As she moved her cap’s tassel to the left during Clovis High School’s graduation ceremony in 2013, Monet Gomes had her eye on the wild side.
Wild animals, that is.
“I’ve always known that I really like animals and I wanted to do something having to do with wildlife,” said Gomes, who just graduated from Fresno State as a Smittcamp Family Honors Student with a bachelor’s degree in biology.
Beginning in her years as a Clovis Cougar, Gomes volunteered at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo and with California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
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“Out of high school, I had a big idea of what I wanted to do, but I narrowed it down when I realized I wanted to do scientific research with wildlife and wildlife management,” Gomes said.
She was hired by Fresno Chaffee Zoo about three years ago, where she works as an interpretive guide, facilitating guests’ animal interactions at various locales like Twiga Terrace giraffe feeding station, Stingray Bay and the recently added Roo Walkabout.
Gomes also spent the last few years aiding Fresno State biology professor Dr. Steven Blumenshine with his research in aquatic ecology, focusing on the San Joaquin River Restoration Program.
Her passion for animals led her to an internship in South Africa over the summer where she camped and worked in Kruger National Park, an iconic safari destination.
“I worked on a private reserve attached to the national park and helped with rhino tracking. We monitored populations closely and our research helped with anti-poaching measures,” Gomes said.
Specifically, her work helped the Black Mambas Anti-Poaching Unit, a majority female team that works to protect rhinos, elephants and other wildlife in about 250 square miles of northern South Africa.
Gomes’ camp was located within the reserve, where animals roam free.
“Our camp didn’t have any fences, so occasionally you would see wild animals walking through the camp,” she said. “One time, I came across some lionesses as I was walking to the bathroom. That was terrifying.”
But it wasn’t enough to scare her away from her passion.
“My work at the zoo and my time in Africa have really shaped what I’ve chosen in my career path,” she said.
That focus proved to be rewarding for Gomes, who earned a full-ride scholarship to graduate school.
In a few short weeks, Gomes, 22, will move to Auburn, Alabama, to attend Auburn University. She’ll be studying white-tailed deer to earn her master’s degree in wildlife sciences.
“It’s a great program,” she said. “I looked a lot into the research the lab was doing … and they’re funding me completely, so that made the decision easier.”
Working with deer, Gomes said, will open more opportunities to work with large mammals in the future.
To those graduating Thursday from Clovis High, Gomes’ alma mater, she offers this advice: “Find what you’re passionate about and explore as many different opportunities as you can to find out what would make a great career fit for you.”
And one more thing: “Don’t buy your books until after classes start. ... So many of my professors didn’t use the books they had on their list.”