DCCC Students Spend Summer in South Carolina as Zoo Interns

Alex Warthen Kaola

Aug. 8, 2013 – Stephanie Figerle and Alex Warthen may be spending their summers in South Carolina, but they’re each getting very different experiences as zoo interns. Thanks to an internship program as part of the Zoo and Aquarium Science program at Davidson County Community College, the duo is gaining valuable hands-on career practice at various zoos and wildlife centers during their time away from campus.

Warthen, for instance, is building his career as intern at the Riverbanks Zoo and Gardens in Columbia, S.C. by spending time with lions, tigers and bears as the cat and bear intern. The Shelby, N.C. native is responsible for preparing diets, feeding, cleaning, training and enriching many species, including African lions, Amur tigers, grizzly bears, Hamadryas baboons, spotted hyenas, koalas, and several species of monkeys.

Stephanie Figerle 1Likewise, Figerle, a native of Winston-Salem, is also gaining career skills in a different area of South Carolina – she’s working as an animal care intern at the Greenville Zoo in Greenville, S.C. She is responsible for cleaning, feeding, training and providing enrichment to the animals.

Students agree that the ZAS internship program is preparing them for future careers in the zoo field by giving them real-world experience and by providing them with opportunities to network.

“Our ZAS coursework has helped in every aspect of my internship,” explains Warthen. “Learning about what it takes to be a zookeeper in class is one thing, but being able to apply these concepts in an internship is amazing, and being able to access the coursework knowledge and understand what keepers are talking about is really fascinating. 

Figerle also notes that the coursework at DCCC helped her better understand the theory behind the daily duties of a zookeeper, and, in turn, allowedStephanie Figerle 2 her to make valuable contributions during meetings and discussions.

Both students have learned unique skills and have had memorable experiences at their internships. Figerle, for one, was particularly excited about the chance to help train orangutans. She has assisted in brushing their teeth, filing their nails, and observing their intelligence. Warthen also says he enjoyed training the animals. 

“The experience that stands out most to me is training animals,” says Warthen. “I was able to see how hard it could be for an animal to pick up on certain cues, but when they did the results were amazing, and I felt very accomplished.”

Figerle and Warthen both plan to pursue a career in the ZAS field upon graduation. Figerle hopes to one day work with great apes and social carnivores, and would also like to conduct research concerning the evolution of social animals and their group dynamics. Warthen hopes to continue working with large carnivores, including lions, bears and primates. He believes the experience he is gaining now will be pivotal in his future career.

*Editor’s Note: In the first photo is Alex Warthen working with a koala bear named “Lottie.” In the second photo, pictured is Stephanie Figerle feeding giraffes. The third photo shows Figerle feeding orangutans.

Founded in 1963, Davidson County Community College is noted for its quality educational programs and services. As one of 58 institutions within the North Carolina Community College System, DCCC offers studies in more than 50 degree programs. A fully-accredited, multi-campus college, DCCC celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. It is committed to developing minds, inspiring imaginations, and preparing students for enhanced career and educational opportunities within a changing global environment. Visit Davidson County Community College on the Web at davidsonccc.edu.