Nov. 15, 2014 – The Philadelphia Zoo’s award-winning CREW (Champions for Restoring Endangered Wildlife) program gives high school students the opportunity to work with animals, gain professional skills, and learn more about careers in wildlife conservation. This summer the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation welcomed the Zoo CREW students to Virginia Tech where they spent an intensive two days exploring different types of wildlife research and gaining field experience.

The CREW’s first day was spent on campus, in activities ranging from hearing from graduate students about their research, to demonstrations of the uses of geographic information systems in the computer lab and how to determine a coyote’s diet from its scat. They visited the Black Bear Research Center and ended the day with a movie on endangered Malagasy primates called aye-ayes.

The next day they didn’t let the rain and unseasonably cold temperatures dampen their enthusiasm as they ventured to Mountain Lake Biological Station for field experiences. “They were very gung ho about being in the field…so involved and ready to do it,” said graduate student Asia Murphy. “Flipping over snake boards and looking for beetles; they were much more enthusiastic than I would have been at that age, especially considering the weather.”

They wrapped up the day with a cookout and round-table discussion. The consensus was that their experience had been eye-opening. One CREW member with a passion for dogs and wildlife was pleased to discover that scat dog trainer is a career option.

The department’s association with the Zoo CREW stems from Associate Professor Marcella Kelly’s receipt of the Philadelphia Zoo’s 2013 Global Conservation Leader Award. “I was very impressed with the knowledge, motivation, and enthusiasm that these kids demonstrated about the natural world,” Kelly said. “They were a joy to work with and I hope we provided them with some insight into the world of wildlife research. Hopefully they will consider Virginia Tech’s wildlife conservation program as they enter the college selection process.”