Even though a variety of industries have historically been dominated by male employees, International Women’s Day, celebrated in March, seeks to highlight the value of women in the workforce. Women have been contributing and leading groundbreaking scientific research for years.

I’m certain most people can name a well-known female scientist, like Marie Curie and Jane Goodall, but there are many lesser-known women that contributed important findings to their field of research. One of my favorites is Mary Anning, a self-taught paleontologist from the early 1800s. At eleven years old her older brother spotted a skeleton in the seaside cliff, near their home in England, and “contracted” out the task of unearthing the bones to his younger sister. She eventually freed the skull and 60 vertebrae from the cliff, and this fossil was the first example of an Ichthyosaurus. From this work, Mary developed a passion for fossils and continued to study them for the rest of her life. What makes this extra impressive is that Mary Anning became a leader in the study of fossils at a time when there was little understanding or respect for this topic and when men were dominating the industry.

Mary Anning’s story is the perfect story for International Women's Day. She did not let the fact that her interest was not commonplace or the fact that studying fossils was a non-typical past-time for women at that time, stop her from pursuing what she loved. International Women’s Day was created to celebrate the achievements of women like Mary.

Unfortunately, there are still incorrect gender-based limitations placed on certain roles. Some might not encourage youth to pursue their passion of working with animals. They mistakenly think that all zookeepers do is scoop poop, but this career is much more than that. Choosing the path of zookeeping takes hard work and lots of passion! Keepers are caregivers; ensuring the mental and physical wellbeing of their charges. They provide balanced and nutritional meals, appropriate enrichment items to stimulate the mind and body, as well as medicine when needed. Choosing zookeeping as a career should earn the same appreciation as those who care for the elderly or children. Additionally, their work focuses on conservation of endangered species through work with captive breeding programs and educating the public about the challenge’s wildlife populations face. The role of a zookeeper is multi-faceted and anyone choosing to pursue this field should not be deterred just because of hard work and dirt.

Lee Richardson Zoo inspires future generations to pursue their passion for working with wildlife through our Zoo Careers program. The program highlights the important work that zookeepers complete each day and can be presented at your site, or by having your group visit our zoo classrooms. This program is built to inspire youth, girls and boys alike, to pursue their passion as Mary Anning did; even if it means getting their hands dirty and scooping poop as a part of their career.

 

Catie Policastro is the conservation education specialist at Lee Richardson Zoo.