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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. 

Jenna Wolczyk, Hoofstock Keeper
Corina Newsome, Ambassador Animal Keeper
Jake Belair, Ambassador Animal 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, Swing Keeper

I knew I had a love for animals and wanted to be able to use that love and passion in a positive way. I feel that at this zoo we are able to raise awareness and do conservation projects to help some of the misunderstood critters out there.

Katie Gregory, Herpetology Keeper

I always knew I wanted to work with animals in some fashion. So I volunteered/interned at animal shelters, vet clinics, aquariums and zoos. When I interned at the Nashville Zoo, it was then that I knew this was the place for me and I will never look back.

Lauren Butler, Avian Keeper

I love working with animals from around the world. Kinds most people never will. It is also a very rewarding job and a great feeling to teach kids and even conserve species.

Mike Lee, Herpetology Keeper

 

Stephanie White, Ambassador Animal Area Supervisor
Alison Day, Ambassador Animal Keeper
Pujita Venkat, Carnivore Keeper
Mike Lee, Herpetology Keeper

 

What is your favorite part of your job?

"My favorite part is educating guests (especially kids) about our animals and conservation. If I can convince one skeptical person that vultures are really awesome and not gross, or that even tiny cockroaches are beneficial for the environment, then I've done my job."

Alison Day, Ambassador Animal Keeper

"My favorite part of my job is the variety. I'm a quarantine keeper which means I get to take care of all incoming animals during their quarantine period. I only take care of them for 30 days but I'm constantly learning about new animals and their needs. I'm also part of the vet team so I get to help with medical procedures and the general care of the entire collection."

Katelyn Stafford, Quarantine Keeper

"My favorite part is Reproductive/Breeding Husbandry: The pairing of birds and offering the right conditions in order to successfully reproduce and raise young, which include diet, housing, nesting material/boxes, and proper pairing."

Quinton Pyle, Avian Keeper*

"I love taking care of the animals, but I mostly love helping others learn how to care about our planet and conserve all the animals I get to care for."

Hannah Vance, Carnivore Keeper

 

Sean Ployd, Bird Keeper
Melinda Kommavongsa, Hospital Keeper
Stephanie Edling, Hoofstock Keeper

 

What do you want to tell kids who are interested in zoo keeping when they grow up?

It's very dirty and a lot of hard work. As keepers, we are never clean. Study hard and take any opportunities that become available. In the end, keepers are rewarded by seeing their animals thrive in their surroundings.

Kayce Hackett, Contact Area Keeper

"Work hard and educate yourself, any degree in Biology is a good start. While you’re getting your degree, participate in internships at your local zoo and get to know the zoo keepers and staff. Be respectful, listen and LEARN from what we have to offer and make positive connections. Having a good reference from a zoo keeper goes a very long way!"

 Laura Furnivall, Lead Lorikeet Keeper

"Being a zoo keeper can be hard work, but it is also very rewarding. It's great to get involved at a young age. Nashville Zoo has a ZooTeen program that helps to give teens a better ideaof what it's like to work in a zoo. Internships are also a great way to see if it is the right career path for you."

Stephanie Edling, Hoofstock Keeper

 

Jessica James, Primate Keeper
Nikole Edmunds, Hoofstock Keeper
Quinton Pyle, Bird 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 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 Rihs, Ambassador Animal Keeper

This is more of a lifestyle than a job. No one ever made it rich being a zookeeper. 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 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

 

Katie Gregory, Herpetology Keeper
Laura Furnivall, Lead Lorikeet Keeper
Kyle Koehler, Carnivore Keeper

 

What has been your most memorable moment as a keeper?

“Breeding Eastern hellbenders for the first time ever in captivity! We still have a lot to learn about this species and what we are learning now will hopefully allow us to reintroduce genetically significant and diverse animals back into the wild one day.”

Sherri Reinsch, Herpetology Keeper

“Raising our prehensile tailed porcupine, Charlie. We got him when he was very young and still drinking milk. So we spent time with him around the clock feeding him and taking care of him. It was a huge responsibility but the connection I have with that little guy is unlike the connection I have with any of my other animals.”

Melinda Kommavongsa, Hospital Keeper

“Training the birds to do different behaviors, for example, to step onto a scale to get their weights stress free. When the bird finally trusts you and knows it gets rewarded when placing their feet on the scale, it feels like you have just climbed a mountain! It’s such a great achievement even though it seems like a simple task.”

Lauren Butler, Avian Keeper 

"Getting to see and help with the surgery on our black arowana was exciting and new! Also, anytime I get to raise any of our fish from the day they are born; that's always something special."

Tori Johnson, Aquarist

Jessica Knox, Backstage Pass Guide
Isaac Gallup, Contact Area Keeper
Tori Johnson, Aquarist

 

What is your favorite spot in the Nashville Zoo?

"My favorite place to be is with the animals! Whether it's a training session, observations within my own department, or visiting other departments to meet their animals. We are lucky to work in a field of endless possibilities to learn and experience new things."

Jenna Wolczyk, Hoofstock Keeper 

“I love the new Kangaroo exhibit. I love the detail and atmosphere of the exhibit, as well as the interaction the guests get to experience. I also love our back off-exhibit area. We have so much land that’s not developed yet and it’ll be so exciting to see how that changes!”

Pujita Venkat, Carnivore Keeper 

"The Historic Farm, especially at sunset or just after a fresh snow. There is nothing more breathtaking at the zoo than the sun setting through the trees or walking through the farm and seeing it untouched after it has been snowing."

Laura Furnivall, Lead Lorikeet Keeper

Casey Wheeler, Backstage Pass Guide
Hannah Vance, Carnivore Keeper
Ashley Gwaltney, Lorikeet Area Supervisor

 

Posted by Nashville Zoo at 9:00 AM