How long have you worked at the Fort Worth Zoo?
I joined the Zoo in 1990.
When did your career with animals begin?
I’ve loved animals (especially primates) since I was a child. But my “official” career began in 1981 at the Bronx Zoo.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
As an animal keeper, you never know what will happen during the course of a day because animals are not 100 percent predictable. I love that each day is different, and usually has surprises in store!
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
One of the most challenging aspects of my job is the task of becoming familiar with each animal’s temperament, but still being prepared to expect the unexpected.
What’s the most interesting thing about the animals you work with at the Fort Worth Zoo?
The fine balance of give-and-take that develops in keeper/animal relationships has always been interesting to me. Often, keepers become part of the “troop dynamics.” So, it is only after time and familiarity that trust and a natural bond between the keeper and animal forms.
What advice would you give to students who may pursue a job like yours?
Many people say they “love animals,” but in reality keepers must “love taking care of animals.” This is quite different than just loving them, and involves hard work, and not all play. If you choose a career working with animals, time and dedication is the name of the game. Some of my happiest and saddest memories come from sharing my life with captive apes.
What is a “typical” day like for you?
My day usually begins at 8 a.m. as I check on the animals, prepare their diets, set-up exhibits and shift the animals from their indoor habitat to outdoors. After 10 a.m., I clean the indoor areas until noon. Then it’s out to feed lunches to the apes and take one for myself! After lunch we often have enrichment time (challenging activities or treats that encourage the animals’ natural behaviors). Some enrichment activities include training the apes to do different behaviors, such as presenting body parts for examination. This makes it easier for the Zoo’s medical staff to give them injections or examine wounds. My day usually ends with preparing the animals to go indoors at night. After bringing them inside for dinner, I clean the exhibit areas for the next day.
What is the most fascinating animal in your care?
I specialize with primates and they are all fascinating to me! They are intelligent animals, so I enjoy watching them try to figure out how to use a new enrichment device.
What is your favorite amazing fact about apes?
One of the most amazing things about apes is the way they communicate with each other using body language and facial expressions, just as humans do. After all this time, I can read them fairly well – but they seem to read me even better.