If you're just joining us, you may wish to start with Part 1 of my interview with Matt, a naturalist at our local nature center, who is telling us what it's like to become a naturalist.
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Matt, how do you repair a turtle shell?
It's tricky--their shell is made of bone cells--it's bone. Their spine is attached to the shell, their pelvis and hip bones, etc. So the shell is very much a part of them. You have to clean out any wounds first; we often use an iodine solution. Then we make a splint from a zip tie, hot gluing the ties together--this stabilizes the shell. Then we use an epoxy and seal the shell. It's very important to clean out the wound first, because you don't want to seal in any dirt or insects. Pond turtles have delicate shells; they're more difficult to repair; but box turtles have tough shells, so it's easier. It's like fixing a broken bone, you put them in a cast.
We rely on donations to give them the medicine they need, or in special cases, to get them vet care.
What other animals do you care for at the nature center?
We mostly care for reptiles; turtles, lizards, snakes. Snakes are more rare. They get caught in glue traps (that are intended to catch small rodents) and we use vegetable oil to free them. It's harder if they get caught in a garden fence, they injure themselves when they're trying to get out of it.
We do care for other injured animals, but we contact a wildlife rescue league for many of these. We can't care for animals that might be prone to rabies, because we have so many visitors at our center. We don't often care for birds, because they require around-the-clock care, which we typically can't give.
Could you describe a typical day at your job?
We have certain animal care tasks that we do daily, but there's never a dull moment. One day we might have five education programs, then we're training volunteers, then people are bringing in injured animals, or a plant to identify. We have summer camp, we also have school programs or we go out to schools to teach kids about nature.
What is your favorite part of your job?
I love being around animals and kids.
Is there anything difficult about your job?
If you're not into multitasking, that could be hard. We could be talking to a visitor and the next moment caring for an animal that's been struck by a car.
Do you have any interesting or memorable stories to tell about your job?
Seeing kids grow up--we would do tiny tot programs for kids that are only 2 years old; then you would see them at a program for preschoolers; then going on to the programs for 6 to 10 year-olds. Seeing them grow up and come back year after year. It's very rewarding to hear from a parent that a kid learned something at a program and talks about it all the time.
Also, giving an animal a second chance is always rewarding--when they are rehabilitated and then we release them and they go back to where they came from.
How can a kid become a naturalist? What should they do?
Well, of course, they can attend programs at a nature center. But they should get a pet. Have their parents take them out on hikes. Get outside. Around middle school age, they can start volunteering at a local nature center if they have one. They often take kids as young as 13.
We explain to young volunteers all about animal care--they can observe educational programs--and they can learn about the whole realm of caring for nature. They can see what we do and get ideas about jobs they'd like to have someday. Maybe they'd like to be a vet, or a zoo keeper, or an ecologist, or a teacher.
They should also try to get a variety of jobs involving the outdoors. For example, I had a summer job with the national park service. But in the urban areas, they tend to be more oriented toward the historical than the natural. So I learned that this was not for me.
I studied biology and environmental studies in college; but someone else at the center has a degree in psychology. I would say, any kind of science-related knowledge and background would be useful.
Mason bee nest.
Last question--what's the difference between a zoologist and a naturalist?
I would say a zoo keeper works almost completely with animals, not interacting with the public much at all; they are concentrating on improving species conservation. Naturalists--one of our biggest goals is education. And yes, you work with animals, but these are animals you find in your backyard and nearby environments, and they aren't usually endangered species.
Matt, thank you so much for taking the time to share with us what it's like to be a naturalist.
(All photos were taken on our family's most recent visit to the nature center where Matt works.)