Snag That Dream Job: I with rhinos!

Jodi the rhinoceros
Photo by Cait Rohan
What do you wanna be when you grow up? GL recently had the chance to go to SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and Discovery Cove in Florida to interview peeps with some of the most coveted jobs in the world (dolphin trainers, roller coaster engineers, animal pathologists and more!).

Find out how they got started and how YOU could score one of these coveted careers someday.
Rhinos aren't the animal that come to mind when you think of "cute." I'll admit when we walked over to the White Rhinos part of the park I really just expected to see a great, ginormous animal lumbering around, and I didn't really know how much the animal trainer would have to say about it.
So I was pleasantly surprised to talk with animal care expert Katie Timko and meet Jodi the rhino. It was obvious that Katie LOVED her job—she had so much enthusiasm and energy when she talked about caring for rhinos. Even cooler? Rhinos are way smarter and funner than I ever imagined them to be.
And I never thought I'd see a rhino paint me a picture (no, you didn't just read that wrong!). Katie used a special brush to put paint on Jodi's nose. At the command "PAINT," Katie held up a small blank canvas and Jodi maneuvered her nose around the create a pretty picture. I was so amazed by our rhino-artist that I took home one of her works. It's hanging in my office right now as a reminder of how smart rhinos are!
Animal trainer Katie and Jodi the rhino paint a picture
Photo by Cait Rohan
Katie told me all about what's it's like to work with rhinos. Are rhinoceroses right up your ally? Heart animals? Wanna feel like you're on safari every day? This job might be right for you!

GL: Tell us a little bit about how you got started...did you always know you wanted to work with animals? And rhinos in particular?
Katie: I’ve always been fascinated by animals. I remember being little and playing with our family dog and watching him play with the different toys, and I was like, “I want to do that! Why can’t I just play with toys?” So I thought, veterinarian, makes a lot of sense, you get to help a lot of animals.
Then I came to Busch Gardens as an adventure camp counselor. It was awesome. It was resident camp, kids came from around the country, stayed for a week or two, and you worked with the zookeepers and the animals. When I saw the relationship the zookeepers had with the animals, I realized that's what I wanted to do.I have a lot of respect for veterinarians, but here we get to play with our animals.
Yeah, there is a lot work involved, trust me. But in the afternoon, when all the cleaning is done, a lot of the feeding is done, then you get to do training session and play hide-and-go-seek with the rhino. You get to go scratch the calf and have some fun. That is really what’s enjoyable.

GL: What did you study in school, that helped prepare you for the job?
Katie: I was always about biology, the sciences and psychology. I like anatomy, earth science, the ecosystems and when I got to college I was pre-veterinary medicine. So [I did] a lot of animal stuff, until I came here, and totally changed my viewpoint. And then I went back to school and I studied a lot of psychology, animal behavior and neurobiology.
I’m a huge science dork. I love how things work, I love how animals work, I love how animals can think things out. You really have to look at things from the animal’s viewpoint.  A rhino has to be smart enough to hunt trees, but a lion has to be smart enough to hunt prey. So you have a different type of thinking involved with each one, and it’s the differences that make each animal enjoyable. I volunteered a lot. I worked with horses, I worked with dogs. I did a lot of stuff the humane society, just, a lot of dog sittings, animals that way too.
GL: What advice would you give to a young girl interested in this field?

Katie: If you love science, don’t be afraid to show it. I know a lot of people who were ridiculed for being science dorks. I’m proud of it. I wear it like a badge. So stick by it, do something you enjoy.
When you go to college, don’t study what you think you should study, take the classes you enjoy and figure out your major from there. My mom thought I should be a teacher. So she tried to get me to take teaching classes, but I enjoyed science classes. I enjoyed the animal classes. And I figured out from there, if I liked those classes why shouldn’t I like that for my life? I’m never going to get rich from my job, but I look forward to work every day. I have a passion about this that is a lot of fun, and to me, that’s worth more than, buying a new jetski.
GL: What would you say is the hardest part of your job?
Katie: Oh, the hardest part of my job might be waking up at 5 a.m. But it’s also that you’re outside a lot. So it is physically demanding. Rhinos eat a lot, and everything they eat comes out. There’s a lot of physical labor involved.
But I was an athlete, so I enjoy the physical part of it. I was a big tomboy. I’ll go run a few miles after work, whereas some people would rather just sit on the couch. I enjoy the physical aspect, but it can be difficult.
Katie with Jodi's artwork!
Photo by Cait Rohan
GL: What is a typical day like for you?
Katie: Wake up at 5, play with my dog at home ‘til I have to leave for work. Get here around 6 and you start by going and checking on the animals, make sure they’re doing OK. And then you just start cleaning, cleaning and feeding. We never go in with the rhinos, so all of our rhinos are trained to shift into a safe area where we can lock them in a barn and go into their habitat and clean that area.
We love our animals, we think they love us, but they probably don’t understand how fragile we are, so we just never put ourselves in that situation. We always have to do a lot of shifting and cleaning with that, and then we also get to talk to the public. We get to do sidewalk talks a couple times a day. We also do behind-the-scenes tours a couple times a day, and that’s also a lot of fun.
One of my favorite things about the rhino is how unexpected they are. How once you meet them, you learn to love them, and I love introducing people to that. I love getting to show people you know, this is Jodi, watch, in a minute she’s going to blow me off because she thinks she’s too good for me. Watch. And she’ll do something like that, and she’ll come on back and want to play. She’ll roll in the mud like a big puppy, and that’s also a lot fun, just to show people that side of this animal. We are here as long as the park is open, so a lot the time we get to stay late at night and we’ll get to watch the fireworks, or we’ll get to hang out here during summer nights, that’s a lot of fun.
It’s a lot of fun to work at Busch Gardens because it is such a big place, there’s so much to offer. And there’s so much at the zoo, that you can really, I have friends on all the teams here. And one day, I drive by and I see them feeding the pelican, and I’m like ooh I want to feed the pelican! So I’ll glove up and toss fish to the pelican, just for fun. We all kind of share and understand that you have to have fun at your job.

Wanna see Jodi and her pals? Head to Busch Gardens Tampa to find out more!

BLOG IT OUT! Do you love rhinos? Just heart animals in general? What's your dream job?


by Cait Rohan | 2/1/2016