Several weeks later than I intended: hello again, dear readers.
My blog posts about my summer job, working on conservation and elephant research at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, have come less frequently than I had wanted. To be frank, ever since my introductory post, they haven’t come at all.
That drought, however brief and unnoticed, stems from how busy I feel. I work less than most adults; still, this job is the closest I’ve had to a full-time position.
I wake up at 8:00 a.m. every weekday morning so I can start driving to the Zoo by 9:20. It takes more than half an hour to get door-to-door: from my house, in Shaker Heights, to my desk in the Zoo’s veterinary hospital, the Sarah Allison Steffee Center for Zoological Medicine.
From 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., I work steadily. Until recently, I spent between one and two hours outside most days conducting surveys with zoo visitors about conservation. I also spent about an hour and a half outside most days observing the Zoo’s African elephants and recording their behaviors.
Those two responsibilities have since changed. I finished conducting the surveys, so I can cross that duty off my list, and I’ve passed reliability testing for elephant observations. That means, actually, that I’ll formally observe the elephants less often. I’ve observed the elephants every day during the last month as practice, to learn to identify the elephants and their behaviors with speed and accuracy. Last week, my practice paid off: my research supervisor, Bonnie Baird, decided I could reliably record the elephants’ behaviors by myself. Now, I observe the elephants in accordance with the department’s schedule, which only gives me time slots two to three times per week.
I still see the elephants every day, though. I can take my lunch breaks in the African Elephant Crossing; I watch the elephants any time I walk through the Zoo. Not doing elephant observations every day merely means that I fill my six hours-per-day with other work.
And believe me, there’s plenty of that. To my surprise, most of my assignments come from the Conservation Department. I’ve been thrilled to find the Cleveland Zoo dedicated to national and international conservation efforts, led by Dr. Kristen Lukas, the Zoo’s Curator of Conservation and Science, and Kym Gopp, the Curator of Conservation. With Bonnie, Kristen and Kym round out my supervisors this summer.
When asked what I do for the Zoo, I often say, “Everything.” That’s not true, of course — I have no role in the vast majority of the Zoo’s activities, including those in the conservation department. But I’ve gotten so many conservation assignments, it can be hard to keep track of them.
My work may make the most sense as a list. So far, I’ve…
- written content pages about the illegal wildlife trade for FutureForWildlife.org, the Zoo’s conservation website;
- designed pages for FutureForWildlife.org about opportunities to take action for conservation;
- helped plan World Giraffe Day, which was June 21 (the longest day of the year — yes, that’s on purpose);
- consolidated and organized the Institutional Conservation Strategy;
- started designing a new bulletin board for the public area of the Steffee Center;
- written social media posts and an in-the-works proposal for future social media accounts;
- created a framework for Future For Wildlife events and activities; and
- begun planning a possible collaborative program about illegal wildlife trade and wildlife trafficking in cooperation with other zoos and international experts in 2017.
And that’s just what I’ve started. I’ll also help plan activities for World Tiger Day (July 29) and World Elephant Day (August 12); continue work on FutureForWildlife.org; create a mini database about the Zoo’s conservation partners; help identify ways to communicate Future For Wildlife; and draft a pre-proposal for a possible collaborative initiative for Association of Zoos and Aquariums zoos to collectively communicate about and combat the illegal wildlife trade.
In addition, I learned how to record elephants’ behavior from their nighttime videos Thursday. So even though I’ve finished the surveys and I’m doing fewer daytime observations, I have plenty of work to do.
That’s been more stressful than I’d anticipated. As most of you know, I fit the textbook definition of overachieving. I’ve never shied from working hard, I get good grades, and I get less sleep than I should. Even so, this summer has been a new kind of challenge for me. I’ve never held a full-time job before, and I’ve been able to spend most summers relaxing until now. (My summer commitment to getting healthier doesn’t help in that respect: I spend about two hours exercising after work each day. That’s not exactly an afternoon cat-nap.)
But that new responsibility is a big reason why this job is so important for me. The work I’m doing, in addition to teaching me new skills and information, comprises a leap forward in what I call Adulting: the quasi-imaginary journey more than five billion people around the world embark on every day, with a range of failures and successes.
I may be writing blog entries later than I’d wanted, and I may feel like a juggler sometimes. Overall, though, a month into this endeavor, I’d call this step in Adulting a success.