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 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 saw Karen Rice in "Growing Up...Clouded Leopards," and realized that zoo keeping was a job, and knew it was what I wanted to do."

Kara McSweeney, Hoofstock 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


Tori Johnson, Aquarist
Melinda Kommavongsa, Hospital Keeper
Shawna Farrington, Carnivore Area Supervisor


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
Kirren Covey, 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 Keeper

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


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

"Conservation is important! Every guest has the potential to make a worldwide impact and I hope they know that and feel empowered when they leave here."

Hannah Vance, Carnivore Keeper

“That zoos have changed; they are no longer the old stereotype of a zoo where someone locks an animal in a cage and doesn't worry about the animal's mental health. The animals that are under the care of AZA accredited zoos are constantly receiving stimulation in the form of training and enrichment. Keepers are working tirelessly to provide the best quality of life for them."

Kyle Koehler, Carnivore Keeper

"I would love for guests to leave feeling excited about wildlife, and with the knowledge that they can actually make a difference by making small changes in their lives."

Kirren Covey, Hoofstock Keeper

Hannah Vance, Carnivore Keeper
Kara McSweeney, Hoofstock Keeper
Alison Day, Ambassador Animal Keeper


Why do you think being a zookeeper is important?

"Zoos are typically front runners for a lot of conservation projects as far as education and funding, and I think it's really cool that even from far away, we are able to make a difference in the natural habitats of our animals."

Hollie Weigand, Primate Keeper

“The animals we care for are the ambassadors for their species and we are their voices. Zoo keepers are the ones that inform, educate and inspire the public to care about the animals that we love. Once people care, they can take action to help."

Jennifer Wu, Hoofstock 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, Lorikeet Keeper

Matt Martino, Herpetology Keeper
Nikole Edmunds, Hoofstock Keeper
Megan Fox, Lorikeet Keeper


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

"There was a carnivore keeper at Philly Zoo, Michelle, who was one of the only African American keepers at the zoo. During my education internship, she pulled me aside and offered to show me the ins and outs of her daily routine. It wasn't until I saw her, someone who looked like me, in action that I ever considered becoming a keeper."

Corina Newsome, Behavioral Husbandry

“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, Behavioral Husbandry

"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, Backstage Pass Guide
Laura Furnivall, Lead Lorikeet Keeper
Pujita Venkat, Carnivore Keeper
Posted by Nashville Zoo at 9:00 AM