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Respect, responsibility all part of the job for GSU students

June 05, 2018

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He is studying electrical engineering and plans to put his education to work in that field after graduation. She is studying biology, and says she isn’t sure what path her career will take, but she wants it to be something “wildlifey.”

Mason Moore and Rachel Bird are both juniors at Georgia Southern University, and both are working at The Center for Wildlife Education on campus. Moore has been on the job less than a year, while Bird has worked at the center for around two years.

Both have discovered a love for wildlife and its preservation.

Hailing from Newnan, Georgia, Moore says he chose to go to GSU because the engineering college at the university was so welcoming. He decided to find a part-time job, and wanted to work on campus because of the convenience that would offer. Since taking the job, Moore says he has learned a lot.

“It’s taught me a lot about the environment. A lot of stuff, if I wasn’t here, I wouldn’t have known about,” he said.

Those things include learning about the protection of birds of prey and why that is so important, and the difference between venomous and non-venomous snakes. These are important lessons, he feels, for anyone who chooses to spend time in nature.

“I would never have known those things if I hadn’t worked here,” he added.

Bird is a Statesboro native who decided to remain at home and attend college, partly to be near her family and friends, and partly for economic reasons. She also enjoys working at the center and, like Moore, has gained a lot of knowledge.

“It’s fun because I’ll learn about some things here, and then I’ll see it in my classes. Or I’ll learn something in my classes and then I’ll apply it here. I’ll see an animal at work and now I know things about it,” she said.

One example of this comes through her contact with the fat-tailed gecko at the center. Bird had learned that the animal’s skin is water repellent, and this led her to do a research project in one of her physiology classes. Having contact with the animal made the project more impactful for her.

It’s also impacted her career choice. She isn’t sure specifically what she wants to do, but says she definitely wants it to involve wildlife and research.

“It could be teaching as a professor, with research on the side,” she said. “I’m not really sure.”

The responsibilities at the center for both students include the care and handling of the animals, as well as educating the children who visit there. Hundreds of children visit the center each year, in small groups and as part of field trips, and the staff also makes off-site visits to area schools and libraries.

Bird says the job was different than what she had thought it would be initially.

“It was not what I expected at all. I thought it would be, more so, caring for the animals and feeding them, that kind of stuff. I didn’t expect that amount of kids whenever I started here,” she said.

Moore agrees. He had previously worked at a children’s play place, so says that in a sense, he was prepared. But the environment at that job was much more chaotic. At the wildlife center, visits by groups of children are much more structured. And he loves that they’re not just supervising children; they’re helping them learn.

“It feels a lot better to not just tell kids what to do, but also to educate them on stuff,” he said.

Student employees at the center are each given a lot of information to absorb, all about the animals and their care. They’re expected to learn that information, and then they receive some on-the-job training. They start slowly, with reptiles and cockroaches, and work their way up to the flight birds. The experience is a bit intense, but both students say it’s so worth it.

“When I first got (the job), I was very shy; I didn’t want to do much. It kind of forces you to get out of your shell, whether it be by public speaking or going in a 14-foot snake enclosure and she’s mad. It really breaks you out of your comfort zone. I really like that a lot,” Bird said.

Each student has a favorite animal that they enjoy working with. For Moore, it’s the horned owls, both the flight and display birds. No one else enjoys working with them, he says, because they can be a bit aggressive. But he finds them fascinating.

“I didn’t know that owls were built for stealth, so they’re very quiet. I think that appeals to me from an engineering mindset,” he said.

Moore said he enjoys handling all of the animals and had one exception, until recently — the eastern hog nose snake. The snake has been very aggressive, and has some defense mechanisms that are a bit off-putting, such as flattening his head to look like a cobra, bleeding out of his eyes and hissing. Those things, Moore said, were very effective for him.

“I was just afraid to really deal with him, but now he’s, like, really calm. I’m not sure what changed,” he said, laughing.

Bird says her favorite animal is the barn owl, which she says is “cute, small and fluffy.”

“Every time you walk up to him and look at him, at least girls, he doesn’t like the guys too much, if you talk to him, he always talks back,” she said.

Bird’s least favorite chore, she says, is cleaning up what the birds leave behind after they’ve eaten.  

Moore and Bird each say that their most memorable moments on the job have come as a result of working with the flight birds.

“The image of seeing a hawk flying and you can see his face and his talons coming in and landing on your glove; that is what I will always remember. It’s really cool. Not many people get the opportunity to see that,” Bird said.

Both students plan to continue working at the center until graduation, and will be working there all summer this year. Their help will be needed, as there will be summer camps, off-site visits to more than 20 locations and many on-site field trips as well.

And both students have learned to appreciate what the center means to their campus, as well as to the community.  Moore says it’s important for people to understand the impact their actions have on the environment.

“We can learn from these animals. Just by knowing about nature, you can learn from it,” Bird added. “The more you learn about it, the more you respect it.”

Online registration for summer camp sessions at The Center for Wildlife Education at Georgia Southern University are now open. The center is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m., and on Saturday, 1 to 4:45 p.m. A 30-minute wildlife program is offered each afternoon, Monday through Friday. For more information on what the center has to offer and admission rates, go online at, or call (912) 478-0831.



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