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What does a zoological curator do?

Hi everyone! My name is Lauren Wilson, and this is my very first Keeper Stories blog! I am the Associate Curator of Birds at Zoo Atlanta so, while not technically a keeper, I have the amazing job of managing the Bird Team as well as the birds at the Zoo. I thought it might be interesting to tell you a little bit about the role of a zoological curator…
…Wait! Come back! It’s interesting, I promise!

A lot of people ask me “what exactly is a curator?” Well, the word “curator” literally means a steward, a caretaker, a supervisor, or a keeper. The great thing about being a zoological curator is that I take care of both the keepers in the Bird Department as well as the birds. A large part of my job involves managing people. I am responsible for hiring keepers, training keepers, helping keepers set and achieve personal goals, and ensuring that they have the tools and resources to do their jobs to the best of their ability every day. I think of this as the most important part of my job. The birds at Zoo Atlanta receive the best care we can give them because we have the best, well-trained bird care professionals in the business.

While the keepers are out in the Zoo taking care of the birds on a day-to-day basis, I spend quite a bit of my time managing the birds on a month-to-month or even a year-to-year basis. Along with the rest of the bird management team, which includes our Senior Curator, James, and our Lead Keeper, Monica – both of whom I can’t live without! – I make decisions about what birds should be housed where and with what other birds, what birds should come to or leave Zoo Atlanta for another zoo, and what species of birds we should breed or would be better off for them and the Zoo being in a non-breeding flock. I also help develop diets, training programs, enrichment processes, medical treatments (with the Vet Team, of course), and action plans to improve individual birds’ well-being. With over 220 individual birds representing 50 different species, this can be a lot to keep track of!

Finally, as a curator, I also have a larger role within the Zoo’s animal department. I work with the Vice President of Conservation and Collections, the Director of Animal Resources, the Senior Curator, and my fellow associate curators (there are six of us total) to evaluate what species of animals we should have here at Zoo Atlanta, to implement practice safety exercises and various safety protocols, and to develop standard operating procedures for everything from transferring animals to another zoo to developing new leaders in the animal department. I also act as a “Curator on Duty” or COD, which is the same as being a manager on duty at any other job but for the animal department here at the Zoo. I am available to help in any department, with any animal, at any time during my COD shift, especially in the case of an emergency. There are 13 different animal areas at Zoo Atlanta, and there is always a COD on grounds whenever a keeper is working in any of those areas.

I hope you learned a little about what it means to be a zoological curator. I love my job because it is the perfect mix of paperwork (yes, I’m weird, and LOVE paperwork) and working directly with the animals!

Lauren Wilson
Associate Curator of Birds

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl