation to a career in zoo keeping. The course will cover the basics, including animal handling techniques, management, nutrition, breeding, behavior enrichment, exhibit design, zoo administration and public education of the major animal groups.
"The big thing is that it allows these kids to have real life work experiences outside of a classroom environment, to work with zoo keepers who have up to 35 years of experience. It's an incredible opportunity," Hils said.
According to Hils, students will work alongside the zoo's leadership team, including the zoo director, the curator and the education coordinator to gain valuable insight into the inner workings of an zoo accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The zoo at Chehaw is the only Georgia facility outside of Atlanta with AZA accreditation.
Tuesday's work included a class of five students helping to feed Sam Houston, the park's black rhino, as Hils lectured and posed questions on its feeding and maintenance.
"I'm trying to figure out if I want to be a wildlife vet or a zoo keeper," said Jennifer Stravetsky.
Casey Kimbrell has taken pre-veterinary classes. His dad is a veterinarian and Casey works for a veterinarian in Americus. He wanted the opportunity to work with exotic animals, he said.
Jayme Jones appreciates the opportunity to "get out and get dirty," enjoying the hands-on experience. Jonie Burnette wants to become an animal trainer, working with big show animals, she said, like lions and tigers. Aaron Griffin wants to be a zoo keeper.
"I was really excited to get the chance to actually take a class that was right up my alley for what I wanted to do," Griffin said. "I was volunteering anyway so it's nice to get a grade for coming here."
The relationship between Chehaw Park and the university has slowly gained momentum over the past eight years, according to Ian Brown, associate professor of biology at GSW. In recent years the zoo has used student assignments as supporting material in grant applications.
To date, three GSW biology majors have been hired as summer program instructors and another three have volunteered as zoo keeper assistants.
"I'm looking forward to getting this program off the ground," Brown said. "the chance to have our students working in this field as undergraduates will give them the experience they will need when applying for future jobs in conservation."