The third week of July is National Zoo Keeper Week. This year, National Zoo Keeper Week is highlighting how animal care and conservation efforts require great teamwork. While I’m not a keeper personally, I am a zoo educator; I could not do my job without the rest of the zoo staff.
Jenn, Catie, the zoo’s volunteers and I offer educational programs both on and off-site, including camps, walking tours, special events and more. Judy, Donna P. and Jeff work at the gatehouse and greet guests who are driving through the zoo. Doctors Eric Tuller and Lila McDiffett visit the zoo regularly to help monitor and provide veterinary care for the animals. Giovanni and Abigail joined Jakob, Kevin, Zach, Dan and Jake for the summer season to aid the maintenance crew. Maintenance keeps our zoo grounds safe, operational and looking good.
Caitlin and Kristina care for red pandas, goral, leopards, otters and more in Wild Asia. Pablo, Paige, Courtney and Kelly care for the zoo’s hoofstock and other African species who call Lee Richardson Zoo home. Kirsten makes sure every animal’s dietary needs are met in her commissary role, as well as providing care for the zoo’s outreach animals that are used in educational programs.
Christi and Carrie care for the big cats around the zoo, such as the African lions and the jaguar. Shannon assists with veterinary needs, as well as the zoo’s commissary and birds. Brandon takes care of the birds in the zoo; there’s a good chance when you visit the zoo, you’ll find him in the Marie Osterbuhr Aviary. Matt and Rebecca are the jacks of all trades at the zoo, able to offer relief to any area of the zoo.
Angela is the zoo’s registrar and keeps track of everything coming and going at the zoo, animals, zoo staff, supplies and permits, too. Sarah is the general curator of Lee Richardson Zoo and heads up animal care staff. Max is the education curator and leads the Education Division. Donna W. is the administrative assistant and can help you with just about anything you may need at the zoo. Kristi is our director and makes sure everything in the zoo runs smoothly. The Friends of Lee Richardson Zoo organization, which is led by Jessica and Sam and includes their team at the Safari Shoppe, help raise funds for the zoo, as well as keep guests happy and refreshed.
While all staff members have a role they specialize in, it’s not surprising to see these roles overlapping to make sure the zoo runs smoothly. Keepers who normally spend their day working in one area will answer the call for help in any other area. Animal care staff help with education and maintenance needs and vice versa, to meet our mission of connecting people with wildlife, inspiring appreciation and understanding of the natural world through conservation, education and engaging experiences.
Because we keep the focus on the animals, zoo visits don’t always include interaction with staff. If you’d like to meet and get to know our staff a little better, attend one of our keeper chats that happen every day! At 10:15 a.m., a training demo is viewable to the public at Cat Canyon. At 10:30 a.m., you can catch an animal ambassador with staff at the Nature Play Space. Chat with staff about the otters at Kansas Waters at 12:30 p.m., and meet the Trumpeter Swans and their keeper at 1 p.m.
At Lee Richardson Zoo, we are stewards of wildlife conservation. We strive to connect our guests with some of the world’s most rare and endangered species so that these animals will have a future in the wild. A great way to show appreciation to zoo staff for National Zoo Keeper Week is to visit an animal at the zoo, learn about them and learn how you can help conserve their species, then share this information with friends. Happy National Zoo Keeper Week! Together we can save species!
Emily Sexson is an education specialist at Lee Richardson Zoo.