Nine hours a day, five days a week last summer, Grace Rexroat’s kept company with kangaroos, emus, red pandas, peacocks, tigers and orangutans as an intern at the Kansas City Zoo. It wasn’t her first time, either. She’s been an advocate for animals since eighth grade when she helped raise $250 through bake sales for a new zoo entrance. As an official donor, she was invited to the grand opening and later encouraged to start volunteering at the zoo.
Her first assignment was to take care of Rainbow Lorikeets and assist with educational programs at the Kansas City Zoo. Over the next four years, she spent every summer volunteering and feeding her passion for working with animals. “That’s what really got me into the ‘zoo world’,” she says, “it made me determined to say ‘this is what I want to go to school for’.” After her first year of college at the University of Minnesota, Rexroat was granted a summer internship at the Kansas City Zoo, which brings us back to the kangaroos.
“Kangaroos are so cool, they’re so personable!” says Rexroat, whose duties included not only feeding and cleaning the animals, but everything from maintaining animal habitats and mowing the lawn to participating in educational presentations to the public and providing enrichment to the animal life.
Rexroat found that she loved speaking to the public about the animals in her care. “These are really intelligent animals, they are fascinating,” she says. So intelligent that some of them have even taken up painting as part of their enrichment plan. Orangutans (a favorite of Rexroat’s) at the Kansas City Zoo actually sell their paintings with all of the proceeds going to conservation efforts for apes in the wild. “Some are better than others,” she jokes.
Another part of her internship required Rexroat to keep a daily journal of her experience and to submit a proposal of her own enrichment plan for the Francois Langur Monkeys. Rexroat conceived of a new feeding mechanism for the monkeys, a hanging log-like barrel that they would need to rotate to get their food.
Back on campus, taking Organic Chemistry and Foundations of Biology, the EEB major realized something was missing. So she started volunteering at the Raptor Center in St. Paul. She works on the educational crew, caring for the education birds and giving public tours of the center. This summer she’ll be taking summer courses at Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories to get some field research experience, but hopes to be back at a zoo after her junior year.
“My internship experience made me realize that there is nothing else that I want to do for my career other than work directly with animals every day.”
— Katie Hoffman