Career Corner: Gabe Andrle
Name: Gabe Andrle
Position Title: Birds Keeper I
Education: Emory University, Environmental Sciences B.S.
Hometown: Originally, Berwyn, IL.
Currently, Atlanta, GA.
Length of time at Zoo Atlanta: 2 years
Tell us about your job and any projects you are working on.
I am the “Cassowary Routine primary keeper” for the Bird Team. This means that I oversee one of the four sections of the Zoo’s bird populations. Yes, this section includes Cecil the double-wattled cassowary, who will be turning 40 this year! From cleaning and diet prep to enrichment and more cleaning, caring for the animals comes first. Once the animals are taken care of, I get to work on other exciting projects. For example, I am currently working on a project addressing native bird conservation issues to build a more bird-friendly community. Through this project, we are examining bird-window collisions, planting native plants, creating bird-focused educational programs, and hosting a World Migratory Bird Day event on May 11. This project is great because it allows the Zoo to have a positive impact on wildlife in its own backyard and connect guests to their own impact on wildlife and conservation.
What attracted you to this field?
From an early age, I was interested in nature. I found myself spending lots of time outside and quickly became fascinated by animals and the plethora of information that we don’t know and understand about them. This led me to becoming a youth volunteer at a zoo near my home, where I was surrounded by people who had similar interests. This allowed me to learn a lot about animals, while realizing the amazing potential zoos have to connect people with nature and help the planet.
What do you consider to be the highlight of your career so far?
Every day is a new highlight because I am constantly learning, getting the opportunity to be innovative, and I am able to share what I learn with coworkers and guests. There is so much that we don’t know about animals, and each of us brings a unique perspective to make connections that will help both the animals and people. These connections drive me to continuously look forward in a world where nature is often not a top priority.
What prepared you for your job?
Being proactive in learning about nature, while getting involved with a variety of conservation-based organizations and opportunities, set me on the right path to become an animal care professional. Spending lots of time outside observing and questioning the natural world around me gave me a strong foundation to build upon. As a teen, I volunteered at a zoo and a nature center where I began to learn about environmental education, animal care, and ecology. In college, I got involved in a lab that studied disease ecology and wildlife conservation. I also got a job doing ecology-based work and environmental education. Senior year, I got involved with research at Zoo Atlanta, working with Dr. Joe Mendelson and the Herpetology Team. All of these experiences gave me skills that I use at work today.
What advice would you give to students interested in becoming a bird care specialist?
Start in your own backyard. Learn about the birds that call your neighborhood home, what issues they face, and how you can help them. Next, find others with similar interests as you and volunteer with your local Audubon Society, nature center or zoo. Continuously seek opportunities to learn and grow.