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Individual studies takes Buteyn to the zoo

By Jane Ver Steeg

Meal worms, crickets, and rats for lunch... It might sound like an episode of Fear Factor, but to Jill Buteyn, it’s just part of feeding time, a daily routine for her as an intern at the Great Plains Zoo in Sioux Falls.

Buteyn came to Dordt College in 2003 knowing her goal was to work at a zoo. Through Dordt College’s individual studies program, she was able to create a major with an emphasis in animal husbandry, custom designed to fit her specific needs. At the same time, the blend of courses provides a strong academic foundation that will give Buteyn options if her career goal changes. Buteyn’s travel to Sioux Falls three times a week for the internship was covered through funds received through the Programs in Christian Vocations Grant.

Jill Buteyn cradles a black-footed penguin at the Great Plains Zoo in Sioux Falls where she interned this past semester.

Jill Buteyn cradles a black-footed penguin at the Great Plains Zoo in Sioux Falls where she interned this past semester.

Buteyn’s advisor is Dr. Duane Bajema, professor of agriculture. Bajema says the individual study course has been interesting for him because it’s allowed him to interact with professionals in another field of animal care, including Dan Brands, Jill’s academic supervisor at Great Plains Zoo. In the past fifteen years, Bajema helped two other Dordt alumni, Ben Dekker and Rick Pausma, do practicums at the Great Plains Zoo, after they expressed similar interests in wild animal care.

“Jill is providing a service to the zoo, and the zoo is providing an academic learning opportunity for Jill,” says Bajema. “Zoos usually struggle with funding, so Jill’s work there helps the zoo, and she benefits from the supervised academic experience.”

Buteyn has been assigned to the bird and reptile area, where she helps with feeding, cleaning, training, and enrichment activities. Her favorite part is interacting with zoo residents, and she’s learned that each has a name and unique personality traits. Menus at the zoo are designed for optimal health of each species: in the meal prep area, Buteyn mixes rations with ingredients including live meal worms, crickets, smelt, cooked and peeled eggs, raw meat, kohlrabi, spinach, and rats for the snakes and vultures. She’s also been involved in developing enrichment activities, which keep the birds entertained and active. Recently, an activity for the flamingoes involved poking holes in a cardboard tube, then filling it with crickets.

Buteyn also assists in the observation of the animal collection for signs of illness, general lethargy, injury or dietary problems, and she maintains daily reports, medical records, and a log of enrichment activities in her assigned area.

The Great Plains Zoo is split into four regions, with three keepers each caring for birds and reptiles; carnivores and primates; hoof stock; and African savannah. Buteyn said she’s always been drawn to cats, both domestic and wild, so she often visits the tigers.

Bajema said other components of the program of study include ethical issues of animal care, future employment issues, professionalism, work requirements, challenges to a Christian in this field, and how a Christian interacts in such a field.

“Jill has done a fine job, and is learning to deal with many challenges as she involves herself in this particular field of endeavor,” said Bajema. “This particular internship could lead to one or two more that will broaden her experience,” said Bajema. Buteyn said she’s hoping she’ll also get the opportunity to do an internship with dolphins.