The new Biology and Management of Zoo Animals Program starts its second year
Photos and Story by Janis Nichols
Ready to get up close and personal with giraffes, reptiles or some exotic birds?
A new PCC program focused on the biology of animals, some of them endangered species, is perfect for animal lovers hoping to answer the call of the wild.
Last fall the college launched the two-year associate of applied science degree in Biology and Management of Zoo Animals. It is a partnership with the Oregon Zoo and the Oregon National Primate Research Center at Oregon Health & Science University. Housed at the Rock Creek Campus, the program is one of six in the U.S. and the only one in the Northwest.
“The response to the program has been strong,” said Joyce Kaplan, faculty chair. “The program is unique in this region and its strength comes both from the curriculum and from our program partners. In addition to their experience at the Zoo throughout the program, students will be working in their first term with animals at the Rock Creek campus farm, Oregon National Primate Research Center at Oregon Health & Science University, Alpacas of Tualatin Valley and Audubon Society of Portland’s Wildlife Care Center. Additional opportunities for experience are being added at Wildlife Safari, WildCat Haven, House of Reptiles, and White Oak Conservation Center.
“Our community partners provide opportunities for on-site experience and the mentors at these facilities who work with our students are among the best in the country,” she added. “Through the conservation programs at the Oregon Zoo, for example, students will study the current best practices involved with captive rearing of endangered species and restoring them to their native habitats.”
Most of the coursework is based at Rock Creek and the zoo. Students can expect a rigorous science curriculum focused on biology and zoology, as well as required courses that engage students in animal training and exhibit design and construction. This fall, a total of 24 students have enrolled in the program.
Students in the program have created the Zoo Science Club to explore animal care facilities, cultivate zoological knowledge, and promote conservation efforts. The club has been working together with the Portland chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers to support a number of conservation fundraisers such as Bowling for Rhinos.
Kaplan is enthusiastic about the number of students from across the country who have inquired about the program. High school students have discovered they can get a head start on prerequisites through dual enrollment programs, and other students who have two-year degrees and even four-year degrees are visiting the website to learn more.
“What’s really required is a passion for animal welfare and wildlife in general,” Kaplan said.
Student Kate Van Raden is ready for this new adventure.
“I’ve taken care of strays all my life,” said the Glencoe High School graduate and 2007 graduate of Willamette University. “I’ve always been protective of animals. It’s part of who I am.”
Recently, Van Raden lived in Costa Rica to work on a sloth preserve for orphaned or wounded adult sloths. These odd looking members of the anteater family played a key role in her decision to pursue a career dedicated to helping animals.
“These animals don’t thrive once they return to their native habitats and need extended care in order to survive,” Van Raden added. “Their situation really made me aware of how animals are challenged by changes in their environment, changes often man-made.”
While watching television, Van Raden saw a man who works with endangered species. He mentioned a zoo program at Pensacola State College, a program that was directed by Kaplan at the time.
“When I heard that Dr. Kaplan was moving to PCC, I knew I had found what I was looking for,” Van Raden said. “My goal is to become a curator or a zoo keeper. Animal enrichment is about making life for animals in captivity safe, engaging and humane. The PCC program is hands-on and it incorporates animal enrichment, which is what the Costa Rica experience was all about.
“The Oregon Zoo is ranked third best in the country after the San Diego Zoo and the Bronx Zoo,” she said. “I can easily see myself staying here for my entire career and this PCC program is the first step toward that goal.”