Kimberlli with Mai Tai

A Day in the Life of a Zoo Academy Student

I’ve got a guest blogger today:


Kimberlli with Mai Tai
Hard work pays off! I got to meet Mai Thai at the end of my elephant lab.

Hi! My name is Kimberlli Varner and I am currently a senior at the Zoo Academy. For those who don’t know about the Zoo Academy, let me tell you a bit about it. It’s a program offered through Hughes Center High School and in your junior and senior year, instead of attending school all-day at Hughes, we come to school at the zoo! You don’t have to spend your freshman and sophomore years at Hughes (or even in the Cincinnati Public School district,) you just have to be a Sophomore who has the necessary credits needed to become a junior and be passionate about animals (and there’s a little essay you have to write that will be reviewed by the teachers here.) But once you’re in, no other high school can even compare to the amazing opportunities here.


Now before you can get a lab, you have to through animal handling with some of the Zoo’s education staff teaching us how to properly handle certain animals, and then from there we got to dive into labs. For two hours every day (in the morning junior year and in the afternoon senior year,) we have labs out in various departments in the zoo and they last for six weeks. We don’t get to pick our labs (we fill out a paper ranking the labs we want most,) the lab “teacher” for your grade will choose which labs you get based on your ranking of labs versus your classmates rankings, and if you’re lucky you will get the lab you want. Last year, my favorite lab of them all was Cat Show just because I got to see the Cheetahs in close proximity (something most people won’t ever be able to do unless they go on a safari or something,) and I got to interact with the other smaller animals in that lab like the small cats, the cheetahs companion dogs, a porcupine, and my other favorite animal in that lab (besides the cheetahs of course,) a Red River Hog named Francis.

This year as a senior, our labs become a lot more interesting. Since we’ve been here for a year and we’ve proven that we’re responsible when It comes to animal care, there’s a lot more opportunities that can be done within our labs and with the new labs available to us. My favorite lab so far has been working with the Veterinary Technicians down at the hospital here on zoo grounds. The highlights of that lab was that I got to sit in or help on many different procedures (my favorite being the peacock cause I pointed out an injury that the vets missed,) and just being able to work around veterinarians and veterinary technicians because I’m going to college to become a veterinarian.

Now all that background aside, let’s talk about my new lab in the Education Department! For two hours in the afternoon (12:30 to 2:30) I work with the various workers up here. Last week was my first week here, and I got to work with the most energetic little ball (literally sometimes) of fun, Kris who is a Three-banded Armadillo.

Kris, the three-banded armadillo
Kris, the three-banded armadillo

On the first day Melinda (one of the workers in the Education department) and I hoped to be able to sit down in a little training gate area with him, but Kris had other ideas. As soon as Melinda’s foot went in, he immediately latched onto it using his nails and rolling up into a little semi-ball and he even latched on to my boot a couple of times (and I’m pretty sure he was trying to “rock climb” up them.) So a solution had to be made, and the whole first day I sat on a chair inside of the little gate with my feet pulled up on the chair and I would occasionally pick him up or touch him because he needs socialization training so that he can do education programs. And I decided to wear rain boots to lab because there’s no way he could latch on to plastic (didn’t stop him from trying.) And by the third day of lab I could sit down with Kris in his little training gate with no problems at all, and I would throw his football to him and he would latch onto it like he loved to do to my boots and would let go of it (kind of like kicking the ball.) Of course I couldn’t really sit down with him in the gate for a long period of time because he would eventually make attempts to grab on my boots again or his new favorite, my belt buckle, so the chair had to come back into play and he would just run around it ignoring my rain boots. So even though he won’t completely stop grabbing onto you at random time intervals when you’re sitting down with him, the five minutes worth of time that he doesn’t attempt to grab onto someone is still a success. I bet by the end of this lab rotation, he’ll be a little ball of wonder!

Kimberlli with Kris
One of Kris’ rare moments of calm