Q: Where was your internship this summer?!
A: In pursuit of a career in zoological medicine, my life has made twists and turns that I could have never imagined. As a Florida girl at heart, I knew I wanted to return to my home state for a summer internship involving wildlife medicine. With the help of my mentor, Dr. Osofsky, Director of the Cornell Wildlife Health Center, I became acquainted with a gem in Northeast Florida: the South-East Zoo Alliance for Reproduction and Conservation (SEZARC). Directed by Dr. Linda Penfold, SEZARC works on reproduction challenges in several US zoos and aquariums across the country. Some of their work involves fertility checks, assisted reproduction, and contraception in wildlife.
Q: What work did you participate in at your internship?
A: The internship involved many hands-on opportunities. In the lab, I learned how to examine semen characteristics microscopically from stingrays, sharks, tigers, okapis, and many other species! I learned how to utilize ELISA to detect hormone concentrations in elephant stool samples. In the field, I learned how to collect and cryopreserve semen samples from tigers and cheetahs for genome banking purposes. I conducted literature searches on reproduction information for various zoo animals in the office.
In addition to interning at SEZARC, the organization’s connections with other conservation/zoological facilities in North Florida opened up some unexpected doors. I shadowed zoo veterinarians from White Oak Conservation and the Jacksonville Zoo! Under the supervision of White Oak vets, I vaccinated a rhino calf and attended an okapi echocardiogram. At the Jacksonville Zoo, I attended routine elephant health checks and shadowed roseate spoonbill pre-shipment exams.
Q: What did you gain from this experience?
A: Before this internship, I lacked actual research experience. SEZARC allowed me to explore research with the ability to ask lots of questions! From literature searches, data collection and entry, lab work, and paper writing, I feel I left with a well-rounded understanding of the purpose of wildlife reproduction research for conservation. SEZARC combined my passions for zoological medicine and theriogenology in ways I could have never imagined. I hope to continue working in research as a veterinary student and a zoo veterinarian hopeful.
Carolina Baquerizo, Class of 2024, received her BS in Biological Science from Florida State University. She began volunteering at Zoo Miami when she was 15 and has held multiple zoological internships since then. She aspires to become a zoo veterinarian as a way to participate in ex situ conservation work.