Student Stories: Veterinary major enlightened by exotic zoo animals

Undergraduate students could take a page out of Leah Giralico’s book when it comes to figuring out a focus for their studies. Although the veterinary and biomedical sciences major in the College of Agricultural Sciences has always had a passion for animals, she came to Penn State unsure of what type of practice she wanted to pursue.

"I have had my fair share of small animal experience," the Nazareth native said. "I have shadowed local vets, volunteered at animal shelters and even raised Seeing Eye puppies. I wanted an internship to see a completely different side of animal medicine."

Last summer, Giralico found an internship at the Lehigh Valley Zoo in Schnecksville that exposed her to exotic animals -- an area of veterinary medicine she had not planned to explore.

The zoo was originally the Lehigh Valley Trexler Game Preserve, which was founded in 1906 and played a significant role in saving the North American bison from extinction. The preserve transitioned into a zoo accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums in 2004 when the Lehigh Valley Zoological Society assumed management of all 29 acres.

"The zoo is smaller than most major accredited zoos, which allowed me a much more intimate internship experience than a larger zoo would have offered," Giralico said.

As an animal-care intern, she did not work directly with the veterinary staff, but with the zookeepers taking care of the animals. She helped open and close the zoo, which required her to be there two hours earlier and two hours later than the zoo was open to the public.

She also assisted with cleaning the animal exhibits, preparing animal diets, feeding the animals, implementing animal enrichment and performing general examinations of the animals.

Some of the creatures Giralico grew to love were the "adorable" penguins and Louie, the 1-year-old fennec fox.

"He acted like a puppy," she said. "He would prance around the exhibit, bite at your sock and run away, but then he would run up the walls -- foxes can do that. It was the craziest thing."

After having such a rewarding experience, Giralico's passion for animals, specifically exotic animals, only has grown stronger.

"I fell in love with it and how every single day is different," she said. "I'm only a sophomore, but I'm already looking at vet schools that offer degrees in exotic medicine."

Learn about the veterinary and biomedical sciences major.

 

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Last Updated November 20, 2014