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Internship Dreams

“The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy
than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”
– Christopher McCandless

My previous internship adventures (read here) have stuck in my mind as rainbows and butterflies and frolicking through the wildflowers because that is how I generally feel about the work I do as a wildlife biology intern. I love it. However, I want to approach this adventure from an additional perspective because I think it is important to describe how I not only learn from the wildlife related work that I love, but also how I learn valuable life skills and lessons from the hardships and challenges I face in my internship adventures. This summer was like three different books rather than one fluent beginning, middle, and end. Every day was different throughout the summer, posing new tasks, hardships, experiences, views, etc.

As a little girl, I remember dreaming about working on a ranch out West one day. While that is not where I have ended up, I have achieved the ultimate goal in the greatest capacity thus far. I have landed myself in what I think is some of the most beautiful areas of the country working with majestic wildlife that I absolutely adore. While I have applied for the internships and interviewed for the positions by myself, that is literally the only part I could do alone. So, let me reflect on my gypsy adventure and take you along with me.

It all began by cramming all my exams into 2 days, loading my Ford F-150 down from top to bottom, and leaving on May 9, 2017, for another adventurous internship out West. This time, I would take on the high desert in southeast Wyoming. So excited to be returning to what felt like a home that I had been away from for a year too long, I got choked up when I hit the wide open spaces in Texas and again when I finally reached the snow-capped mountains of the Colorful Colorado. I knew then that I was in for another summer of a lifetime no matter what I would be tasked to do. I was hired as a field technician for the Deer Elk Ecology Research (D.E.E.R.) Project based out of the University of Wyoming in Laramie, Wyoming. The goal of the project is to determine why mule deer have been declining over the last decade. Meanwhile, elk populations in the same area have doubled. To cover several bases in hopes of answering the question of why, we are looking at components such as survival of fawns and calves, nutrition, causes of mortality, etc. Therefore, while this job may sound like an awesome walk in the park as I describe it, keep in mind, it is a very complex project with multiple components unfolding in an unforgiving desert habitat, which is one reason why I loved the work and learned so much from it. The first week on the job presented us with our first test. We set up camp south of Rock Springs, Wyoming, which consisted of two wall tents furnished with bunk cots for us to sleep and store our stuff on in the midst of the study area. Then, the weather decided to give us a taste of what it is like to live and work in Wyoming. The second day of work, we drove out of camp in a blizzard to go check on a few elk around Miller Mountain. We made it to the top where it looked like Narnia. It was a white abyss, and the wind was blowing at least 40 miles per hour. As I held up the antenna to listen for a responding beeping pattern from the elk’s collar, I leaned back against the wind and punched the frequency into the receiver. I heard the low beeps of her collar coming from down below us in a draw on the side of the mountain. I listened for her Vaginal Implant Transmitter (VIT) as well to see if she was still pregnant, but unlike the collar, I could not hear the VIT. As I quickly learned, the VIT’s are not as strong as the collars, which ultimately means you have to be in close proximity, and that means hiking down the mountain to lessen the distance between the elk and me. After hiking and sliding about three quarters of a mile down, I could hear the VIT and the frequency of the beeps indicated that it was still in the elk, and she was still pregnant. This was my first taste of the steep Wyoming terrain and my first taste of the rest of the summer combining technology and wildlife to effectively handle and study these animals. The next few days were filled with ATV rides to check coyote traps, deer, and elk, chaining up truck tires, getting stuck in slushy mud, and being banned from returning to camp for a night by the Sheriff due to road closures. How much can you learn in one week?
More than I thought.

Elk Capture –  Read more about Lindsay’s adventure here