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Celebrating our Zookeepers – A Message from the Director

Categories: Director's Den, Keeper Profile

 

Dear Zoo Friends and Members,

Zookeeper Kelsey feeding okapiIt takes a team to operate a zoo. As the Zoo Director, I tell many of our supporters that when you donate to the zoo, you are investing in not only the animals, but also a group of people who

create incredible experiences for our community.  When you and your family visit the zoo and view incredibly rare animals such as okapi, that experience is the sum of the efforts of dozens of dedicated employees.

Each department within the zoo plays a role in making the zoo a better place. The Institutional Advancement & Marketing ​Department helps ​to identify and solicit donors to help finance capital improvements and programs. Accounting ​makes sure the projects and the zoo stay on budget. Facilities build new features and continue to maintain the zoo; these tasks can run the gamut from fixing doors that are jammed to creating new habitats for the animal​s. Education manages our volunteer programs, creates interpretive graphics, and ​facilitates programs that teach our guests about the animals. Operations ensures a smooth guest experience from a welcoming smile that greets your family at the front gate to clean restrooms. Horticulture is the window-dressing of the zoo, creating a serene landscape to accentuate the zoo visit. SSA (the zoo’s concessionaire), makes tasty burgers and has a great selection of plush animals that have started many bedroom menageries.

For many of our guests, the job that stands out in their minds when one thinks of a zoo, are the zookeepers. This week we celebrate National Zookeeper Week by recognizing the work of our zookeepers.

Zookeeper Jason with pelican

Our keepers are responsible for caring for nearly 500 animals. These dedicated individuals work with a team of Animal Care Supervisors and Veterinarians to give individual attention to each animal that lives at Sacramento Zoo. Our keepers come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Many started as interns or volunteers, working with animals in hopes of obtaining paid employment at an accredited zoological park. The recruitment of zookeepers is extremely competitive. There are usually over a hundred applicants for a single position. You must be willing to move almost anywhere, far away from family and friends, to become a zookeeper. Many of our keepers are from throughout the nation, and moved to Sacramento for the expressed purpose of working at the zoo.

Kristene & Tiki the flamingoWhile some aspects of animal keeping might look glamorous, such as hand-rearing a baby animal, the truth is that keeping is hard and physical work. That baby animal might require around the clock care, meaning the keeper does not receive any sleep. Creating the best lives for our animals requires moving heavy logs, creating mud wallows, rearranging rocks, or hanging up shade tarps. It does not matter if it’s rainy and cold or during our summer heat waves, the keepers are still outside caring for the animals. The zoo is traditionally closed just two days per year, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Every staff member stays home on those holidays except the keepers who work on those days to care for the animals while many people are enjoying time with their family. During the early days of COVID-19, when the zoo was shut down, it was the keepers and the facilities team who were asked to report to work each day. These employees took extra precautions and made sure our animals would be safe and well cared for.

Our keepers work to give the animals the best care! The Sacramento Zoo has hatched more thick-billed parrots than any other zoo in the nation. This is a critically endangered species of parrot native to the United States. In 2018, Coconut, our snow leopard, was born with several medical issues. Our keepers worked to give him daily therapy so he could grow up to become a healthy cat. In fact, many of our animals are trained by our dedicated keepers with operant conditioning using positive reinforcement to make procedures such as drawing blood or visual examinations so much easier, and less stressful, for the animals. These are just a few of the hundreds of examples that I could give detailing the incredible relationships that our keepers have built with our animals. In addition, our keepers also take the time to talk to our guests, especially children, answering questions about their jobs and the animals while inspiring the next generation of zookeepers.
Zookeeper Rachel with Eastern bongoNext time you visit the zoo, please take a moment to reflect on the collective efforts of so many individuals who create your zoo experience.

Sincerely,

Jason Jacobs
Executive Director

Sacramento Zoo

Please note that all photos in this email were taken before the outbreak of COVID-19. All staff are currently taking safety precautions including wearing masks and practicing proper distancing.