By Maria Kimble, Contributing Writer
West Liberty University’s Zoo Science major offers new opportunities for students interested in caring for wildlife. This new major started as a discussion in fall 2015 and stepped into full swing at the beginning of this academic year. Students will receive hands-on training at Oglebay’s Good Zoo and on-site animal facilities here at WLU.
There are only four other universities that offer the Zoo Science Major at their institutions. WLU is the only facility who has on-site animals as well as being partnered with an Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) institution, Oglebay’s Good Zoo.
“We could provide opportunities for our students that other universities would have difficulty doing,” said Dr. Zachary Loughman.
WLU’s partnership with a local AZA-accredited zoo opens many doors for the students. “Anyone with a large collection of animals can call it a zoo,” Loughman said. Being a part of the AZA means that the animals are in top-notch care. This means the zoo follows a strict list of credentials to make sure the animals are not just living, but thriving in human care. AZA zoos are also required to donate money towards helping other animals that are not in human care. They are always actively conserving.
Loughman discussed how students without this opportunity might face difficulty finding a job after graduation. Most Zoo jobs require years of experience before one is even considered for the job. WLU is the only university that offers the opportunity to work at an AZA-accredited zoo prior to graduation. This will equip the students to be well over qualified for the job right out the gate.
West Liberty University received a donation from Williams Energy to build the new classroom upstairs in Arnett Hall; it allows the department to bring in larger animals. “We increased the number in this building (Arnett) by like 200 percent,” Loughman said. This new classroom houses two lizards, named Mort and Norbert, who are both filled with personality.
Currently, most of the animals on campus are ectotherms, meaning they are cold blooded. Loughman said that they are the best to be used for teaching. “Students are taking care of all the animals by feeding them, weighing them, and making sure they are in their right environment,” he said.
This fall, they will be receiving owls: a barn owl and a screeching owl. The department is also looking into bringing armadillos to co-exist with the owls. They are also waiting on being approved by the USDA to bring “Sweet-pea,” the sloth, onto campus.
“The animals are here to teach people who want to conserve,” Loughman said. The next step with this major is to start some research and hopefully produce some publications out of it.
There are currently 20 students enrolled in the major and they have received a large number of applicants for the next academic year. Right now there are 70 applicants, but they are estimating on having 90-100 people apply for the fall. The department is receiving applicants from all over the United States, including New Hampshire, Florida, Texas and California.
“It’s bringing diversity to our campus as well,” Loughman said.