Andrea was just 6 years old when her grandpa took her to see a presentation in London about orca whales; the length of the show was the length of time it took to capture the young girl’s heart – hook, line, and sinker.
Ever since that fateful excursion, Andrea knew that working with animals would be a large part of her future. Now in her early thirties and holding a bachelor’s degree in Marine Sciences from the University of Maine and a master’s degree in Marine Fishery Sciences from Scotland’s University of Aberdeen (not to mention studying abroad in Australia), she’s been a dolphin trainer at a marine park in Turkey, worked with cetaceans in Curacao, and also done animal work in Germany and Austria.
Still not impressed?
“I also train dogs and wolves on the side,” Andrea mentions with a smile.
Additionally, she teaches behavioral courses online at the Animal Behavior Institute. “I just love teaching – specifically animal psychology and emotions – it’s fun and absolutely fascinating.”
Andrea decided to pay Texas an extended visit after her world travels for the opportunity to work with raptors, namely the owls and hawks that call the Aquarium home. It’s Andrea’s first time working with the birds of prey, helping to round out her career goal of working with as wide a variety of animal species as possible.
Part of being an animal trainer at the Aquarium is training animals to learn and then execute behaviors. The very technical science requires patience, determination, and a deep understanding of animal psychology and emotions. According to Andrea, building trust with raptors can often be a strenuous endeavor.
“It’s definitely different than say, working with a parrot. A parrot will show you affection and build a relationship with you,” she explains, “Oftentimes raptors are a bit wilder. They will learn and then do behaviors, but there’s an evident difference in temperaments.”
And there’s not much more rewarding than seeing a taught behavior learned and then performed by an animal, Andrea says. For example, having an animal volunteer or present a certain part of its body for veterinary technicians to perform a blood draw is a great accomplishment, making the task easier and less stressful on both the animals and humans involved.
Teaching WildFlight star Sonora, a white-nosed coati, to rope climb upside-down was a proud training moment for Andrea.
“I had to get her used to the rope first, then we worked on her climbing at a low level. Next we hung it higher and I taught her to lift herself up and attach her paws (coati’s ankles rotate 180 degrees, making them excellent climbers) and she did great,” Andrea explained.
The trainer said down the road she’d love to work as a behavioral curator and help to train trainers.
“I love teaching, whether that’s teaching animals or educating others about animals,” she said.
And for the youngsters out there inspired by Andrea and wanting to work in her profession: she advocates being extremely dedicated in school, especially in the sciences.
“Getting internships and volunteering is crucial – get experience wherever and however you can,” she says, “The field of animal husbandry is very competitive, so any edge you have, be it working at PetSmart or volunteering at a local animal shelter or wildlife refuge, it all counts.”
Come visit Andrea at our daily WildFlight presentations at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. and see her in action!