Tuesday, August 23
Hello Zoo Atlanta fans! My name is Mari Arbir, and I am a new primate keeper here at the Zoo! I just wanted to take a minute to introduce myself and tell you a little bit about how I became a zookeeper. Then maybe another day I’ll come back and tell you some fun stories!
As for many of us zookeepers, our love for animals started at an early age. I’ve loved animals since I came into this beautiful world and grew up watching Steve Irwin and Zoboomafoo. Steve Irwin and Jeff Corwin were my idols (and by crikey they still are!) and I always dreamed of growing up to be just like them. Every day I would come home from school, grab a bag of potato chips, and flip on Animal Planet to see what kind of trouble Steve was getting into that day.
Fast forward 10 years and you could find me swimming with the fishes at Georgia Aquarium. My junior year of high school I was a Teen Volunteer where I worked in guest relations passing out maps, answering questions, and even jumping into the Deepo suit!
A year later I was an intern for Georgia Aquarium, where I rotated through all of the departments and got my first hands-on experience with exotic mammals. My favorite part of the day was spending time with TJ the sea turtle. I got to feed, observe and scratch TJ’s back for being so darn cute (plus it helped keep algae off his shell)!
After high school, I attended Georgia State University (bleed blue!) and pursued a degree in psychology. I continued volunteering at the aquarium, but a lot of my degree coursework focused on primate behaviors and models. As much as I loved marine mammals, I absolutely fell in love with primates! My junior year of college I began assisting at the Language Research Center with Dr. Sarah F. Brosnan and worked on analyzing research and participating in hands-on cognitive tasks with capuchin monkeys. Here is where I fell in love with my favorite animal so far, Liam. Liam was the flirtiest of the capuchins and liked me right away! He would smack his lips and do a dance, and I just fell for his charm. I knew then that I wanted to work with primates.
After college, I got an internship at Zoo Atlanta where I worked in the Gorilla Department. Boy, was that a lot of work! Being a zookeeper is not easy. In fact, I lost 10 pounds in my four months as an intern at the Zoo! After that, I was hired on seasonally in the Orangutan Department for two months. Now, most of my days are spent in small African primates (SAP). In SAP I mostly take care of the lemurs (pictured is my favorite, Malaky), which remind me so much of my capuchins. As amazing as the larger primates are, I absolutely adore the smaller species. They have such big personalities and are a lot smarter than people give them credit for!
As a part-time keeper, I help out with morning routines. I feed and give the animals any needed medications, make the habitats look pretty (only to be destroyed 10 minutes later when I let animals out), and then I clean the inside enclosures. After all the cleaning is done (and I’m covered in sweat and poop) I try to find time researching and making new enrichment activities for the animals. After I leave the Zoo for the day, I go to my other job as a research assistant at the Language Research Center, where I still get to flirt with Liam.
And that’s a quick summary of my career so far! I have a lot of goals I’m working toward and am enjoying my time here at Zoo Atlanta! If you see me walking around the Zoo and have questions, don’t hesitate to ask (especially you aspiring keepers!). I love talking about my career and the animals that I work with. Good-bye for now, Hotlanta!
PS: Hi Mom and Dad!
Part-time Keeper, Primates