When taking a tour here at Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge or watching one of our educational videos, you might have heard one of our education team members introduce their job title as “Wildlife Interpreter” and wondered what that meant. You are not alone, as we are commonly asked about our title, what our job duties entail, and what type of education and training prepared us for this role.
What is Interpretation?
As Wildlife Interpreters, we often encounter people who make a lighthearted inquiry about our ability to communicate with animals. It’s a common misconception that the term “interpreter” solely refers to translating spoken language. However, our role as Wildlife Interpreters involves much more than that. While we may not be able to communicate with them in their language, we can certainly help visitors appreciate their behavior. For instance, when a tiger chuffs at us, we can explain that it’s their way of saying hello. By educating people about these subtle yet significant gestures, we can enhance their experience of being in the presence of these majestic creatures.
Interpreters must convey complex scientific concepts to visitors of all ages and educational levels in a way that is entertaining and understandable. They must be able to think creatively to find the best way to convey their message while also being empathetic to the needs and perspectives of their audience. Another important aspect of wildlife interpretation is storytelling. By sharing stories about the animals, interpreters can help visitors make personal connections to stop the abuse and neglect of the exotic pet trade and the entertainment industry.
Education and Training
What did we study to become wildlife interpreters? Our interpreters must have a bachelor’s degree; however, their fields vary. Some interpreters have graduate degrees. The education department holds degrees in Recreation and Parks Administration, Museum Education, Wildlife Conservation and Natural Resources, Zoo and Conservation Science, and Environmental Science.
Becoming a Certified Interpretive Guide through the National Association of Interpreters (NAI) is a requirement for all of our education staff members. A training course covering interpretive methods, audience analysis, and program development must be completed in order to become an NAI Certified Interpretive Guide. Candidates must also design and deliver a novel interpretive program to show off their mastery of these skills.
Interpreters perform a wide variety of tasks, including giving tours to the general public and school children on field trips, presenting thematic interpretive programs, creating digital and physical educational materials, and presenting programs at community events and schools away from the refuge. In general, professionals in interpreting possess a special set of skills and abilities, making it an interesting and rewarding profession.