The National Tigers for Tigers Coalition has recently partnered with the Refuge Association to provide special internship opportunities for Tigers for Tigers members on various refuges throughout the country.
Sierra Hoisington, a Wildlife Biology major at Clemson University, is interning this summer at Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia. Sierra is a rising Junior and has been involved with Tigers for Tigers for two years. I sat down for a quick Q&A with Sierra about her internship and time at Okefenokee.
Sierra as an owl as part of a library program focused on swamp education!
C: What have you done so far/what are your duties as an intern?
S: For the month of June, I am working in Visitor Services due to the large amount of people who visit the swamp in this month (in July, I will be switching to the Biology and Forestry Departments.) Duties associated with this part of my internship include educational outreach, maintenance of the Visitor's Center & the Environmental Education classroom, taking part in the planning & implementation of our Junior Refuge Ranger Summer Camp, teaching educational programs, and the general tasks that come up on a day-to-day basis.
So far I've participated in multiple environmental education programs in which we travel to libraries up to an hour and a half away. There, we put on our "Oke Friends Swamp Theater" Puppet Show in which the children in attendance get to learn about the importance and threats to swamp animals such as owls, alligators, and frogs. With these programs, I either get to help out preforming the puppet show, help with the program, or I get to be one of our several mascots that the children love to get their picture with. I've also helped with our annual Children's Fishing Derby at our sister refuge, Banks Lake. That was a lot of fun because there were so many activities for the kids to learn about appreciating nature and see the swamp in a whole other light. Recently though, my main duties have been focused on the execution of our Junior Refuge Ranger Summer Camp. A lot hours has gone into planning this two week event - and our first day was today and it was a total success! (6/17/15) Some of the activities that the kids get to participate in are a Okefenokee Swamp boat tour, fishing, "Be a Wildlife Biologist", a boardwalk hike, and many many more fun things. My duties surrounding this event included every aspect of the more administrative duties to right down with being with the children at all times.
I also had a day last week where I was able to go out with Georgia DNR and help and watch them complete some of the Gopher Tortoise studies. In the field, we completed line transects in the thick brush to look for these tortoise's burrows. Once we would find a burrow, the process of finding out if a tortoise was "home" commenced. We would then feed a camera scope down into the burrow (which can be up to 40 ft long and 10 ft deep) and see if you could spot a tortoise within the burrow. It was a very cool experience, and I'm very glad I could participate.
Sierra as an owl as part of a library program focused on swamp education
C: Have you been to a refuge before your internship?
S: No, I have never been on a refuge prior to this internship. But now that I've seen what they can include, I'm determined to visit a bunch more!
C: What were you expecting out of your internship?
S: I was expecting a well-rounded view of what takes place on a National Wildlife Refuge. I had always heard about US Fish & Wildlife, but had never really gotten to fully see first-hand what the organization does. And honestly, after only being in this internship for about two weeks - I can say that I definitely want to work for US Fish & Wildlife at some point in my career.
C: What's one thing you've learned so far?
S: One thing I've learned so far is the extreme importance of education and outreach. These younger kids are our future. And if we want our wilderness to stay wild and protected, we need to educate the importance of appreciation of our wildlife and habitats to younger generations. They love to learn about animals and the environment, and it's a great joy to see their faces when they learn something new.
C: What's it like interning on a refuge?
S: Interning on a refuge is a lot of fun! You start off the day with driving a government vehicle into work on one of the most historic swamps in the world and life can't get much better than that. Your view of the swamp lets you see American Alligators every time you look out to that water. Preparation for programs is the day to day work and the fact that you are surrounded by an awesome staff makes every day fun and different.
C: Would you recommend the internship to other students?
S: Oh my goodness, yes! Again, I've only been on the refuge for a short amount of time but I love it and never want to leave.
C: What's been your favorite moment/day so far?
S: My favorite day thus far was today, our first day of summer camp. The kids just had such a great time all day, but my favorite part was when we all took a boat tour on the swamp together. The kids would get so excited at every gator we saw (and we probably saw around 40-50 on our 1 hour boat ride) We got to show the kids a pair of Barred Owls perched on a Cypress tree on the edge of the canal, egrets, Great Blue Herons, and even a what we believe was a Spoonbill. Giving kids that appreciation of the swamp is something that is super invaluable and something I'll cherish for a long time.
Okefenokee has been nominated as one of the top 10 camping sites in the US by USA Today, and it is the only national wildlife refuge to be nominated! Please cast your vote for Okefenokee by clicking the this link.