Kaylee Almand, in blue regalia with ribbons in the colors of the four directions, stands next to her grandfather, District 11 Legislator Andy Walters at the 2022 CPN Family Reunion Festival.
Kaylee Almand and her grandfather, CPN District 11 Legislator Andy Walters, spend time together at the 2022 Family Reunion Festival. (Photo provided)

“My friends are so over my love of wildlife,” said Citizen Potawatomi Nation tribal member Kaylee Almand.

From rescuing orphaned raccoons on the side of the road to rehoming turtles in ponds, Almand has always shown a love for animals since she was a small child. She dreamed of becoming a veterinarian when she grew up and is now one step closer to achieving that goal.

This fall, she completes her junior year at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas, working toward her bachelor’s in wildlife sustainability and ecosystem sciences with a focus in zoo animal and confined wildlife biology and management with a minor in business. After graduation, Almand plans on continuing her education and applying for vet school.

“This is my calling,” she said.

Her ideal career includes time outdoors, studying and helping wildlife, and preserving the earth.

Hands-on experience

As a child, the Bourbonnais family descendant participated in FFA, earning her Lone Star Degree, the highest membership degree awarded by the Texas FFA Association. Almand continues to work toward her American FFA Degree. During her time in the organization, she participated on her chapter’s FFA officer team and exhibited goats and lambs across Texas at jackpots and majors as part of her Supervised Agricultural Experience.

Following high school graduation, Almand’s passion for wildlife grew more once she secured a spot on an artificial insemination team at Sierra Mesa Ranch, a private breeding and hunting property in Texas. Almand applied for the position after her brother saw a post on their Instagram seeking wildlife students at Tarleton State University. Her experience working with lambs was an advantage.

“They said, ‘Oh, you showed sheep in high school? Alright, come on,’” she said.

Almand began at the ranch three years ago. She helps care for the white-tailed deer and maintain the population, which includes tagging, microchipping and testing the deer for diseases, among other things.

“I’ve always loved wildlife. I just didn’t realize how many opportunities there were to work with them. Working with the wildlife vets, wildlife biologists and game wardens really opened my eyes to all of the possibilities,” Almand said.

After speaking with the wildlife veterinarians working at the ranch, she realized she wanted to specialize in more than house pets and farm animals. She enjoyed working with larger, exotic animals. The hands-on experience darting, tagging and testing the deer population gave her a clearer picture of her future.

“When we do testing, I want to be with the vet. It’s so interesting. I have been so lucky to have the veterinarians mentor my passion. I am just so interested to see how we test for different diseases and illnesses, how their physical look changes and how we treat the animals. How they can go from a crazy deer to just wanting to be touched is crazy,” Almand said.

Humans’ role

Almand believes in assisting animals in need with the goal of rehabilitation for rerelease back into the wild. Her future career as a wildlife veterinarian aligns with that worldview.

“Many animals end up at a zoo to be taken care of. My goal is to keep the animal in the field so they don’t have to go back to a zoo or rehabilitation facility where they may never be able to be released. And so, I think it’s important to keep the animals in their natural habitat if possible and not contain them,” Almand said.

However, she still enjoys zoos and acknowledges their place in wildlife care. She has visited several parks and zoos across the country, including almost all of those in Texas.

“Actually, Fossil Rim (Wildlife Center) is my favorite zoo. They have an amazing rehabilitation program and breeding programs. They also have giraffes that you can feed from your car. … I could do it all day,” Almand said.

Love of bison

Her Potawatomi heritage impacted Almand’s career goals and desires. She holds bald eagles and buffalo close to her heart, and covets the opportunity to work with and care for bison.

“I went to Yellowstone (National Park) in high school. And just the buffalo experience was overwhelming. It was so beautiful and empowering. Just being around them was unbelievable. And the more I’ve learned about my Tribal heritage and culture has made me want to learn even more,” she said.

Almand aims to join a buffalo study during her senior year. Heavy rainfall in June 2022 and the subsequent flooding and destruction in portions of Yellowstone National Park interrupted an opportunity for her to travel and work as an intern this past summer.

She is the granddaughter of District 11 Legislator Andrew Walters. At CPN’s annual Family Reunion Festival this summer, he named her Nokoset, or She Walks Quietly. She hopes to return to Oklahoma to spend time with him and at the Tribe’s Eagle Aviary. Almand knows a fulfilling career helping wildlife awaits her, no matter what.

“Just the more that I have worked with animals, the more that I’ve felt like, ‘This is what I need to do. This is my place,’” she said.