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Most Wilmington College agriculture students majoring in animal science plan to work with cattle, dairy, sheep, and similar livestock found on Ohio farms.

Senior Colton Smith wants to work with sea animals like dolphins, seals and sea lions.

Her internships over the past two summers reflect her interest in not-so-mundane species. Indeed, he helped secure the 2021 population of sea turtles in the Atlantic Ocean, and this summer he worked with lions, tigers, monkeys and a category he referred to as “everything else.” ” in an endangered animal reserve home to more than 100 species.

Smith is a transfer student from the University of Findlay, but Wilmington College has been a familiar place all his life. The Wilmington resident and 2018 Wilmington High School graduate is the son of former WC student and longtime staff member Tammy Shadley-Hutton, Senior Director of Advancement Operations.

“I’ve always had an interest in animals – I can’t tell you how many zoos or aquariums I went to as a child,” he said. “I didn’t think much about jobs in this field back then, but as I got older I learned that there were so many opportunities. It was great to realize that my interests in animals can lead to a career and not just be a hobby.

Smith was committed to an animal hospital in Surf City, North Carolina, which helps sea turtles injured in boating and hooking accidents. “I chopped a lot of fish and squid,” he said of one of his infirmary duties.

The other half of his internship involved the scheduled release of turtles on nearby Topsail Island. He investigated areas where sea turtles laid their eggs in the sand to ensure that nests were safe from tides, predators and swimmers while performing tasks that facilitated the success of the often perilous journey of sea turtles. turtle hatchlings in the ocean.

“It was very cool to work in a natural environment with your feet in the sand,” he said.

He knew it would be hard to top that summer internship until he discovered the opportunities at Tiger World, an endangered wildlife sanctuary in Rockwell, North Carolina. The nonprofit accredited zoo features dozens of species, including bears, birds, kangaroos, ligers, lynxes, sloths, and wolves, in addition to rare tigers and lions.

Smith’s 12-week internship allowed him to spend three weeks in each of the four reserve areas. “We ran tours, set up and staffed teaching stations – and kind of gained knowledge in each area after three weeks,” he said.

The centerpiece of her summer experience was working closely with four cubs: three lions and a leopard. No tiger was born there this summer.

“The leopard cub was two years old when I arrived at Tiger World and a lioness was pregnant,” he added.

Once she had her young, Smith was part of a rotation of trainees who fed them every three hours. He also helped ensure the big cats got their dietary supplements and vitamins as a truckload of 600 pounds of chicken and beef drove around at mealtime each day.

“I don’t think I ate chicken fillets for about two weeks after I started working with all that raw chicken,” he said.

Smith mentioned that some of the big cats were born in captivity while others were “straight rescues” from the wild. “There is a big difference between them and those who have been bottle-fed since birth.”

While working in pens with the Cubs, some of the highly trained permanent staff members gained “free contact” with some big cats. “I saw them come in with a 400-pound tiger,” he added, noting that some of the rescued cats had traumatic pasts and, known as “hot animals,” would never be placed face-to-face. face with a human.

Even though his rotations took him from the lion and tiger areas to the corners of the monkeys and “everything else” in the zoo, Smith always came back to the cats to check on the cubs he worked with directly. “The difference in height between birth and 14 weeks was remarkable!” he said.

As often and closely as he interacted with the cubs throughout the summer, Smith wonders if they will remember him after five or more years, a wonder of nature often seen between wild animals and humans. in popular documentaries. “Would they pick up my scent?” I would be interested to know if the lions would recognize me,” he said. “I know they are potentially very dangerous animals, but I hope to one day be able to hang out with them in an enclosure.”

Smith understands the sentiments of those who oppose zoos and believe that all animals should be left to their own devices in the wild. “I’m glad people care about animals – so do I,” he said, noting that Tiger World has many extinct species in the wild.

“It’s important to remind people that if we don’t take care of them in captivity, we will lose this species of animal.”

After two summers in North Carolina working with unique reptiles and animals, Smith looks forward to graduating from Wilmington College in May and pursuing her interest in aquatic species, possibly with the goal of training dolphins, seals and sea lions. He earned his scuba diving certification this summer to aid in this pursuit.

“I have a love for felines, but I lean towards the marine side. I am impressed by their high level of intelligence,” he said, confident that his summer internships combined with the knowledge acquired through his college studies provided fundamental experiences that will make him particularly marketable in his chosen field. .

“I hope (potential employers) will see that I took the initiative to spend my summers doing these internships, which was unpaid work. I also want them to see the variety of animals I’ve worked with,” he said. “I was lucky to have such exciting college internships.

Feeding a couple of ring-tailed lemurs.

Colton Smith plays with a lion cub and a leopard during his summer internship at Tiger World in North Carolina.

Senior WC had a big cat summer internship