My first six months as a Zoo Keeper

IMG_20161231_094308442webBeing a zoo keeper is my dream job, and something I’ve worked hard for my whole life. Before becoming a zoo keeper six months ago, I was a volunteer for Seneca Park Zoo for more than four years and have worked for the Zoo Society in Education and Interpretation. These past six months have flown by. I have learned so much and worked with so many animals and many amazing keepers in my short tenure as a keeper. I’ve learned that a zoo keeper is responsible for many different roles, and more than just the fun stuff.

A zoo keeper spends plenty of time shoveling snow, cleaning holding areas, waiting for animals to switch from inside to outside habitats, and preparing diets and enrichment before she has the time to observe the animals. To me, the best part is seeing the animals under my care involved and engaged in their environment. I try to put a lot of effort into enrichment, because the animals benefit from mental and physical stimulation.

Even though I have the best job in the entire world, there are difficult things we encounter, including the passing of beloved animals. But the difference between this job and every other job I’ve had is that this doesn’t feel like work to me. I feel like this is what I’m supposed to do.

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Nicole worked as an educational interpreter prior to becoming a zoo keeper.

And I feel like I am part of a family. Zoo keepers rely on one another. Every time I need advice, have questions, need help with a project, or want to bounce an idea off of another person, I go to some of my very best friends, other keepers, and ask them. Chances are they’ve been through what I am experiencing in their many years of experience and are the first people to lend a hand when I need help. Being a zoo keeper is about more than just relationships with the animals: it requires solid relationships between people, too. I feel so honored to work beside such talented people.

Here are just a few of the countless things I’ve learned in my first six months as a zoo keeper:

  • The penguins peck harder than you think (even though they’re cute)!
  • The baboons are always active, so keeping them occupied can be a challenge. Eventually you learn what they enjoy most.
  • Standing where four elephants passed through just a couple of minutes ago is very humbling.
  • Scratching a rhino is the best part of your day.
  • Getting a chuff back from a snow leopard, tiger, or otter is enough to make your heart melt.
  • Other zoo keepers are the ones who will always be there for you when you need a hand.

A special thanks to all of the people—keepers, friends, and family—who helped support me to get to where I am today: a part of the Seneca Park Zoo keeper family.

Nicole McEvily, Zoo Keeper