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Networking for a common goal

This past week I had the opportunity to attend the National Conference for The American Association of Zookeepers. Also known as AAZK, the American Association of Zookeepers is composed of animal care professionals, volunteers and affiliates in the zoo community. Keepers from all over the U.S. (as well as a few of our colleagues from up in Canada), come together each year to collaborate, brainstorm, and share our success stories. We are given the opportunity to attend Certification Courses ranging in subjects from nutrition to amphibian care, as well as hands-on workshops where we can learn about topics like how to build enrichment for the animals in our care. To top it all off, it is the ultimate networking opportunity. Despite there being many zoological facilities across the country, you’d be surprised at just how tight-knit the zoo community is.

This is my second time attending an AAZK conference, and this time I was able to go with two other keepers from Zoo Atlanta. Sarah (another mammal Swing Keeper), Alexa (a bird keeper) and I made the trek to Washington, D.C., to attend. We spent our first day checking out the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore before official conference activities started. You might be wondering why on Earth people who spend most of their time at the Zoo would be so eager to visit another one. Well, besides our overall interest in animals and their care, visiting other zoos is a great opportunity for us to see what other facilities are trying, what’s working for them, and what ideas we can use when we return to Zoo Atlanta. This is where some of the most successful new ideas come from! We also got to see some behind-the-scenes areas at Smithsonian’s National Zoo. Again, this shows us how another facility is caring for the same (or similar animals), and ideas they may have come up with or challenges they have faced. Zookeepers are very resourceful people, and as a group can work through just about any obstacle they are faced with.

While the conferences are fun, it’s also a time to discuss some of the very serious threats that animals face in their wild habitats. We discuss our fundraising efforts for animals all over the world, big and small, as well as actions we can take as a group to combat illegal activities that threaten their survival. For example, each year AAZK chapters all over the country host Bowling for Rhinos events. This is AAZK’s most well-established fundraiser, and chapters have collectively raised over $6 million since 1990! All that money goes directly to benefiting rhino conservation efforts in the field, such as the International Rhino Foundation, Action for Cheetahs in Kenya and the LEWA Wildlife Conservancy.

My favorite part about these conferences is that I leave with a wealth of knowledge, ideas and new friends from across the country. At the end of the day, we may all work at different zoos, but we all have the same goal: to provide the best care for our animals as possible, take action to protect their wild counterparts, and educate and inspire our guests to do the same. In any field, there is always the opportunity to learn from the experiences of others. Zookeeping is no exception and I am very grateful for the opportunity that AAZK and Zoo Atlanta provide to help with just that!
Danica Wolfe
Swing Keeper I, Mammals

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl