Rhino intern doubles her experience

Tye Chandler :
Posted August 15, 2018

Over seven months at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, Rachel Coxon learned a lot about rhinos, but also went the extra mile to maximize her internship experience.

From Jan. 8 to Aug. 7, Coxon was the facility’s rhino intern.

Rachel Coxon trains the black rhino “Mupani” on foot behavior to check her toenails and feet. Coxon did back-to-back rhino internships.

“I was checking the AZA (Association of Zoos & Aquariums) job board every single day, and this internship came up,” she said. “When the standard term for this internship was coming to an end, I didn’t have another internship lined up and (the staff) wanted me to be able to finish my training project, so I was offered the rhino internship a second time.”

Born in Washington, Coxon grew up in Tampa, Florida. She graduated from Florida Southern College with a degree in biology in May 2016, and has been accumulating experience via various internships since then.

As rhino intern, Rachel Coxon would cut 60 pounds of browse per day to feed the four black rhinos.

“I was always really into pets – dog, cat, and I had a bunch of gerbils,” she said. “But I didn’t know I wanted a career in animal care until college. I was going premed, and so I shadowed vets for a couple of summers.

“I did a project in school on my career goal and realized how much I was interested in zoo keeping. Now, I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

During her first month at Fossil Rim back in January, Rachel Coxon bottle-fed “Jiwe”.

Coxon was expecting an experience more similar to her previous internships.

“I had a lot more responsibility here as a black rhino (caretaker), so I was on my own more,” she said. “If support (services department) needed to come back to the (black rhino area) and fix something, I’d supervise the rhinos. I’d never been able to administer medicines before. I also got a variety of training opportunities.”

Rachel Coxon feeds the black rhinos some coastal hay.

As time passed and opportunities arose, Coxon jumped at the chance to diversify her experience.

“I worked mostly with Tim (Lloyd),” she said. “We would do the rhino barn duties together, and I learned how to cut and gather browse from him. Then, over time I could handle it myself, but Tim still helped with the barn when he had time.

“At various times, I worked with the whole hoofstock team – Justin (Smith), Molly (Shea), Becca (McLachlan), and Ben (Jernigan). Justin is the rhino guy, so it was really cool to be able to work with him and have him push me to do the best job I could in this internship.”

Coxon also pursued shadowing opportunities with the animal health department.

Rachel Coxon holds a sable calf while she helps the hoofstock department with a neonate exam.

“I learned how to do blood draws,” she said. “This entire experience offered a lot more responsibility than I’d ever had before.”

Before her time at Fossil Rim ended, Coxon did a presentation on her project.

“My project was about conditioning a female black rhino for a transrectal ultrasound,” Coxon said. “The ultrasound probe is inserted to check the reproductive tract for abnormalities, check estrous cycles to confirm and track pregnancies more precisely than other methods. It’s a free-stall chute, so she can come and go as she pleases.

“I conditioned her to be in there for long periods of time and cooperate so we can get ultrasound images. Hopefully, this practice can be utilized on other female rhinos.”

Rachel Coxon trains the black rhino “Mupani” on “head-up” behavior.

As she moves forward, Coxon has her preferences but wants to keep all options on the table.

“I’m interviewing for internships, fellowships and jobs; I’m interested in all opportunities,” she said. “I definitely like larger mammals. Elephants and rhinos are my favorites, but I want to be open to other opportunities, as well.”

As someone with more Fossil Rim internship experience than most, Coxon was asked if she had suggestions for those who will apply in the future.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for opportunities outside of the internship description, because the worst they can do is say no,” she said. “Being sure to ask is how I got to participate so much with the hoofstock and vet teams, as well as doing such an in-depth intern project.”

When she shadowed the animal health department, Rachel Coxon learned how to do blood draws. In this case, she is drawing blood from an addax.

For first-time visitors to Fossil Rim, she recommends a particular activity.

“I think they should take the Behind-the-Scenes Tour,” Coxon said. “That will help people learn more about animals in the IMA (Intensive Management Area), and also what the people here are doing for the species that aren’t in public view. For this place in general, there is a lot more going on than people driving through and feeding the animals.”

-Tye Chandler, Marketing Associate 

“I’m holding an addax calf while on a calf run with the hoofstock department,” said Rachel Coxon. “If my rhino stuff is done and I hear about something going on, I can go help out. But this one was actually done after work; calf runs are usually done at dawn and dusk. I tried to do anything I could.”

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