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So you want to be an animal care professional?

Hey everyone! I’m Kristina, one of the Seasonal Keepers working with Zoo Atlanta’s Ambassador Animals Team, and I’m here to give you a taste of a day in the life of a Seasonal Keeper!

The Ambassador Animal Department is cool in that it allows guests to meet some animals on a more up-close-and-personal level. We host daily presentations, run the petting zoo, and provide animals for special programs, as well as provide animal encounters for special Zoo events. This is incredibly valuable for an interactive learning experience and a memorable Zoo visit. Guests can bring home the knowledge of the importance of our local gopher tortoise, or remember having seen an endangered vulture run right in front of their eyes! I am lucky enough to float between all three subsections of the department, including the Wieland Wildlife Home, the World of Wild Theater, and our Outback Station.   
 
My typical day fluctuates from checking on the animals, to diet preparation and animal area maintenance, to sharing fun goat facts and spreading excitement for the daily presentations. Being a Seasonal Keeper, my main role is supporting our full-time team members, which gives me a chance to learn their daily routines. However, even with these in place, every day is different! Working at a zoo (especially in Georgia) you are constantly at the mercy of drastic weather changes and animal challenges (like an animal deciding it doesn’t want to participate in a presentation). Overcoming these challenges requires teamwork, coordination and stepping out of your comfort zone, but is a rewarding learning experience every time.

While seasonal positions are short-term (for example mine was a quick three months), they are valuable to the team and offer an awesome opportunity to enter the zoo world. Working up close with the animals has been amazing, and working up close with the keepers has given me a chance to learn everyone’s story of how they achieved their fulfilling positions. From these conversations and experiences, I want to offer some words of advice I found particularly wise for the animal enthusiast looking to get in this role:

  • Be flexible! Adapting to different challenges the day brings is important in the animal care profession, and it helps to remain open-minded. Your dream animal position is not always available first off, but there are many other opportunities circulating in the pool that you can use as a gateway to push you in the right direction. Zoo Atlanta has an array of unique animal species to work with, and we offer awesome volunteer opportunities, internships, and seasonal positions (woop woop!) to get you started. 
  • Be BOLD. Talk to everyone who may have a foot in the industry door that you can, and take in all the advice you get. Every keeper has a story to tell, and some are quite the slippery slope! No one is going to be upset that you went out of your way to learn more about them. This profession is very dynamic, and it takes active pursuit to get to where you want to be. 
  • Patience is key. One of the biggest things I’ve learned from observing animal training sessions is that you can’t take shortcuts. It requires time and effort to train the animals to properly respond to cues so that we can work with them daily. The same applies to pursuing a job as an animal care professional. Keep up the volunteer work, take full advantage of those internships, and give your all to benefit the full-timers, and eventually you will be rewarded with the best job in the world! (Yes, I may be biased.)

As a seasonal, I have been able to listen in on committee meetings, go to sponsored keeper events, and participate in Zoo-wide celebrations and informative talks. These are awesome chances to get to know more about the conservation efforts being undertaken around the nation, understand local challenges, and maybe even get a tasty snack out of it! This is a celebrated profession, and for good reason. I, for one, am very excited to see where the rest of my career takes me and wish good luck to all of you starting out in the same field. Let’s write our own stories and spread the word of the importance of conservation!

Kristina V.
Seasonal Keeper, Ambassador Animals

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl