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Aspiring Veterinarians Get Wild at Greenwich Zoo

The Zoological Center at Lionshare Farm in Greenwich is helping aspiring veterinarians from Sacred Heart University get firsthand opportunities to talk to the animals, walk with the animals and even try to learn their language.

“Their role is typically to shadow a vet who makes a weekly visit to check on animal health, and to learn about the day-to-day care of animals and operation of the facility,” said Dr. Jennifer Mattei, associate professor of biology at the university. “Some of the work also involves cleaning and painting cages.”

The program, which began five years ago, is a collaboration between the university’s department of biology and the zoological center at the non-profit zoo and breeding center. It focuses on conservation and education, giving student interns the chance for one-on-one interaction with such rare and endangered species as orangutans, cheetahs, gibbons, tapirs, Bactrian camels, giraffes, and lemurs.

One current student, senior Jacqueline Escobar, started as an intern a year ago and created a device for a giraffe — a feeding box where the giraffe had to undo a latch with its tongue, open a lid and reach in with its tongue to gather up an apple reward. The objective of the project was to create stimulation. Three giraffes tested her invention and each had to figure out the system on their own. Since her experiment, Escobar has been hired as a part-time keeper while she finishes her degree.

This summer, Tom Terleph, an animal behavior researcher and assistant professor of a class called “Zoos, Museums and Aquariums,” will work with gibbons at the zoo, recording their sounds and calls. Sophomore Caitlin Neary, who is just beginning her internship, will assist him. Mattei says the experience will help Neary decide on the type of practice she may want to pursue in the future.

“Our program provides a great way to fill the facility’s needs while our students gain onsite education,” said Mattei. “It’s a unique relationship that we have with this particular zoo and adds to the value of Sacred Heart offerings to students pursuing veterinary careers.”

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