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My experience volunteering at the Winnie Carter Wildlife Center

INSTAGRAM @vet.andreah   
Andreah S. Rodriguez is a first-year veterinary student at the Royal Veterinary College of London. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences at Texas A&M University in 2019. Andreah comes from the Sun City, also known as El Paso, Texas, and is interested in working with exotics and wildlife. During her free time, she enjoys going to the gym, rowing on the Thames with friends, and exploring new countries.

As an undergraduate student, I am always looking for opportunities to get more hands-on experience with different animals. I was lucky enough to get a chance to work as a student and volunteer at the Winnie Carter Wildlife Center, a teaching facility that helps introduce the management, handling, behavior, and veterinary care of exotic and wildlife species.

I was at the Wildlife Center for two years. During this time, I got to work with a variety of exotic animals, such as white-tailed deer, ostriches, llamas, African serval cat, emus, Texas tortoise, and much more. As a student, I learned about the care of non-domestic animals by participating in daily activities such as feedings, watering, and medicating. Along with this, I was involved in other animal husbandry tasks, such as pen cleaning and maintenance, handling of animals, mowing, and assistance in veterinarian procedures. This included the management and maintenance of enclosures and surrounding areas to provide proper living conditions for the animals.

Every student had a specific animal enclosure assignment and I had the opportunity to take care of white-tail bucks, emus, and an African serval cat. This experience was amazing! I learned what normal behavior looked and sounded like for each of the animals. When working with the white-tail bucks I had to look out for signs of aggression, physical issues, and mating behaviors. Safety was always a priority at the Wildlife Center and when the bucks have antlers, they can be dangerous. Sounds were mostly with the emus; they made a booming noise during mating season and when they feel threatened. With Morphe, the African serval cat, watching over his health was very important since he was a senior. I watched over his water and food intake as well as defecation. Overall, I was able to learn a lot about normal day to day activities with the animals.

There were other activities I got to the opportunity to participate in. Every winter, the Wildlife Center has health days for the ducks, during which we de-antler them. By the time this happens, the velvet layer on their antlers is completely rubbed off and the antlers become a hazard to students. Through these events, I was able to monitor vital signs, assist in restraining, and oversee their recovery. Another activity I personally helped with was target training with the African serval cat, Morphe. This was done effectively by having him touch the target and then giving done some of his favorite treats. It was important to teach him this due to his old age and need for medication.

After my first semester at the Wildlife Center, I was able to take on the role of student leader. With this role, I taught more than 20 new students a variety of different tasks, including feeding, handling, bleaching, and painting. I assisted with their education and training, creating schedules, weighing animals, and drafting feeding lists. I also taught students how to effectively and smoothly run the Winnie Carter Wildlife Center by doing different husbandry work.

I was humbled to have the opportunity to make a greater impact as a student leader. I made lots of friends who eventually became volunteers, student leaders, and veterinary students. I am lucky to still be in contact with them.

My love for exotic and wildlife has grown since working at the Winnie Carter Wildlife Center and I hope to develop my skills as I delve further in my degree. I am looking into gaining more experience and becoming a wildlife conservation veterinarian. I learned that I love working with animals who are different from companion pets. I am very grateful for having had this wonderful opportunity. Getting more involved in a program you are passionate about is worth it. Show your commitment and dedication and it will pay off.

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