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Biology graduate receives internship at Como Park Zoo Gorilla Forest

July 11, 2013
Gorilla-web
A gorilla stands guard over the new Gorilla Forest, which opened to the public in June.
Scott-with-Gorilla-webjpgScott Mustonen takes a break with one of the gorillas under his care during his internship at the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory.

EAU CLAIRE — For University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire alumnus Scott Mustonen, life is a zoo, and he wouldn't have it any other way. Mustonen, a 2013 graduate in organismal biology from Eagan, Minn., is in the process of completing a four-month internship in the brand new Gorilla Forest at the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory in St. Paul, Minn.

The Gorilla Forest opened to the public in June and houses seven gorillas as well as the largest all-mesh gorilla enclosure in North America. The gorillas are kept in two separate groups, the first with one adult male and three adult females, and the second with three younger males. Mustonen's responsibilities include training the gorillas, logging behaviors, preparing daily meals, interacting with the public and cleaning the exhibits. Mustonen also works with four orangutans, five spider monkeys, three langurs, three saki monkeys, two lemurs and one sloth.

"I have always been in love with animals," Mustonen said. "I grew up on a mix of Animal Planet and Discovery Channel. I knew I wanted to major in biology after taking my first biology course during my freshman year. I was most interested in evolution and the genetic components that cause specific behaviors observed in a large variety of species."

Dr. Derek Gingerich, assistant professor of biology at UW-Eau Claire and Mustonen's academic adviser, said Mustonen was a very solid and enthusiastic student.

"Scott is very friendly and worked well in group settings," Gingerich said. "Where other students are sometimes hesitant to talk to faculty, Scott had no inhibitions about initiating a conversation whether it related to course material or just a discussion of current events. This internship will involve interacting with the general public, which is something I think Scott will be very good at."

Gingerich also commented on Mustonen's demeanor and willingness to take charge.

"Scott was one of my favorite students and advisees because of his personable and outgoing nature and because he was willing to make the effort to obtain unique experiences," Gingerich said. "I know Scott wanted to get this internship very badly because it offered the opportunity for him to get his foot in the door working directly with animals in a zoo setting. He was very excited when he came to me to let me know that he had been selected."

Mustonen said he is happy to be doing what he has always wanted to do and most looks forward to watching the interactions between the gorillas each day.

"Anything can happen when both groups of gorillas meet each other outside for the first time, separated by mesh and a five-foot gap," Mustonen said. "They can try to frighten one another by yelling, chest pounding or spitting, or they could just run away from each other and hide on separate ends of the exhibit. It's also amazing to be within feet of the 500-pound gorillas while they present each body part to the zookeepers in exchange for fruit."

At the end of the internship, Mustonen said he will apply to zoos across the country for employment and feels hopeful that he'll find a position.

"Primate internships in general are very rare and are seen as one of the best and most respected fields to work in," Mustonen said. "I am very grateful for this opportunity."

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