Thursday, March 17
Hi, my name is Ashley Taylor, I am the newest addition to the Herpetology Department. I have been a full-time keeper for just about a month now, although I am not totally new to Zoo Atlanta.
I started at Zoo Atlanta last spring/summer as a Herpetology intern, working with the keepers in their day-to-day routine. I learned a lot about zookeeping. I left a little early to join our veterinary staff as a seasonal quarantine keeper/vet tech for six months. In quarantine I helped care for a variety of animals: colobus monkeys, king vultures, a three-banded armadillo, and a Virginia opossum that goes by the name Louis (my favorite), just to name a few.
Last month I made a full circle back into Herpetology as a Keeper I. I am thrilled to be part of the team! It has been a dream of mine to be a reptile/amphibian keeper since I was a kid. I became interested in reptiles when I was 6 or 7 years old. Actually, one of my first memories is of me holding a rough green snake that my dad had caught for me. The movement and sensation of the scales intrigued me.
When I got a little older, I was given an Audubon field guide to North American reptiles and amphibians. I read it constantly, and identifying reptiles turned into a minor obsession. After all, I wanted to be able identify anything I found while I was out exploring. And more importantly, to be able to identify if a snake is venomous.
The knowledge that I retained spared the lives of many gray rat snakes! The counselors at my summer camp always misidentified the snake as either a copperhead or cottonmouth. Once I was able to save a glass lizard (legless lizard) that people had claimed to be a “baby rattlesnake.” I felt the urge to be an advocate for these animals that are so misunderstood. They play an important role in their ecosystem, just like every other creature. It can be difficult to persuade people that are fearful of reptiles that every snake is actually a good snake. Just because an animal has the capacity to kill you does not mean that it is purposely seeking out people to target. Snakes are purely defensive towards humans. They have no limbs, so biting is the only way that they are able to protect themselves.
I knew I wanted to live out my passion and work with animals (particularly reptiles), so I did some research on where to go for my education. I found Friends University, one of the few schools in the U.S. which actually has “Zoo Science” available as a major. After that, I did an internship at the Kentucky Reptile Zoo, which is home to over 2,000 venomous snakes. The KRZ extracts venom from the snakes to be used in medical research and the production of antivenom. As an intern I still could not work with the venomous snakes directly.
Zoo Atlanta has a much smaller number of venomous animals. Most of our reptile and amphibian collection is made up of non-venomous animals. As an intern at Zoo Atlanta, I got to help keepers with practically everything (with again the exception “no venomous”). Everyone who works with venomous animals at the Zoo must first pass a venomous training program.
When I got hired for the seasonal position in the Veterinary Department at the Zoo, I finally had the opportunity to be trained on how to work with venomous animals. Of course I took advantage of that opportunity! The reptile keepers were nice enough to take time out of their day to work with me one-on-one, and it was never a boring day! So finally, after all this time, I am now cleared to work venomous!
As my seasonal position in the Vet Department was coming to an end, a keeper position opened up in the Herpetology Department. Talk about perfect timing! For those of you who do not know, there are not a plethora of zookeeper jobs out there (especially in the animal department you necessarily would choose).
So now I am living the dream! It is a really awesome feeling getting to work with the animals I love the most.
P.S. It’s not just venomous snakes either! The Aldabra tortoises are some of my favorite animals in our department! If you ever see a girl feeding/training our giant Aldabra tortoises, that’s me!
Keeper I, Herpetology