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 Lead 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 always loved animals, and I started volunteering at my local zoo growing up when I was 13--I loved getting to share information with guests. That passion led me to zookeeping--I get to help facilitate connections between people and wildlife, which is really rewarding."

Jake Belair, Ambassador Animal Lead Keeper


Whitney Roman, Primate Keeper
Brittany Blocker, Hoofstock Keeper
Kelsey Spies, Ambassador Animal Keeper


What is your favorite part of your job?

"My favorite part of the job is the connections I have made with the animals. Also making connections with teammates and being in a career where we all have such a passion for the same thing brings everyone close. I have made lifelong friends from this career."

Danielle Bertold, Carnivore 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
Dori Coburn, 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 fieldwork, breeding and release, raising funds, or education, it is all part of our job.”

Stephanie White, Ambassador Animal Area Supervisor

“Being a zookeeper is not about controlling everything in the animals' lives. We give them the choice to partake in all aspects of their lives. Our aim is to build trust and encourage participation.”

Whitney Roman, Primate 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

Tatum Basham, Primate 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 feel empathy and a personal connection to the world around them. Everything has a purpose and should be valued for more than just entertainment purposes. Animals are cute and fun to watch, however, they are so much more. When at the zoo make sure to take the time to learn about them by reading the signs, attending keeper talks, and asking questions!"

Whitney Roman, Primate Keeper

Robin Mahoney, Area Supervisor of Outreach 
Morgan Fontenot, Hoofstock Keeper
Holly Carneal, Herpetology Keeper


Why do you think being a zookeeper is important?

“These animals are relying on us for everything in their lives, without that, there would be many species extinct with no representation. By educating and encouraging guests about the natural history, ongoing environmental issues, and other ways to help these animals, we can help save species from extinction."

Holly Carneal, Herpetology 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

Olivia LaGrand, Avian 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 thank my parents for raising me to be patient and loving towards all animals. I've always wanted to be a keeper since I was young. I grew up watching animal planet with my family. I did a project in 5th grade that I wanted to be a Giant panda caretaker! I have so much love for all animals. Seeing an animal be excited to see me melts my heart. Being so close to animals you love every day is a dream." 

Tatum Basham, Primate Keeper

Jeremiah Duncan, Herpetology Keeper
Laura Furnivall, Hospital Keeper
Danielle Berthold, Carnivore Keeper


Why are you proud to be a zookeeper?

"I am proud to be a zookeeper because not many people get to wear this title. It's a career that you have to put your heart into and know there are going to be times when your heart gets hurt. It's a tough job but when you love what you do is it really a job?"

MJ Foletta, 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 09:00

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