---- — FULTON, Mo. - Almost every adult can remember their childhood pipe dreams-anything from being an astronaut, to growing up to be a big-time doctor or even, the president.
Childhood imagination creates elaborate and virtually impossible experiences the younger version of ourselves wants to accomplish in adulthood. Not many career paths children choose in elementary school pan out, but one William Woods University student was able to live out many children’s wildest dreams: to spend an entire summer living at a zoo.
Katey Bilskey, a junior from Knightstown, interned at Stapp’s Circle S Ranch, a privately owned zoo in the town of Greensburg. Typical zoo internships usually entail dirty work-shoveling the cages filled with unmentionable excrements or picking up trash from tour groups.
However, Bilskey’s experience was unique. Because her internship was at a privately owned zoo, she was able to get hands-on experience with animals while learning the ins and outs of the zoo.
“If I had worked at a public zoo [such as St. Louis] I would have had no interaction with the animals. I probably would’ve shoveled poop all day,” Bilskey said.
The biology major served as a surrogate mother of sorts for a few baby animals in the zoo.
“My job was to stay with a baby lion, tiger and lemur 24/7 and look over them at all times to make sure they were doing okay,” she said. “Every night I would wake up every four hours to feed the lemur and tiger because they had the same feeding schedule. I lived at the zoo because I had to stay with the babies all through the night.
“In the morning, I cleaned cages and did a few housekeeping things before the doors of the zoo opened to the public. People could pay extra to come into the baby room to interact with the pups. I also watched two twin black bears during the day.”
Bilskey says her internship experience was amazing and working with animals within a zoo is what she wants to pursue as a career.
“I always knew I wanted to work with animals, but after this summer I know for sure I want to work within a zoo,” Bilskey said.
“I would love to work at the same zoo again next summer, and they really want me to come back. It would be amazing to go back and create those emotional ties again, but I know I should explore more options for what I want to do.”
Bilskey has many irreplaceable memories from her summer as a live-in surrogate mother for three exotic animals.
“I grew such an emotional attachment for the animals I took care of. By the end of the summer, I could tell they recognized me when I entered the room, and they came to me for affection or support, like I was their true mother. It was a great feeling I had never experienced before.”
The emotional attachment Bilskey had was extremely profound.
“The hardest thing I have had to do was leave them because I had to come back to school; it was extremely sad. I had a moment when I considered not even coming back to school because I didn’t want to leave my babies.”
But Bilskey is back on campus, on her way to finish her junior year. What may have been a childhood dream of many, is now a potential, wonderful career for this William Woods student.