Southeast Student Following Her Passion at Saint Louis Zoo

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Southeast Missouri State University student Emma Ahern of Webster Groves, Missouri, has learned there’s no monkeying around this summer at the Saint Louis Zoo.

Ahern has learned there’s lots of hard work behind the scenes of a place that she’s long had a passion to visit.

A senior double major in global cultures and languages, with an option in anthropology, and biology, with an option in organismal, ecological and evolutionary biology, Ahern is interning this summer in the Primate House at the Saint Louis Zoo.

“I’ve been going to the Saint Louis Zoo since I was a little kid, and the Primate House was my favorite part to go to every time,” Ahern said. “When I decided on my major(s) and found out I needed an internship, the Saint Louis Zoo was the first place I thought of.”

The Primate House is home to lemurs and old and new world monkeys such as Allen’s swamp monkeys, Coquerel’s sifaka and black lemurs. Separated only by glass, visitors to the zoo are able to enjoy a variety of primates in an engaging exhibit.

Ahern shadows the zoo keepers to learn about the diet and training the various animals participate in each day. She also assists in animal enrichment activities and cleaning the habitats.

Southeast student Emma Ahern helps set up a bucket with ball pit balls and food in kong toys as part of an enrichment activity in the spider monkey habitat in the Primate House at the Saint Louis Zoo.

Enrichment activities are an important part of the animals’ care for their physiological and physiological well-being. She’s helped hang buckets with ball pit balls and food in kong toys to encourage the animals to forage for their food, Ahern said.

“The swamp monkeys are very intelligent,” she said. “It was really interesting trying to pick out the enrichment for them because you had to make it very challenging. You also have to make sure you’ve locked everything up because they are so smart they can take things apart.”

She also enjoys working with the Coquerel’s sifaka as they perform eye-catching leaps.

“They are a very interesting lemur species, and I love watching them,” she said.

The experience is allowing Ahern to learn about a zoo keeper’s interactions with specific species and what it takes to care for the animals.

“I get to learn all about the species that they care for in the Primate House and how different each of them are,” Ahern said. “I am seeing how zoos work and how much they do for the animals and the conservation work of animals all around the world.”

Ahern added she has enjoyed the opportunity to work in her chosen career field, and her experiences have deepened her love for zoology.

“I hope to learn more about animals and animal care from all the keepers I am working with and be able to carry that on in the future,” said Ahern, who plans to pursue a graduate degree in primatology after graduating from Southeast in December 2019. “Every day I am here, I learn something new, and it’s the best experience I’ve ever had.”