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Career Corner: Jenny – Carnivore Department

jennyelgart ZA 0778Name: Jenny

Position Title: Carnivore Lead Keeper

Education: Bachelor of Arts – Biology and Psychology

Hometown: Moscow, PA

Length of time at Zoo Atlanta: 14 years this summer

Tell us about your job and any projects you are working on.
I am responsible for the overall care of the Zoo’s carnivore population, as well as the animal care professionals who care for them. Our team cares for a great variety of animals here, including lions, tigers, clouded leopard, sun bears, otters, binturong, fossa, tanuki, red panda and giant pandas. My focuses cover a vast range, including animal training, enrichment, daily husbandry (cleaning, diets, veterinary needs, etc.), habitat design and maintenance, as well as staff training and development. I love that my job is so varied in its focus and that I get to work one-on-one with the animals every day, while also using my experience to guide our team. One of the biggest projects I am involved with right now is holding a position on a Zoo committee that focuses on streamlining our training and enrichment programs, as well as focusing on staff education through classes, mentorship and working groups. I am also constantly evaluating our team’s husbandry and care and enrichment practices to ensure that we are on the forefront of animal care and well-being.

What attracted you to this field?
I have what many would say is the “typical” animal care professional response to this. From my first visits to the Philadelphia Zoo and SeaWorld, I instantly knew that I wanted to work with animals, preferably in a zoological setting. Throughout high school and college my passion only grew, and I knew I needed to pursue this career.

What do you consider to be the highlight of your career so far?
Oh man. This is always the most difficult question to answer as I don’t have just one. I have been privileged to be present for the birth and rearing of numerous animals, namely giant pandas, lions, Asian small-clawed otters and tigers. Every new birth is a fascinating lesson in animal behavior and helps our conservation goals as well as sharpens our understanding of animal care and well-being. I also get extreme joy out of training the animals to voluntarily participate in their own care. For example, being able to train a lion for a blood draw or an ultrasound and therefore bettering his care without the need for an exam using anesthesia is incredible!

What prepared you for your job?
I had a great internship at an aquarium during college as well as some paid experience at another zoo. Any little bit of experience helps. Coming into this field I thought I knew what species I would like to work with, but to really move forward you need to be open to learning and working with anything. I’ve had the great fortune to work with many different birds, reptiles and mammals, and all have contributed to my knowledge and growth today. I wouldn’t trade any of those opportunities! As far as my current supervisory role, I continue to learn every day from the people around me, and those I directly supervise.

What advice would you give to students interested in your career?
The opportunities in this field are vast, but competitive. Be open and eager to try opportunities outside of your comfort zone. Always learn from and appreciate your experiences as they will collectively help mold you and make you successful. I have learned so much from watching and learning from those around me, asking questions when needed, and seeking guidance from those that I see performing well. And remember to never stop learning through conversations, classes and reading.

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