Get to know our keepers for National Zookeeper Week!

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Get to know our keepers for National Zookeeper 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 zookeepers that work hard behind the scenes caring for over 2500 animals. In the spirit of National Zookeeper 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
MJ Foletta, Carnivore Keeper


Why did you choose to become a zookeeper?

"We work hard to enrich the lives of the animals in our care through training, fun enrichment, and engaging with our zoo guests. But we also have the unique opportunity to help these species wild counterparts through conservation here at the zoo. We get to learn from the animals we are privileged enough to work with every day, which is why so many of us do this job."

Morgan Fontenot, Hoofstock 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 Spies, Ambassador Animal Keeper


What is your favorite part of your job?

"My favorite part of being a zookeeper in the Nashville Zoo's contact area is getting to meet people in the kangaroo yard to talk about how amazing our animals are! I love to share tidbits about each of our individual roos with our guests (their names, their favorite snacks, etc.) as well as talk about ways we can help their wild counterparts. Small, everyday actions can make a huge difference for species around the world, and it is so rewarding to help empower people to take these steps to save animals!"

Katie Costello, Contact Area Keeper

"My favorite part of my job is doing training sessions with the animals. It is just such an amazing feeling whenever a training session goes well, or an animal finally picks up a behavior that you have been working with them on for months."

Hayley Baas, Hoofstock 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 Spies, Ambassador Animal Keeper


Josh Wiseman, Outreach Specialist Keeper
Dakota Sullivan, Contact Area Keeper
Marissa Verdi, Carnivore 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 fieldwork, 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 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 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?

"I'm the primary keeper for the Macaws, so getting to work with them for over a year and watching them grow and learn with me has been so rewarding!"

Meaghan Fowler, Avian 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."

James 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

"I want guests to be as excited about the animals and taking care of them and their environment as I am. Ultimately we all share this planet, and the zoo and all the animals in it are such important ambassadors for guests to learn and be inspired by to be more involved in conservation/ stewardship of the earth."

Shelby Handley, Carnivore Keeper

Robin Mahoney, Area Supervisor of Outreach 
Morgan Fontenot, 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 zookeeper, 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

"It’s important to be a zookeeper, because our care of animals allows people to see animals that they would otherwise not know existed. Zoos and aquariums allow people to see and fall in love with animals both local and exotic."

Lana Bogoslavsky, Aquatics Technician

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


Who do you thank for inspiring you to become a zookeeper?

"My inspiration for becoming a zookeeper started when I was very young watching Steve Irwin on TV. His enthusiasm and passion for wildlife really impacted me and made me want to work with animals someday. I feel very lucky to be able to live my lifelong dream and share my passion with other people."

Olivia LaGrand, Avian 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

"I have my parents to thank for becoming involved in the conservation field. I grew up experiencing nature a lot as we frequently took part in outdoor activities and visited zoos and aquariums. I also have my past intern coordinators, supervisors, and senior keepers to thank who have shaped me to always strive to be a good keeper." 

Alissa Eurell, Carnivore Keeper

Casey Wheeler, Ambassador Animal Keeper
Laura Furnivall, Hospital Keeper
Danielle Berthold, Carnivore Keeper


Why are you proud to be a zookeeper?

"It is simultaneously the hardest and most rewarding job in the world (as far as I'm concerned) This job is tough and we all make a lot of sacrifices to do it, but joy and fulfillment when you make that special connection with that animal, or you train the new behavior, or watching them interact with enrichment you stayed up all night making, it all make it worth it."

Shelby Handley, Carnivore Keeper

“The conservation work that the zoo does is absolutely incredible. Being a part of the coral conservation effort and working with the Nashville Crayfish will always be a highlight in my career."

Chad Cogbrun, Aquatics Technician

Posted by Nashville Zoo at 9:00 AM

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