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“Presenting animals to the public is about telling a story— especially with young kids, which is where I think you can be the most impactful.”

working on a degree in Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences through Oregon State University’s distance learning program. “You’re constantly learning. Every day. The animals teach you something, or your coworkers teach you something.” Though she has earned associates degrees in equine science, animal science, and wildlife management, hoofstock keeper Jonnie Greslie-Stroud says her thirst for learning will never be quenched: “You reach a stage where you say, ‘I need to keep learning, and I’m never going to learn enough.” She attends conferences relating to okapi and other species she works with. “You want to know what’s going on out there, so you can grow and evolve.”


Chandra David studied primatology in college but her career took an unexpected turn when a spot opened up on the California condor team. “I thought, ‘Well, I’m not into birds, but this will be good for my resume.’ I planned to do it for a little while but I totally fell in love with this program. Not just the birds themselves, but to be involved in the effort to bring back a species is incredibly inspiring.”



Keepers are quick to

“We train certain animals to participate in their own health care,” says Zielinski. “We use that term a lot, participating, because it’s true. It’s pretty hard to take a 400-pound tiger to get his tooth looked at or get a vaccine. You’d have to put them under anesthesia. But if you train them to open their mouth or present their tail for a blood test, you make their lives so much easier.” “There are so many creative ways to use positive reinforcement training to enhance how we care for the animals,” Fox adds. For example, some of the great apes have been trained to present their chests or abdomens for ultrasounds. “In cardiac care, doing an ultrasound while an animal is awake can provide valuable information, since anesthesia can potentially alter readings.”

concede that they do not work in a vacuum. A vast group of employees and volunteers in various roles throughout the Zoo contribute directly or indirectly to the well-being of the animals. “We collaborate not just with the veterinarians and our animal colleagues, but also the construction force that helps us to maintain the facilities and exhibits, education, fundraising, the list goes on,” Zielinski says.



That kind of training can be time intensive, says Zielinski. “There’s a tremendous amount of relationship building involved. The animals get to know you, they get to trust you, and if you don’t break their trust you can create strong pathways to understanding them and caring for them.” The strength of the bonds keepers form with the animals brings not only joy but heartbreak. “You love these beautiful animals, and it’s wonderful to be close to them, but you deal with the heartbreak, too,” Parada says. “All living things have a life span, and sometimes it’s tragic and sometimes it’s natural—and it’s not easy either way. But the rewards of doing this far outweigh that.”

CONTINUING EDUCATION While it may be true that a zebra never changes its stripes nor a leopard its spots, caring for exotic animals is an ever-evolving discipline. Keepers constantly strive to expand their knowledge base, whether through formal education programs, independent research, or networking with other wildlife professionals around the world. “That’s one of the things that creates job satisfaction,” says Pontoppidan, a Moorpark College grad who is now

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The nature of the job means that for most keepers, it doesn’t end when they clock out. “On my days off, I think about these guys,” says Copley of the elephant quartet. “What are they doing? It’s two o’clock—I wonder if Billy is exercising now. I wonder if they got their browse yet. They mean the world to me; I think it’s the same for every keeper.” Being on call for emergencies means sleep is sometimes interrupted. A recent power outage brought David to the Zoo hours before her shift was scheduled to begin to check on incubating condor eggs. Moran sums it up: “We all work really hard for the Zoo’s mission. Conservation, caring for our animals, the education of the public, and everything the Zoo and the keepers value. It may be challenging, but it’s definitely worth the work.”



JULY 21-27, 2019 Visit our keeper photo gallery at

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LEADING THE WAY FOUNDED IN 1967, THE AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF ZOO KEEPERS (AAZK) is composed of more than 60 chapters in the United States and Canada. The AAZK and its members are dedicated to advancing the profession of animal care and contributing to conservation globally. The history of AAZK in Los Angeles goes back nearly as far, with the Zoo’s first chapter forming in 1968. After a period of dormancy, the Los Angeles chapter (LA/AAZK) was relaunched in 2007, and today it is stronger than ever. In the last 10 years, LA/AAZK has raised $450,057.86 for rhinoceros conservation in Africa and Asia through AAZK’s flagship fundraiser, Bowling for Rhinos. This record-setting amount has set our chapter on a path of leadership in our association that has steered us to host next year’s national AAZK conference. Approximately 400 keepers will be hosted at the Glendale Hilton for a week of professional development and networking. We look forward to showing off what Los Angeles has to offer— especially our Zoo. The conference planning committee is working hard to organize the program and fundraise for the catering and hotel costs. To accomplish this, we’ve planned a number of events, including a bowl-a-thon on July 27 at Jewel City Bowl in Glendale. Everyone is welcome to bowl and/or participate in the raffle or silent auction! Beyond hosting the conference, our chapter is still striving to expand our impact. Thanks to the generous donation of docent Carlton Dudley, we are able to fund keeper conservation and professional development projects for the next 10 years. These projects give keepers the opportunity to further their education and professional growth, whether through conferences, classes, or participation in field projects. In 2018, the chapter designed a unique T-shirt to commemorate International Vulture Awareness Day, raising nearly $2,200 for vulture conservation. Thanks in large part to Laughs for Giraffes—a fun-filled evening of stand-up comedy—we’ve raised more than $18,000 for giraffe conservation over five years. Three of the nine giraffe subspecies are classified as endangered or critically endangered. In April, the chapter rallied to raise funds for Asian elephants in their range countries by holding a three-day California Pizza Kitchen fundraiser. Other LA/ AAZK fundraisers have benefitted wombats, red pandas, cheetahs, orangutans, and gorillas, to name just a few. LA/AAZK is also trying to step up our social game! Board members are organizing break-out sessions, guest speakers, and after-hours events to bring the chapter together outside of fundraising and conference planning duties. Between promoting better animal care practices nationally, sending keepers on projects around the world, and fostering unity among chapter members, keepers at the Los Angeles Zoo are leading the way for the American Association of Zoo Keepers. — SAMANTHA DERMAN, LEAD BIRD KEEPER





Profile for Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association

Zoo View - Summer 2019  

Award-winning quarterly magazine of the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association. This issue features an in-depth look at the zookeeping professi...

Zoo View - Summer 2019  

Award-winning quarterly magazine of the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association. This issue features an in-depth look at the zookeeping professi...