Anya Samiljan, a senior captive wildlife care and education major at Unity College, and Gregory LeClair, a junior double-majoring in that degree and wildlife biology at Unity, are in for a wild summer.

Both received Nicholas Holt Challenge Scholarships from the college to help as stipends during their internships this summer. Samiljan is an avian fellow at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, Alaska, and LeClair is a field research assistant at the Institute For Bird Populations working with the U.S. Forest Service in Quincy, Calif.

There are hawks and owls and puffins ahead!

Name: Gregory LeClair

Age: 20

Hometown: Litchfield

Name: Anya Samiljan

Age: 23

Hometown: Durham (but grew up in Acton, Mass.)

Post-grad career goals?

GL: I plan to continue my work in wildlife educational/media outreach and travel around to do some technician jobs for some time before going on to get my master’s degree in a related field.

AS: I would love to be able to conduct behavioral research on birds after I complete grad school a few years down the road. I take particular interest in avian intelligence and the conservation of species-specific behaviors for animals in captivity.

Any early experiences that helped shape wanting to work with animals?

GL: My passion for wildlife began with my parents who both loved nature in their own way, and was fostered by documentaries and television throughout childhood. When I received a wildlife encyclopedia for my sixth birthday, I went through the whole thing, page to page, and was hooked.

AS: I never really had a defining moment to indicate that work with animals was right for me; I feel like I’ve just always known that it was what I wanted. My parents instilled in me an appreciation for the natural world starting at a young age, and I’ve always lived near wooded areas full of wildlife, so it’s no wonder I chose this path.

Gregory, I heard you got to take a cool trip to Mississippi this spring? Yes! It was my first time out of New England and what a wild world the bayous of the deep South are. I went with one of my classes at Unity. Alligators, venomous snakes, very rare/endangered species — it was all part of the gig.

What will you do during your internships? 

GL: I’ll be in the Northern California mountains tracking endangered owls and threatened hawks. Once we capture them with nets, we will fit them with radio tags. Then we will use tracking equipment to find out where they like to spend their time so we can inform foresters, loggers and other groups about what areas to be delicate with so that the raptors can start the road to recovery.

AS: One of the things I’m most excited about for my internship is that my experience is going to include so many different aspects of avian husbandry. My job description entails diet preparation, observation of health and condition of birds, interpretation through keeper chats and tours, maintenance of records and data, habitat maintenance, breeding season preparation, and assistance in research projects, data collection and the facility’s avian training program.?

Anya, you mentioned working with species you’ve never worked with before. Which ones?

Almost all of the species I’ll be working with this summer will be new to me. A few of the unfamiliar birds I’ll be getting to know this summer include harlequin ducks, puffins (horned and tufted), eiders (spectacled, common and steller’s) and the rhinoceros auklet.

Had any too-close encounters?

GL: Plenty. I’ve been pooped on by crows, covered in cat-pee-scented musk from venomous snakes, quilled by porcupines, gotten intestinal parasites . . . But nothing really compares to how much more dangerous people can be than animals. You know what animals want to hurt you, but people tend to be a bit more sly about it.

AS: Nothing too perilous yet, fortunately. Though at the last place I interned there was a turkey vulture that came at me while I was cleaning up its enclosure, wings spread and head forward, hissing and everything. I never thought that they were intimidating before that, but I sure do now.

Gregory, you’d mentioned a soft spot for animals that a lot of people don’t like. Animals like . . . ? I absolutely love the ugly, scary and mean creatures. Tarantulas, crocodiles, snakes, frogs . . . These are the animals that need help more than perhaps any others, and so it is my goal to get people to share the same passion that I have for them to make sure they don’t disappear.

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