My name is Helena Pereira, I’m 24 years old and I’m in the 6th year of Veterinary Medicine. I started my internship, here at The National Reptile Zoo, on September 1st 2019 and stayed here for 3 months.
My thesis is going to be about reptile management in zoos and clinics, so I thought that coming here all way from Portugal, would be a great place to learn and write about it.
The objective of this internship was also to gain experience regarding reptiles’ welfare, because in college we don’t have the chance to learn much about reptiles. I had the chance to participate in almost all the zookeeper’s tasks, except the ones that involve venomous snakes or other possibly dangerous animal. Thus, the things that I learned about and participated in were:
• Feedings: I learned about the diet for each animal (herbivores, insectivores and carnivores);
• Environmental enrichment: like adding scents and “furniture” that stimulate foraging and exercise. I also participated in the target training of some animals, like the Asian Water Monitors and Saltwater crocodile to promote their exercise while chasing food;
• Proper maintenance of the enclosures: which temperature is the most adequate for the animal, giving the proper humidity to the enclosure in order to avoid dehydration; frequent water changes to prevent bacterial diseases.
In addition to that, I also participated in some veterinary procedures like wound treatments, medications, control of sick animals, health check ups, physical exams, and morphometrics. This helped me a lot to gain some knowledge of reptile medicine and how to handle the animals.
All interns that stay in the zoo for more than one month are given a project to choose and present at the end of the internship. My project was about husbandry and the impact that it has on the health of reptiles, more specifically the main causes of intestinal obstruction. Thus, I analyzed all data records that the zoo has in a programme called “Reptile Scan” where all the information regarding nutrition, enrichment, enclosure maintenance, public encounters, weights, veterinary reports and medications of all animals that are and were in the zoo collection are documented. So, my project was focused on 3 animals, 2 Black and white Tegus and a Burmese Python. I learned a lot about husbandry management, one of the reasons that I came here in the first place! This project was a big accomplishment for me because I never had the chance to do my own case report, which could be useful in my curriculum. In addition to that I can use this important information in my thesis.
In conclusion, my experience here at The National Reptile Zoo was the perfect start for someone who wants to specialize in reptile medicine, like me! It is necessary to know first about their management and needs, like temperature, lighting, diet, humidity, proper enrichment and maintenance because in reptiles most of the diseases and health problems come from improper husbandry. Therefore it is necessary to understand their background after doing some kind of treatment. I also had the chance to be a part of a great and nice staff. Everyone here was willing to help me with all my doubts and improved my experience. Everyone was very patient with me trying to talk in English, which helped me a lot to develop my English!