During her time at Busch Gardens Summer Resident Camp in Tampa Bay, Fla., senior Blake Silverman not only got to witness the birth of a baby sloth named Leia, but she was also able to help clean her off after she was born. Silverman was instructed to use two fingers to support Leia on the scale while the zookeepers weighed her. This was the moment Leia left an imprint on Silverman, which means Leia formed a connection with Silverman instead of Leia’s mother.
“[The zookeepers] made the mistake of letting me do it barehanded, without gloves, and she caught my scent before she caught her mom’s, so then they had to bottle-feed her and baby her because her mother wouldn’t accept her,” Silverman said.
Although sloths are her favorite animals at the zoo, Silverman has interacted with numerous other species during her time at Busch Gardens Summer Resident Camp. She has attended the camp for the past three years and plans to attend one last time this coming summer. Busch Gardens is an African-themed amusement park and zoo where Silverman works with kangaroos, cheetahs, birds and other exotic animals under the guidance of experienced zookeepers.
“We pretty much do [the zookeepers’] job with them, so we’ll prepare food, we’ll clean, we’ll handle animals,” said Silverman. “You have to do the rough work … but you do get to interact with the animals, so you literally get to work as a zookeeper alongside real zookeepers and you get the actual experience firsthand.”
Silverman said bigger animals are more difficult to take care of and interact with. Her partner once got punched by a kangaroo when he got too close.
“This was a male kangaroo and it was right after mating season,” said Silverman. “They’re protective over the females, so [my partner] kinda stepped in the wrong area and just got socked in the face.”
Campers at Busch Gardens Summer Resident Camp sleep in on-property dormitories. There are multiple five-day sessions offered to campers ranging in age from fifth grade through college.
Prior to her experiences with animals at Busch Gardens, Silverman said her love for animals began at a very young age.
“I was exposed to caring for animals because my Nana, she loved animals,” said Silverman. “She got me into horseback riding when I was three, and when she passed away it was kind of a hard thing for me, so I basically put all my work and effort into caring for animals and I kind of just realized I want to be a zookeeper.”
Silverman’s mother, Jenny Silverman, said her daughter is planning on pursuing a major in animal behavior at the University of New England in Maine.
“I think she’s really exceptional and she’s really, really excited about going to college, taking these classes in animal behavior and seeing where that takes her,” Jenny Silverman said.
Blake Silverman said Busch Gardens Summer Resident Camp is a great experience and she is very thankful for the opportunity to participate each summer and gain insight on what it takes to be a zookeeper.
“I’m gonna get there one way or another and it’s gonna be a lot of work, but it’s gonna be worth it” Blake Silverman said.