When people see me in my uniform, with the colorful zoo logo, they assume I am a zookeeper. Considering all the awesome work that zookeepers do, that’s quite the compliment.
My official title is education specialist, yet when I tell people that, they don’t seem very satisfied. To help explain, I tell people that I’m not a zookeeper, I’m a zoo teacher.
As an education specialist, I get to help achieve the zoo’s mission: The Lee Richardson Zoo connects people with wildlife, inspiring appreciation and understanding of the natural world through conservation, education, and engaging experiences. It is my job to interpret to guests of all ages everything from why the zoo exists, to why flamingos are pink, and help to raise awareness of endangered species and how we can help to save species.
Since people have the tendency to consider all zoo staff as zookeepers, it’s also my job to help the community become aware of all the opportunities that are available at the zoo, especially the ones related to our educational services. The current education staff is composed of an education curator, two full-time education specialists, and one part-time education aide. We work alongside zookeepers, the general curator, the director, maintenance staff, the administrative assistant, the gatehouse attendants, zoo volunteers and docents, and many more to offer educational opportunities throughout the community and surrounding areas.
If you’ve ever attended an animal awareness day such as World Lion Day or World Migratory Bird Day, fed a rhino or giraffe during the encounters we offer, seen a program with our ambassador animals, or read a habitat sign, you’ve experienced just some of the activities that education staff help to make happen. Birthday parties, zoo camps, Story Time? All led by education staff. Follow us on social media, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and even Pinterest; we’re there to help spread the word about conservation and special events.
In addition to all of this, the best part of my job is working with the animals. I will never get tired of walking through the zoo. I will always take the opportunity to help zookeepers work with the animals they care for. I will always say hello to the giraffes as I pass by, and I will never, ever get tired of hearing the lions roar or the siamangs call. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to have a career outside of the zoo; if I can’t start or end my day working with these awesome animals, then it's not the right place for me!
A single workday presents many unique opportunities for me. One day last week, I started my day on a Zoo Mobile to Garfield Early Childhood Center and taught preschoolers about wildlife, presented a distance learning program about “creepy creatures” to a classroom in Canada, then went on two more Zoo Mobiles to two retirement homes in our community. Between giving the programs, I answered emails, booked two birthday parties, updated our website, and started thinking about writing this article.
If any part of my day has piqued your interest, or you’d like more information about any zoo experience, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me and my coworkers. We’d love to fill you in about upcoming events, how to book a birthday party with us, how to schedule a tour of the zoo, and anything else you may be interested in. Give us a call at (620) 276-1250, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow us on social media @leerichardsonzoo, or simply stop on by. The zoo offices are located in the Finnup Center for Conservation Education, and we’d love to meet you!
Emily Sexson is an education specialist at Lee Richardson Zoo.