America’s Teaching Zoo: Students Say Work is Tough but Worth It.

Burbank, CA February 21, 2007: Today’s homework: Hand-feed tigers, divvy up raw meat for hyenas and teach the sea lion to play hide and seek.

For the students at Moorpark College’s Exotic Animal Training and Management Program, learning to train and care for wild animals means getting out of the classroom and getting their hands dirty.

“It’s seven days a week from 6:30 am to 5:00 pm. Animals have to eat. They need to be cleaned and taken care of,” says Moorpark student Christie Kreider. “You don’t get up and put make-up on. There’s no make-up at a zoo. It’s definitely a commitment but it’s worth it.”

“America’s Teaching Zoo” is the latest micro-documentary released by The Futures Channel, whose popular movies are routinely shown in tens of thousands of classrooms to give students a real world context for the math and science they are studying. When it comes to caring for animals, math, especially measurement, is an essential tool to monitor the condition of the animals and to determine the correct quantity of food to keep them healthy.

According to the teaching zoo’s website, nearly every animal on the 5-acre zoo is assigned to a student or group of students. It is their responsibility to ensure the animals are getting everything they need. As part of the program, students also provide educational shows that introduce children to wildlife they wouldn’t otherwise encounter.

“I just have always wanted to work with animals my whole life and not very many people get to do this, so I feel really privileged. Every day is unexpected,” Kreider says in the documentary. “When I can hold a bald eagle and show him to children and I can teach them about him, that’s really special to me.”

The zoo program provides students with unique experiences every day and opportunities to work with animals for a living. Moorpark student Krista Anderson explains that she has had many experiences she never dreamed of. “I never thought I would be feeding a cougar… ever.”

The facility, located in Moorpark, California, is one of only two teaching zoos in the country. Graduates of the program enter a variety of fields, including working at zoos and animal conservation programs. After graduating from the program in 1977, Professor Gary Wilson returned to the college in 1981 to teach animal behavior, animal diversity and animal training. Both Kreider and Anderson are among Wilson’s students. “I’m really lucky,” says Wilson, “because I get to help people make their dreams come true.”

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