Scientist’s Interests: Candi

Today’s blog post is brought to you by Candi Johnson.


Many of our YCITYSCI students have shown interest in animals. It just so happens that my favorite topic to learn about is animals as well! I found all animals from the smallest ladybug, to the largest elephant, fascinating from an early age. As I grew older I chose to focus my education on my love of animals, earning my undergraduate, as well as one of my graduate degrees, in Biological Sciences. I have spent years studying animals and how they interact with their environment. My favorite experience learning and working with animals was during a summer internship at the St. Louis Zoo in Saint Louis, MO.

I interned as a zookeeper at the Jungle of the Apes and Fragile Forest, doing husbandry for the western lowland gorillas, sumatran orangutans, and chimpanzees. Zookeepers work to conserve, manage, and care for animals that live in zoos. Zoos often provide a safe home for animals that can no longer live in the wild. Western lowland gorillas, for instance, are critically endangered and are no longer brought to zoos from the wild. It is illegal in many areas of the Congo Basin countries in Africa to acquire gorillas. Hunting, poaching and habitat loss are major causes for species endangerment. Because wild populations are protected, the gorillas you see at many accredited zoos are those that have been bred in captivity, not taken from the wild. 

Gorillas soon became my favorite animal after spending the summer working closely with them. They truly are gentle giants, weighing at a maximum of about 400lbs and standing as tall as 5.5 feet high for males. Despite their large size, they are characterized by gentle, calm demeanors. There was a male peacock that often jumped into the gorilla habitat to eat their food during breakfast. Although gorillas are stronger than about 20 adult humans combined and could easily remove the uninvited guest, the gorillas showed no aggression, but kindly shared their food. To have such power and strength and to use it only to live a calm, peaceful, vegetarian life, is why the gorilla is the most impressive animal I have ever had the honor of meeting.

If you are interested in focusing your education on animals, you can do so by entering into a Biology program in college, such as the one at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. There are also volunteer opportunities at animal shelters and zoos such as the Zoo ALIVE Teen Volunteer program at the St. Louis Zoo.

Photo Credits

Photo of Candi by Barabara Wiley  

Photos of primates by the Saint Louis Zoo