Angela Grogan couldn’t imagine that a rhinoceros would help determine her passion and her career. That was before she spent two summers interning with Out of Africa Wildlife Park, a private zoo in Camp Verde, Arizona.
“Being close to the animals makes you want to help them in some shape or form,” the senior Biology major says. “That’s how I found my passion.”
The rhino in question is a 20-year-old southern white rhinoceros named Jericho. In 2016, Grogan’s second summer at the park, she helped lead the rhino encounter events for the public. She built a relationship with the rhino, and he got to know her by her voice—rhinos have small eyes, she explains, so they rely on hearing for much of their perception.
But Jericho was hardly her only responsibility. Her first summer at Out of Africa, she worked with what she calls the “Herp, Chirp, and Fur Department,” interacting with reptiles, small mammals, and birds. She then moved on to the “Serengeti Department,” which includes the rhino, the hoof stock (like antelope), and ostriches. She also took on responsibilities with the predators at the park—lions, tigers, bears, and wolves.
“Our purpose is building the relationship between people and animals,” Grogan says.
That mission was a key part of her internships. Beyond feeding and watering the animals, she interacted heavily with the public. And she discovered that she loves educating people about these animals and the zoo’s purpose.
“A big part of my job was answering people’s questions,” she says. “I was actually talking and participating in several of the shows. We’d bring out some small animals and talk about them, give the public some facts. It really helped me with my public speaking, which is a really important skill to have, especially in college.”
“It made me realize that I enjoy talking to the public,” she adds. “And I found a zoo that does wildlife biology, and also does a lot of public outreach.”
Interning at Out of Africa during the summers gave Grogan invaluable hands-on time with the animals. Subsequently, she has been able to bring her experiences home to roost at FLC.
“Fort Lewis supported the internship and when I came back, I could base a lot of projects on what I had learned,” she says. “For instance, I did a project for my parasitology class on a parasite that affects lions. And for a mammalogy course, I did a project on the EHV-9 virus, which is in zoos worldwide, and which our rhino might have had.”
These classes helped Grogan continue to pursue her passion. She’d always loved animals, wanting to be a veterinarian since childhood. “But I switched my focus to wildlife biology and wildlife conservation because of my internship,” she says. “I love the science behind veterinary medicine, but in the classes I took, especially the wildlife disease class with Dr. Lehmer, I learned how much more I can do in terms of research.”
Grogan says that the close connections she has with her Biology professors have helped direct her into what she wants to do with her life.
“We have top researchers to work with,” she explains, “and I feel like I learn more at Fort Lewis than I would at any big school. And I really love the relationships I’ve built with my professors. They challenge me. I’m able to talk with my professors and get their support with my internships. They gave me that extra push to keep going and keep trying.”
One example of support brought Grogan full circle earlier this summer. Associate Professor of Biology Erin Lehmer coordinated a visit to Out of Africa with her field zoology class. Grogan set up the trip with the park, and then she led the class through its visit.
And the most thrilling part of all happened when she took the class to see Jericho the rhino.
“I got the group a rhino encounter,” she says. “I called him out, and he came. He remembered my voice after a whole year.”
Those are the moments that ignite Grogan to keep pursuing her passions. “This whole experience with the park helped me figure out that I could do research, as well as talking to people and educating them about wildlife’s importance,” she says. “All wildlife, anywhere in the world. That’s really rewarding.”