Ashley Carter isn't royalty, but she spends most of her days in a palace--the Pachyderm Palace in Tampa, Fla., to be exact.
Carter, AG '05, recently began work as an elephant keeper at Busch Gardens Africa, where she and her fellow trainers are responsible for the care of five female Asian elephants, which have their own habitat in the Nairobi section of the park. The elephants are housed in a large exhibit known as the Pachyderm Palace with areas that are viewable to the public, including a lake that's big enough for the animals to completely submerge.
The trainers set up, clean and maintain the habitat and feed and care for the elephants, Carter said, in addition to “conduct[ing] routine blood work, ultrasounds and foot care.”
Public education is a key part of her responsibilities, as well. “We interact with the public throughout the day, in front of the habitat,” she said. “We talk about our training techniques and answer general questions about our elephants.”
Busch Gardens is one of the largest zoos in North America. Along with its related organization, Sea World, it connects visitors with the natural world through educational programs and animal interactions and supports conservation projects around the world.
“When people can see and get close to an elephant or a kinkajou, or one of the many other animals that we use in our programs, it connects them to animals around the world,” said Jill Revelle, senior manager of communications at the Tampa Busch Gardens. “They see and appreciate what's in front of them and want to help the rest.”
Carter, who grew up in Marlton, N.J., has been interested in animal science since high school, when she worked at a kennel in a veterinary hospital.
After graduation, Carter began exploring various careers--from veterinary clinics to research positions to investigations of animal cruelty cases--and later accepted an internship at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Fla., where she worked in the rehabilitation hospital with dolphins, whales and sea turtles. She called the experience rewarding, noting that she helped conduct research on wild dolphin populations in Sarasota Bay.
Carter began her job as associate animal care specialist at Busch Gardens in June.
“I really never defined where I wanted to work or what animal I wanted to work with specifically,” she said. “But the zoo/aquarium atmosphere was something that I wanted to experience, and when the opportunity at Busch Gardens came up, I couldn't think of anything better. To think that I could be a part of such a wonderful team that uses positive reinforcement, and is so involved in conservation projects, was great.”
Carter credited her undergraduate education, including study abroad programs in New Zealand and the Galapagos and a variety of hands-on experiences, with preparing her well for her career. For example, she said, she studied artificial insemination in a UD dairy production course and now works with that program at Busch Gardens, monitoring the elephants through routine ultrasounds for reproductive success. The zoo tracks the genetic lines of all its animals as part of the Species Survival Plan Program coordinated by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to ensure that breeding programs retain healthy bloodlines.
“It's very rewarding to be here at Busch Gardens and to be a part of efforts to increase the Asian elephant population and bring awareness to the cause,” Carter said. “Having a baby elephant here would be very exciting.”
Article by Katy O'Connell, AG '00
Photos courtesy of Busch Gardens Africa, Tampa, Fla.