This was my last full week at the Zoo because I got a job! It’s so bittersweet – I’m excited to have a job as a communications associate at the American Chiropractic Association (I anticipate liking it a whole lot), but it’s also sad to leave FONZ. I’ve had such a great summer here and I’ve gained so many amazing experiences!


Photo by CAITLIN LUKACS
Black-tailed prairie dog

Of course this last week was filled with wrapping up projects and tying up loose ends, but I also got to participate in two pretty cool meetings. The first one was a meeting between some of the communications staff here at the Zoo and the design firm that we’ve chosen to work with on the re-design of ZooGoer. The meeting was the first step in the launch of this project. The designer and project manager basically wanted to here from people at FONZ about their vision for the new publication.

We discussed the mission of FONZ and the mission of the new publication as well as the new title and possible features and departments. It was so cool to hear these discussions having been involved in the conceptualization and very early talks about the re-design. I’m just sad I won’t be here to see it all take shape. It’s going to be an interesting process and the final product will be amazing, I’m sure.


Photo by CAITLIN LUKACS
Sumatran tiger

I also had the opportunity to attend a paper seminar, which was, just like it sounds, a seminar all about printers and paper choices and how to be environmentally friendly and how to save on printing and paper costs. It doesn’t sound like the most scintillating topic, but it was pretty interesting. First of all, there are a ridiculous number of paper options out there – from super light-weight stark white to super heavy-duty dark black and everything in between. Then there are the environmental options such as using recycled materials or even tree-free papers. I learned that there is a paper made from crushed rocks! And it doesn’t look or feel like it at all. It was way too much to think about – you want your photos to pop, but you want to be environmentally-conscious and you need to work within a set budget too. I’m glad I’m not in charge of making paper decisions for a publication.

Because I don’t have any other animals that I need to visit before I leave (I’ve officially seen them all!), I’ve been making it a point to go back and see as many as I can one last time. Although, I guess it really isn’t the last time since I will be visiting the Zoo plenty in the up-coming months and have even been considering volunteering to be a zoo guide. But, it will be my last visit as a FONZ intern and that feels like a big deal to me. So far I’ve gone back to the gray seals, the California sea lions, the Nile hippopotamus, the prairie dogs, all of the animals in the Small Mammal House, the giant anteaters, and the tigers.

 As this is my last blog entry, I feel compelled to talk about the overall experience of interning at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. I can’t think of a better word to describe these past four months than amazing. I’ve always loved animals and the zoo, but I had no idea the depth of information that I would learn here. I’m leaving with hundreds of fun facts about animals and conservation and sustainability and I’ve come to appreciate those animals that I didn’t necessarily love prior to this internship.


Photo by CAITLIN LUKACS
Sumatran tiger cubs – Guntur, Melati and Maharani play in the moat

Besides the facts about the subject matter I’ve learned quite a bit about communications as well. I’ve been continuously developing my writing skills in all areas of communication – magazine features, short blurbs, captions, press release material, radio interviews, fast facts for journalists, etc. I’ve also been able to learn about creating and presenting a unified communications strategy for an organization, how to handle media relations, and what it takes to market a huge establishment like the National Zoo. Additionally, I’ve learned about all aspects of magazine production – not just writing and editing, but photo selection, budgeting, and mailing lists to name a few. Lastly, because of the re-design of ZooGoer, I’ve been able to learn about the proposal process, the design process, the pre-press and printing options, etc. and I’ve been able to view all of these steps in action. I’ve crammed a lot of info and experiences into just four months.

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Aw, look at that baby coral

September 5, 2008

We finally got the FONZ 2009 calendar from the printer!! It came out great and its so exciting to see it in print! My supervisor chose a heavier weight paper than the calendar was previously printed on and even that one little change made a huge difference in the overall look (and feel) of the calendar – not to mention all of our work choosing photos and writing captions and quadruple-checking dates, etc.


Photo by JESSIE COHEN/National Zoo Photographer
Coral tank in the Invertebrate House

Part of my week involved hand delivering copies of the calendar to FONZ employees and mailing complimentary copies to all of the people who receive them, such as contributing writers, Smithsonian employees and major donors. I also had to give several copies to the front desk of the visitors center so they can be used as an incentive to join FONZ. It’s a pretty nice free gift if I do say so myself.

Besides continuing to work on written pieces for ZooGoer, one of the highlights of this week was my trip to the Invertebrate House to meet with a keeper who had just returned from collecting coral gametes in Puerto Rico.

We got to see the coral primary polyps that have attached themselves to tiles and begun to grow and develop. The keeper told us all about what it’s like to be in the water when the corals are spawning and how coral grows. It was really cool – i’ve never even thought about how coral forms.

He said that if two or more polyps attach to tiles (or rocks or other corals, etc.) right next to or on top of one another that they will essentially be fighting for space and nutrients rather than joining together to form a larger colony. In some instances, two seprarate coral colonies can grow alongside one another and in that case there will be a distinct line between the two, but it is just as likely that one coral will eventually die off while the other prospers.

Last year the keeper was able to count over 100 live primary polyps after his trip to Puerto Rico. This year, he has already doubled that number and he has only counted a fraction of his tile plates. The Zoo could become home to thousands of baby coral in the next couple of weeks.


Photo by CAITLIN LUKACS
Emu – Darwin

On my way to and from the Invertebrate House I passed an exhibit that I walk by at least twice a day, but I rarely stop to look at. The habitat is home to two speices – tammar wallabies that are small and shy and therefore rare to see and a very large bird – an emu named Darwin. I love the wallabies; they are just super cute and furry, but I have only seen them out in their yard twice over the entire summer. Darwin, on the other hand, is not super cute and he is certainly not shy. He is almost always looking for food right along the fence where he can be seen by all who walk by. He is quite the attention-hog. Though he is far from my favorite animal here at the Zoo (it’s a first for me to say that!) it is only fair that I include him – it’s not his fault he’s not as handsome as the giant anteaters or the red pandas.

Zoo Excursions

August 29, 2008

I’m calling this week my week of zoo excursions. I had two really cool opportunities to learn about different aspects of the zoo community. Of course I also spent time at meetings and researching and writing elements for ZooGoer, but I wont tell you about that because it is not nearly as exciting or informative as my excursions – not to mention the fact that I can’t discuss the content of those pieces.


Photo by CAITLIN LUKACS
Dama gazelles

My first adventure was a trip up to the vet hospital to meet with the Zoo’s cryobiologist and talk with him about all of his different research projects and take a tour of the labs and the gamete bank. My supervisor and I were hoping to generate a list of possible feature ideas for the magazine as well as simply find out what the Zoo scientists were involved in and studying.

In the hour and a half that we were there we gathered more ideas than could possibly fit in ZooGoer in a year. Not only did he explain the numerous projects that he is personally involved in, but he also spoke about the research of his colleagues. He told us that there are certain priority species for the Zoo – species that are in danger of extinction or that don’t have enough genetic diversity in their breeding populations. Two such species are the dama gazelles and the Grevy’s zebras.


Photo by CAITLIN LUKACS
Grevy’s zebra

I think the zebras are particularly interesting because the Zoo is responsible for maintaining a bachelor herd as part of the Species Survival Plan (SSP). What that means is that we have enough space for several zebras at once and we serve as a sort of holding ground for young males until they reach reproductive maturity and are sent to another zoo to breed.

A little fun fact, not related to the SSP or conservation, is that each zebra has unique striping just as humans have unique fingerprints. (If you stare at the zebras long enough in an attempt to discern their individual striping, you will get dizzy).

We were also able to see the gamete bank that contains samples from several different species and learn about how the samples were kept viable for years at a time in special freezers. While we were touring the laboratory spaces we even got a chance to view African elephant semen under a microscope – so cool! Now how many people can say they’ve done that?

My second interesting learning experience wasn’t an excursion per se, but a talk given by a world-famous animal trainer that was open to all Zoo staff. The presentation lasted for two hours and I did not look at my watch once. He was so engaging and the topic of his talk was really interesting.


Photo by JESSIE COHEN/National Zoo Photographer
Scarlet macaws

While he has worked with birds, specifically parrots, most often in his storied career, our presenter has also had the opportunity to travel all over the world creating training programs for many different species including lions, giant anteaters, several species of monkeys, etc.

He talked about building relationships with the animals and using positive reinforcement rather than punishment to train them. He stressed the importance of letting the animal know that he or she was an equal to the trainer, not a subordinate. When an animal knows that they can escape or quit the training session at any time they are much more comfortable and willing to work with the keepers, he said.

He gave a great presentation with lots of video clips and pictures to support all of his points. He also had awesome anecdotes about training lionesses to stand for an injection and chimps to enter a chute and birds to stand still on a scale.

This week I got to do another interview for Metro Talk on 3WT radio. Just like last month, I was able to pick the topic and the interviewee as well as write my own questions.


Photo by CAITLIN LUKACS
Asian elephant – Ambika

For this interview I chose to cover the Zoo’s commissary and talk with a senior animal nutritionist. In preparation, I worked with FONZ’s media relations manager to gather all of the factsheets and talking points about the commissary that had been compiled for previous interviews, press releases and media events. I quickly saw that there were hundreds of fun facts about animal nutrition and the jobs of the people who work in the commissary. It was really cool to be able to approach the interview as an outsider or a Zoo visitor. Because I was given complete control over the direction of the questions, I was basically able to ask about the things that I was interested in or curious about.

The nutritionist told me about creating diets specific to each individual animal. He detailed all the work that goes into preparing for Zoo events such as Celebrate Asian Elephants which takes place this weekend and includes a birthday celebration for Ambika, the oldest of the Zoo’s Asian elephants. He also talked about the fact that the Zoo grows all of its own hay and bamboo at several different sites in Washington and Virginia. I also learned about the huge quantities of food that are needed each year to feed the approximately 2,000 animals living at the Zoo. Can you even imagine 6,000 pounds of bananas and 20,000 pounds of fish?

The interview airs on Metro Talk on Sunday morning at 11-o-clock. Check it out on 107.7 FM.


Photo by CAITLIN LUKACS
Ring-tailed lemurs

In addition to the radio interview, several other small, on-going writing projects and some continued photo research we also had things to work on with the calendar – still!

We were able to copyedit the text and get all of the dates, events, etc. okayed by Monday at which point we sent all of the changes to the designer who input them and then sent everything to the printers. We received proofs from the printers on Thursday and we immediately met with the photographers to make sure the colors were correct and everything looked good. Unfortunately, there is going to be another round of proofs next week since a few of the photographs were over-saturated or had other color issues. But then, once those have been corrected, it will finally be ready to mail to members!

At this point I have visited every single animal at the Zoo – at least once. Some of the trips that I have not shared are ones to see the ring-tailed lemurs and the spectacled bear, Nikki.

The lemurs have one of the coolest exhibit yards at the Zoo. They live on Lemur Island which also contains a large waterfall and is home to at least 100 turtles. The lemurs hang out behind the waterfall in wooden huts interspersed with trees. I wouldn’t mind having a lemur hut to lounge around in in my backyard.


Photo by CAITLIN LUKACS
Spectacled bear – Nikki

The spectacled bear is located all the way at the bottom of the hill just before Amazonia. Because of this, I rarely ventured down there as a Zoo visitor before I became an intern. I already talked about all of the cool stuff that I missed out on in Amazonia, but I didn’t mentioned Nikki. He’s a pretty cool guy. When I stopped by he was enjoying a frozen treat on a very hot afternoon. The spectacled bears look to me like they accidentally bleached their fur around their faces. They are all black or dark brown except right around their eyes and nose where they are a much lighter shade of brown – even blonde in some cases. I wonder what the benefit of their coloring is, evolutionarily speaking?

Science is cool

August 18, 2008

This week I had the opportunity to travel down to Front Royal Virginia to the Zoo’s Conservation and Research Center. I spent the day listening to presentations from scientists, zookeepers, postdocs, graduate students and interns about the projects and research that they are doing at the Zoo. It was really cool to hear about the amazing studies that people have come up with and the information that they are finding.


Photo by CAITLIN LUKACS
Orangutan

There were studies from specific behaviors of one particular animal to studies on conservation efforts for an entire region of the world. There were even two presentations that dealt with cognition in animals. One of these presentations explained research that is currently taking place with the orangutans in the Think Tank exhibit. The researcher’s previous study can be seen in video form in Think Tank and so I was already familiar with the project and the objectives. However, the scientist is taking the next step and hoping to further our information about orangutan thinking. Not only are orangutans really cool, but they are pretty smart too. And it seems they will do everything in their power to make sure that they choose the study condition that will garauntee them grapes.


Photo by CAITLIN LUKACS
African lion – Luke

Another study that really piqued my interest was one that incorporates several zoos throughout the country and looks at the reproductive status of African lions. Because the captive African lion population has not recently had the breeding success that it had previously known and because there is not much information available about African lion reproduction, the main objective of this project is to obtain baseline reproductive data to hopefully determine the reasons for the decline in successful breeding. This is interesting in and of itself, but as a cat lover it was particularly fascinating for me.

There was so much information to take in and those were just two of the fifteen presentations – not to mention the poster session during lunch to explain other scientific projects taking place at the Zoo and at CRC!

Of course I also spent time on editorial work this week. There was yet another round of calendar edits to input and then the draft had to be circulated one more time. There was also ‘animal facts’ writing to finish and some research to complete for a feature and sidebar for the upcoming November/December issue of ZooGoer.


Photo by CAITLIN LUKACS
Collared peccary

And I can’t finish without talking about an animal visit. I found an animal that I had never heard of before – the collared peccary. I’d never seen them out in their yard before so I was surprised to come across them when walking behind the Small Mammal House. I guess I just assumed the yard was for another species of monkey or rodent.

Even though they look similar to hogs, peccaries are not pigs. They are classified in a family of their own because of anatomical differences. I happen to think they are extremely cute in a not-really-cute-but-underappreciated-and-that-makes-them-cute kind of way.

Harry Potter at the Zoo

August 8, 2008

Every single day I walk past the Cheetah Conservation Station to get to and from the parking lot. Usually I’m in a hurry so I don’t stop and visit with the animals. And they tend to nap along the back wall where it’s hard to see them anyway. But this week, the cheetahs have been really active, or at least more visible, every time I’ve gone by.


Photo by CAITLIN LUKACS
Male cheetahs

They are such amazing creatures – built for speed and so lean. I never thought polka dots were a good form of camouflage,  but I was wrong. Those napping cheetahs blend right into the dirt and grass in their enclosure. Their looks are deceptive too. They seem to me to be big house cats and I always have the urge to pet them when I see them lounging around flicking their tails back and forth. It’s hard to remember that they are wild animals.

One of my favorite things about the cheetahs is their names. The three brothers are all named after Harry Potter characters – Draco, Granger, and Zabini. I just love the Harry Potter books and next to pandas, cats of all sorts have always been my favorite animals. (Until I got to the Zoo and met the giant anteaters and the elephant shrews, etc. at which point my list was greatly expanded though it did not cause me to bump any of my previous favorites off the list.) The female cheetah also has a beautiful name – Amani – that I really like even if it isn’t from a great novel.


Photo by CAITLIN LUKACS
Female cheetah – Amani

As for ZooGoer this week we continued to push ahead with the calendar. I’m amazed at just how long things like this take to complete. It seems to me that it should be a relatively quick process of choosing photos and then plugging them in to a design. But there are so many people who need to give input on the photo selection,  OK the animal facts we’ve included in the captions, OK the dates we’ve listed as Zoo events, double-check the masthead to make sure the membership information is correct, send us advertisements that have to be included in the calendar, etc.

Then once it’s gone through several other people and been copy edited as well, we still have to agree on a design. There are all these minute details that I never thought of when it comes to putting a calendar together. Do you include the previous and the latter month in small form on each page? Do you include the scientific names of the animals? And, if so, where? in the caption? alongside the photo itself?

Despite all this, I’m fairly certain that we are ready to move ahead and send the calendar to the printers next week. Whew.

Not surprisingly this week at FONZ was filled with more calendar preparations. We had to circulate the draft we had created of all of the holidays and Zoo events to all of the necessary departments to double-check that everything was correct. This inevitably led to a few changes that needed to be made. We also had to complete the process of selecting/getting everyone to agree on the twelve main photos that would be featured.


Photo by CAITLIN LUKACS
Young prehensile-tailed porcupine with its mother

Other than the calendar I also spent some time working on my book review for the upcoming issue of ZooGoer. I’m finding it difficult to write even though I loved the book. I think the problem that I’m having stems from the fact that the book is basically a compilation of essays and not one continuous story. I’m hoping to have it completed by early next week, though.

On Thursday I spent awhile looking through other zoo’s publications just to get a taste for what they all looked like and what kinds of content they included. We’re trying to gather as much information as possible as we move forward with the re-design of ZooGoer. There were a couple of things that we really liked – section headings and the design of some departments such as “creature features,” but there were a bunch of things that we didn’t like – super busy designs, not enough white space on the pages, and too many advertisements. It was really informative to compare our publications to similar ones so that we can make decisions about the new look of our magazine.


Photo by CAITLIN LUKACS
Golden lion tamarin

I also had the opportunity to meet with one of the possible designers for our new publication. It’s cool to get to see a selection of the projects that someone has worked on in their career, but it makes it hard to compare designers because they have all done such different things. It would be easier if we could give everyone an article and ask them to show us how they would present it in our magazine.

Lastly, I spent a large chunk of time doing photo research for the November/December issue of ZooGoer. Some of the animals that we needed were fairly common and since we were looking for straightforward pictures just so readers can visualize what the animal looks like, there was lots to choose from. But, this was not true of all of the pictures. Because I wrote specifically about giraffe tails, I was looking for a picture of a giraffe taken from the back and this proved to be a very unpopular angle. We also needed some very specific species of animals that don’t appear to be particularly photogenic as there are very few pictures of them available.


Photo by CAITLIN LUKACS
Degu

For our animal visit this week my supervisor and I decided to stop back at the Small Mammal House. There was a baby prehensile-tailed porcupine born in June and when these animals are born they have fluffy, red fur instead of black and white quills like their parents. As the juvenile porcupine ages, its fur stiffens and changes color so that it resembles its parents. We have been going back every other week or so to check on the progress of the baby. On this visit, we could tell that its fur had definitely lost its fuzzy-quality and has become more stiff and quill-like and it is changing colors – mostly from red to white. There’s not much black yet.

We also visited the golden lion tamarins, who are always entertaining as they jump from branch to branch in their exhibits. Their fur is so cool – when the sun catches it just right it shines this amazingly vibrant gold color. Plus they look like they have long mustaches and they make funny faces.


Photo by CAITLIN LUKACS
Prevost’s squirrel

We also saw degus which I think are one of the cutest animals in the Small Mammal House. They almost look like tiny rabbits. At first I didn’t see very many of them in the exhibit, but the longer I stood there, the more I found. I counted at least eight burrowing around and looking for food.

Lastly, we saw the Prevost’s squirrel. He was lounging in his usual spot – on a branch at the very top of his exhibit. Every single time I have been into the Small Mammal House he has been in that exact same position.  Of all the squirrel species I have seen in person, I think these guys are the coolest. They have at least three different colors on them in a really cool stripe pattern.

Talk radio

July 27, 2008

This was a really exciting week at the Zoo – I got to record a radio interview with an animal keeper in Beaver Valley!

The reporter for Metro Talk on 3WT comes out once a month to do a short piece on a new animal or happening at the Zoo. When he came out last month, I accompanied him and FONZ’s media relations manager to the Reptile Discovery Center to record an interview about green tree pythons. Through the course of the afternoon he offered me the opportunity to conduct his next interview.


Photo by CAITLIN LUKACS
Sloth bear – Hana

Not only was I allowed to conduct the interview, but I was even asked to pick the animal or topic to be featured. After looking through the archives of the past interviews and thinking about any up-coming events or happenings that the Zoo might want to promote I decided on the gray seals. There hadn’t been an interview about them (or any animal in Beaver Valley) for quite awhile and they could provide good background sounds between vocalizations and splashing. Plus, they have an interesting story coming from the U.S. Navy marine mammal program and they are really very cool animals.

Once the topic was decided, I needed to contact the keepers in Beaver Valley, where the gray seals live, and see if any of them would be willing to talk with me on the radio. Once that was decided there were timing logistics to work out and talking points/questions to be written. I compiled some facts about gray seals in general, the Zoo’s two gray seals, Gunnar and Selkie, and ocean conservation and sent them to the animal keepers to look over both for their own preparation and to ensure that all of my facts were correct.

On Wednesday, the day the interview was to take place I wasn’t nervous until we actually arrived at Beaver Valley and were introduced to Gunnar and Selkie. But, the interview went well – the animal keeper, Tina Scott, did a great job and made it really easy for me to talk to her and the seals cooperated by making the appropriate splashes and vocalizations in the background.

You can hear the interview on 107.7 FM, 3WT’s Metro Talk, on Sunday morning at 11.

Besides the radio interview I spent a lot of time writing this week. I continued to work on the calendar captions and the short animal pieces for the upcoming issue of ZooGoer . I also spent some time working on the calendar – making more photo selections, photo editing/cropping, triple-checking the dates of Zoo events and holidays, and selecting from several design options.


Photo by CAITLIN LUKACS
Asian small-clawed otters – Min and Asha

For my animal visits this week, I spent some time on Asia Trail. I was able to see a sloth bear feeding demonstration which was pretty cool, especially considering the bears are generally pretty secretive and either not in their yard or hiding from me every time I stop by to say hello.

I also had the opportunity to view the Asian small-clawed otters up close. For the first time in all my visits, the otters were actually staying still as they lounged on the rocks. Normally, I can just catch a glimpse as they scamper back-and-forth across their exhibit yard. This time, though, the two female otters, Min and Asha, were being extremely cooperative and photogenic for me.

Lastly, I stopped by the red panda yard to see Wicket and Shama, the brother and sister who have recently joined the Zoo community. I think the red pandas are so cool-looking with their super fluffy fur that is split in half – red on top and black on the bottom. They have these big bushy tails and the most endearing faces, but they are like the sloth bears and they run away if they catch me watching them, especially if I have my camera out.

Happy go lucky

July 18, 2008

This week at FONZ was full of assignments, but since none of them had particularly pressing deadlines, it felt like a nice, laid-back schedule.


Photo by JESSIE COHEN/National Zoo Photographer
Eyelash palm pitviper

I finished up my animal profiles for the Reptile Discovery Center section of the Web site. As I mentioned before, snakes and lizards are not exactly my favorite animals (that title belongs to the giant pandas, and the tigers, and the giant anteaters, and the meerkats….), but I have thoroughly enjoyed learning about them through this writing assignment. Did you know that king cobras have enough neurotoxin in one bite to kill 20 people? Or that male Grand Cayman iguanas turn electric blue during mating season? Or that the emperor newt’s orange bumps contain a poison to deter predators? Or that there is a snake that looks like it has eyelashes because of special scales on its face? I could go on and on…

I’ve sent all of my profiles to a keeper at the Reptile Discovery Center to look at and make sure all of the information is correct. Mostly I need her to make sure I didn’t write that a snake was “born” where it should say “hatched” and things of that nature. Maybe I’ll get to go down and meet my subjects in person – yikes!

I’m glad that this opportunity presented itself because if I was given the chance to pick animals to write about, I certainly wouldn’t have picked reptiles and I never would have come to appreciate our scaly friends or learn all these interesting facts.

This week my supervisor and I had another opportunity to visit the photography department. We had been going back and forth through email with the photographers about which pictures to use for the upcoming calendar and we decided it would be easier to talk to them in person. We wanted to make sure that our choices meshed with their picture preferences and that we were accurately representing the Zoo. Once we had narrowed down our selection, I began gathering information on each of the species for the photo captions in the calendar.

We also got to meet with the exhibits department to talk to them about the different projects going on at the Zoo this year and coming up in the near future. We hope to be able to coordinate particular articles with the happenings at the Zoo and this meeting helped bring us up to speed on what we could expect in the next few years.


Photo by CAITLIN LUKACS
Nile hippopotamus, Happy

My animal visit this week was the Nile hippopotamus, Happy. Happy generally spends his time submerged in his pool where it is impossible to see and fully appreciate his size. He can hold his breath for about six minutes and even when he comes up for air, he only sticks his eyes and nostrils above the water line.


Photo by CAITLIN LUKACS
Nile hippopotamus, Happy

But, I was lucky enough to stop by when his pool was being cleaned, forcing Happy into his inside enclosure. He is absolutely huge! His mouth and snout alone are particularly impressive in size and his teeth are immense. They look like logs in his mouth, especially since they aren’t sharp or tooth-like. Instead, they are spherical and flat on top, which suits his diet of vegetation just fine. I also learned that he weighs almost 7,000 pounds! Despite his size, Happy is still really cute – even if he barely bothers to acknowledge his adoring public. Sadly, Happy is going to be leaving the Zoo soon. Because of the construction for Elephant Trails, the Zoo is looking for a new home for him.

Now that I am about halfway through my internship (and since this week was less hectic than others have been) I thought I would talk a little more broadly about what this internship has taught me.


Photo by JESSIE COHEN/National Zoo Photographer
Discus fish

First, working for FONZ has reinforced my belief that I would be happier working in magazines than in newspapers. I like that there is lots of time to research the articles and go back and forth with editors to get the piece as close to perfect as possible. I also like the planning ahead nature of magazines. I like that we are having to decide what pieces to run in the November/December issue while simultaneously discussing the design of the July/August issue. There is just something in my personality (I am told it is the “Penichter gene” from my mom’s side of the family) that causes me to love being organized and making lists and planning things out ahead of time and therefore the magazine industry suits me quite well.

I have also discovered (or maybe I knew it all along, but now it has become blatantly obvious) that I have to be writing about topics that interest me. The Zoo is such an amazing place with more great story possibilities than can possibly ever  be covered. I definitely learn something new every day – in fact, I generally learn several somethings new. After even a short time here I know I would absolutely die of boredom at a publication that covered something of no interest to me – say car parts or banking.

One other thing that I’ve learned that is perhaps not so positive, but it’s good that I know now is that I write with a style that can only be described as “class paper.” I chose magazine journalism because of the availability of space and the opportunity to explore language and yet, when I start writing, I keep my creativity locked up and simply state the facts in a nice concise manner. I think that journalism students should be offered a course in creative writing as well as all of the classes that focus on spot news or even news features. Searching for the truth and informing the public of the happenings in the world doesn’t have to be done in an uninteresting way.

And now for something a little more fun: exploring new animal exhibits. This week I was able to visit Amazonia for the first time. Even in all of my Zoo visits prior to this internship I had always skipped Amazonia because it is sort of tucked away at the bottom of the hill and by the time I get to the bottom I am hot and sweaty and I want to see the sea lions and the spectacled bear, but I can pass on the fish and frogs. So, until this week I had absolutely no idea just how cool Amazonia is – it definitely should  not be skipped on Zoo visits!


Photo by JESSIE COHEN/National Zoo Photographer
Arapaima fish

Amazonia is home to some really cool creatures including all kinds of small, pretty fish and the biggest fish I have ever seen – arapaimas. I have heard people at the Zoo talk about the arapaimas and how they are super interesting, but I had no idea they were that large. They are at least five feet long and they have these amazing designs in the scales on the top of their head. It almost looks like knots in wood or maybe even Hieroglyphics. They are also sort of bent in the middle. That is, their bodies do not go straight back from their heads, but are crooked so that their tails are lower than their head. It gives them the appearance of having grown so long that they can’t support their tail weight anymore and it just sort of droops.

Another really cool thing about Amazonia is the rainforest. Visitors can stroll through an actual rainforest with animals such as monkeys and sloths. The plant life in the rainforest is just amazing too – there are hanging flowers and spiked trees just to name a few.