Animal lover finds perfect internship

Monday, October 11, 2004

Jessica Peterschick and dolphins at the Minnesota Zoo

Jessica Peterschick and dolphins at the Minnesota Zoo

She offers to show you photographs of her “babies.” When you say yes, she pulls out a packet of glossy color prints and hands them over one at a time. “This is Rio. Isn’t she gorgeous? Look at that face.” She can barely contain her excitement as she admires the photo of her 32-year-old, 480-pound precious darling.

“She” is biology major Jessica Peterschick, who spent spring semester as an intern at the Minnesota Zoo. That’s where she met and fell in love with Rio and Spree, 175 pounds and 20 months old. “She’s my baby. She’s so much fun, you have no idea!”

Peterschick enjoyed her experience and her new friends so much that she had her internship extended an extra month and has since returned to the zoo as a volunteer.

It’s the dolphin exhibit that has her so excited.

Jessica’s job at the zoo included food preparation and husbandry behaviors such as getting blood, fecal and gastric samples, giving vitamins, and applying medication for skin problems. Food preparation included feeding each dolphin 10-35 pounds of fish a day over four or five feedings. For Spree, Jessica cut up the food and fed her by hand “because she’s just a baby.”

The bulk of the intern’s time went to the dolphins’ enrichment program: playing, pampering, spending time with them, anything to make their daily lives more interesting and “make them think more.”

“I’ve loved animals since I was born,” Jessica said. “I was just one of those girls who, if there was a turtle on the road, I’d hop out and guide it back.”

Jessica is determined to make a career of working with marine mammals in training, research, conservation or rehabilitation. When that becomes a reality, she’ll be thanking her adviser, Professor Matt Julius. “Not only is he a great teacher, but as an adviser he wants to set you up so you have a good platform outside of school,” said Jessica. “He works soooo hard to help you find a career.”

For now, the native of Randall, Minn., is feeding her soul with her volunteer work at the zoo. Jessica’s ultimate goal? “To save the rainforest,” she said grandly, with a big smile. “Or at least some part of it — like the animals.”

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