#AAQSpotlight: Kate Budion, Penguin Wrangler Extraordinaire

Doesn’t it seem like every child, at some point in their young lives, contemplates a career that involves working with animals?  From veterinarian to dolphin trainer, it seems like the thought definitely crosses the minds of kids who love animals -and why wouldn’t it?  Living one’s dream and getting paid to do what you love is the ultimate goal for most of us (Right?).  In AAQ Spotlight, members of the Adventure Aquarium team will be featured, giving you, our readers, an inside look at the people who care for our animals, such as hippos, penguins, sharks and sea turtles, as a full-time job.

 

Kate and penguins

Kate with some of her co-workers. #PenguinPics are the Best Pics.

Kate Budion, member of the Birds and Mammals team in Adventure Aquarium’s Husbandry department was definitely one of those kids (see above intro) – but she grew up to have her dream job. Lucky, right??  Yes, she does feel very lucky overall to have a job that she loves and the ability to work with animals in a field that is extremely competitive to break into and find a permanent position.  (Not a big surprise since working with animals is kind of awesome.)

Kate, a Biologist II, has worked for the Aquarium for nearly six years in a full-time position (she’ll celebrate her official 6-year anniversary in April).  Prior to her full-time status, she worked part-time at AAQ for six months in an internship while going to school at Delaware Valley College (now known as Delaware Valley University) where she majored in zoo science and minored in psychology.

I was intrigued by the psychology minor and Kate explained that “when you look at behavior and how the mind works in humans, it is very similar to how it works in animals.” With that perspective, it was a no-brainer (pun most definitely intended) that Kate belongs in the Adventure Aquarium family working closely with our African penguin colony along with the newer Little Blue penguins that arrived in January of this year as well as a number of other animals.

Budion always wanted to work with animals (like we mentioned before) but she just wasn’t sure which animals.  A middle school project helped influence her ultimate decision as she was given the task of researching a career and a school where she could follow that career path, which eventually led her to where she is today (ahem, she should probably send that teacher some flowers or a handwritten “thank-you-for-helping-me-find-my-path-in-life” note…).

Kate wasn’t always a professional penguin wrangler like she is today. When she was growing up, she volunteered to work with wildlife in New Jersey and got to hang out with rabbits, squirrels, ducks and other birds.  It’s all about experience, which Kate made sure she acquired by also working with dogs and cats in a kennel – but that was just the beginning.

She also had a very hands-on internship at Tiger World in Rockwell, North Carolina prior to coming to AAQ.  She worked with lions, tigers, bears (oh my), wolves, and their small monkey collection, including baboons.  Baboons, really intriguing animals, have very human-like personalities. Kate shared a funny story about one of the male baboons she worked with preferring the female caretakers over their male counterparts and the baboon becoming very jealous if any of the guys got too close.  Quite the protector, right?

Kate also worked at the Safari Park at Six Flags Great Adventure and was in charge of caring for the large hoof stock i.e. elk and bison.  Insider Info: She loves large animals that are so big but they act similar in temperament to dogs.  Love that!

When asked to choose her favorite animal, Kate said tigers first but also mentioned African penguins were at the top as well.  (I told her the African penguins wouldn’t read this blog so she shouldn’t upset her co-workers too much by mentioning her tiger preference.)

Her craziest moment working with animals?  When Adventure Aquarium exhibited Mighty Mike, the 14-foot long alligator that weighs 800 pounds and is longer than most cars, Kate was tasked with feeding the reptile.

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(We should note that alligators and crocodiles frighten her a bit – we can’t really blame her…have you seen those teeth?)  So, she fed him from a few feet away and had the biggest adrenaline rush ever. So much so that she was shaking after the crazy/awesome experience! Go girl!! Overcome those obstacles!

When Kate isn’t working, she’s busy making plans with friends, travelling and reading tons of books.  Her latest read is a biography of a climber who set a world record by climbing all seven summits.  She also recently planned an impromptu trip to Vegas (aka awesome life choice).

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Remember that whole dolphin trainer thing we talked about earlier? Love it!

Clearly, Kate made the right choice back in middle school by taking the path that led her to be a member of the AAQ team.  We truly appreciate her taking the time out of her busy day to chat as well.  Next time you’re visiting Penguin Island, be sure to ask for Kate and say hello!

 

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