Get to know our keepers for National Zoo Keeper Week!

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Get to know our keepers for National Zoo Keeper Week!

It takes a village to run a Zoo, but it takes very special individuals to care for the animals. All this week we are celebrating and showing our appreciation for the zoo keepers that work hard behind the scenes caring for over 2500 animals. In the spirit of National Zoo Keeper Week, our keepers share their passion and love behind caring for the animals here at Nashville Zoo. 

Jake Belair, Ambassador Animal Keeper
Jenna Wolcyzk, Hoofstock Keeper
Stephanie Edling, Hospital Keeper


Why did you choose to become a zoo keeper?

"When I was a kid I wanted to be a veterinarian because it was the only animal job I knew of. As I got older I discovered there were many more jobs for someone that loves animals. I wanted to be a keeper because I like getting to work with the same animals and have a bond with them."

Stephanie Edling, Hospital Keeper

"I’ve always had a passion for animals, but I never had the means to be able to travel to study and care for animals. As a zookeeper, I have the opportunity to be part of the bigger picture. I am able to not only care for endangered species, but I have the opportunity to educate people about these animals, whether it’s a well-loved sloth or a misunderstood animal, like a snake."

Jawnie Payne, Outreach Specialist Keeper


Stephanie White, Ambassador Animal Area Supervisor
Brittany Blocker, Hoofstock Keeper
Kelsey Smith, Ambassador Animal Keeper


What is your favorite part of your job?

"Seeing the look of a child who is able to interact or make a connection with the animals around them, seeing their face light up, and them coming back and telling everyone in their group about that animal."

Kayce Hackett, Avian Keeper

"My favorite thing is the variety. As a hospital keeper I get to work with everything from toads to tigers and everything in between. On top of that, I also get to assist with the medical procedures going on with all of the animals, so that's even more variety. One day it might be a surgery on a snake, and the next day its getting to do exams and vaccines on all of the Kangaroos from Kangaroo Kickabout."

Melinda Kommavongsa, Hospital Keeper

"Educating! I love when I'm talking to people either on the path or during a show and I see the acceptance of some of the lesser loved creatures happening to guests."

Kelsey Smith, Ambassador Animal Keeper


Josh Wiseman, Outreach Specialist Keeper
Melinda Kommavongsa, Hospital Keeper
Lauren Lott, Contact Area Keeper


What do people not know about zoo keeping? What is the biggest misconception?

“It's more than just cleaning poop. We all have college degrees and need to be well educated about these animals to provide proper care. We are part of a bigger picture as well. We all have the conservation of these animals in our minds and are trying to do something tangible to help. Whether it's field work, breeding and release, raising funds, or education, it is all part of our job.”

Stephanie White, Ambassador Animal Area Supervisor

“Many people just think we play with animals all day. However, our job consists of long shifts and working on weekends and holidays. We all spend countless hours cleaning, making enrichment, preparing diets, maintaining exhibits and enclosures, and talking to the public. It's not a glamorous job, but we all work so hard to keep our animals safe, healthy, and happy.

Alison Day, Ambassador Animal Keeper

This is more of a lifestyle than a job. No one ever made it rich being a zoo keeper. We work on holidays, like Christmas, away from family. We work when it’s hot, cold and in extreme weather. When the roads are iced over the animals still need to be taken care of. As difficult as our days can be with healthy animals or sick animals, baby animals or aging animals, we love our job!”

Sean Ployd, Avian Keeper


Jessica Knox, Backstage Pass Guide
Chelsea Lee, Hoofstock Keeper
Sean Ployd, Bird Keeper


Is there a particular animal you feel like you have a meaningful connection with?

"Sven the goat. He's the only animal that readily comes when I call and performs well in every training session. He's one of the animals I hand-reared, and it shows."

Isaac Gallup, Contact Area Keeper

“I love working with our Galapagos tortoises because they are so quick to pick up on things. You work with them only a few times and they seem to remember it. I love being able to use them as an ambassador for the Zoo to get guests excited about being there."

Katie Gregory, Herpetology Keeper

"Bright Eyes and Curly, the first two lorikeets I bonded with. They were the first birds that ever missed me when I was gone."

Ashley Gwaltney, Lorikeet Area Supervisor

Isaac Gallup, Contact Area Keeper
Katie Gregory, Herpetology Keeper
Ashley Gwatney, Lorikeet Area Supervisor


What do you want guests to take away from their visit?

"I want guests to learn something from their visit. It could be as small as a basic animal fact or as complex as developing a better understanding of the role a particular animal plays in an ecosystem. As long as guests can leave here learning something new."

Josh Flaherty, Herpetology Keeper

"These animals are given the best care we can possibly give them. My entire job is to make sure the animals are happy and healthy. I spend all day, regardless of sun, rain, sleet, or snow, taking care of them."

Sloane Campbell, Carnivore Keeper

Robin Mahoney, Area Supervisor of Outreach 
Kara McSweeney, Hoofstock Keeper
Alison Day, Ambassador Animal Keeper


Why do you think being a zookeeper is important?

We are saving the species from extinction through care, conservation and education. As an outreach zoo keeper, I'm able to take our animals into schools, nursing homes and hospitals to educate people about the importance of these animals and why we need to protect them. We have the ability to "touch the heart to teach the mind," because people fall in love with these animals when they can see them in person and want to participate in helping them."

Jawnie Payne, Outreach Specialist Keeper

"We have the ability to connect people who would never normally get to meet or interact with animals in the natural world. The only way to care about the planet is to understand it, and through our jobs we make those connections to people every day."

Megan Fox, Avian Keeper

Matt Martino, Herpetology Keeper
Nikole Edmunds, Hoofstock Lead Keeper
Megan Fox, Avian Keeper


Who do you thank for inspiring you to become a zoo keeper?

"My mom, who worked in guests services at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. I grew up at that zoo, which made being at a zoo feel like home. Also, those who knew my dream and assisted me when I was a zoo volunteer as a teenager. Lastly, Deb Copeland from the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. She served as my mentor and saw my passion from a very young age."

Lexi Eging, Primate Keeper 

“While it may be a bit cliche, my role model growing up was Steve Irwin. Watching his show when I was younger inspired me to care about conservation. His passion and self-sacrifice to carry the standard for wildlife conservation changed the way I looked at the world."

Josh Wiseman, Outreach Specialist

"Zoo keeping found me by accident and I didn't know what I was getting into. I have a handful of keepers at the Cincinnati Zoo who I'm thankful for everyday. They convinced me that this is a much more fulfilling way to spend my life."

Lauren Lott, Contact Area Keeper

Casey Wheeler, Ambassador Animal Keeper
Laura Furnivall, Lead Lorikeet Keeper
Danielle Berthold, Carnivore Keeper
Posted by Nashville Zoo at 9:00 AM

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