This Zookeeper Week, we shadowed Suzanne, a zookeeper at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. Suzanne works with the animals at the Wild Wonders Outdoor Theater. We asked her about her experiences in zookeeping and what working with animals and wildlife means to her.
Q: What is your favorite part of the job?
A: One of the great things about my job is the variety. On any given day, I could be taking an aardvark for a walk, playing a wizard on stage, or sharing a radiated tortoise with kids at a close encounter.
However, my favorite part of the job is sharing with the public how much I love the animals. I’m so thrilled to be able to make an impact with our visitors and watch their eyes light up when they see the animals.
Q: What is your favorite animal at the Zoo?
A: I have been asked this question so often that I finally had to choose a favorite, but it wasn’t easy. I ended up picking Jumbo Jet, our radiated tortoise. Before I started working here, I didn’t think much about reptiles. Jumbo Jet showed me that reptiles have personality and charisma. I share that perspective with the public and can see that same transformation happen in them: going from loving Jumbo Jet to wanting to save all radiated tortoises to having a deeper appreciation for reptiles.
Q: What was your journey to becoming a keeper? What inspired you to become a keeper?
A: I always loved going to zoos as a child and have wanted to be a zookeeper since I was young. In my teenage years, I lost track of the dream; I didn’t know any zookeepers and was unsure how to make that dream a reality. I started volunteering here at the Zoo when I was in college on my way to becoming a teacher. I received my teaching degree and started working for the education department here at the Zoo. This was followed by working part-time at the Wild Wonders Outdoor Theater. I’m now working full-time as a staff biologist here at Wild Wonders, and I’m right where I want to be.
Q: What does your day typically look like?
A: My typical day will look considerably different from winter to summer. The Wild Wonders Outdoor Theater show is now twice daily, and it’s a lively time of the year for us.
When we first come in, we have a meeting to discuss our tasks for the day. We then have about two hours of cleaning; we each choose a section and hose and scrub our way through the first hours of the day. Usually, one person prepares the animals’ diets during that time because it takes a couple of hours. After a short break, we will do a close encounter where we take an animal out on Zoo grounds and introduce them to guests. As a staff biologist, I may take a newer staff member out and train them on how to do that.
Around 11:30, we get ready for our show; we gather the props, get the animals in their locations, ready their enrichments, and put on our outfits. The show is from 12:00 to 12:30 pm. After the show, we will tear down, clean up, and ensure all the animals have lunches. Then we will take a lunch break and do some close encounters. Then it’s time for the 3 pm show, which will have a different animal line-up; no two shows are the same! Then after the second show, we clean and give the animals their dinner.
Q: What is something people wouldn’t expect about your job?
A: Many people don’t realize that we write our own scripts for the shows. So yes, all the puns and silly jokes in the script are ours. We also do a lot of prop making and managing; one example in the show is the cauldron, which I helped construct.
Q: What advice would you give someone who wants to be a zookeeper?
A: Find your passion and dedicate yourself to whatever that passion is. You will be much more fulfilled in your job, and people will notice it too. Being a zookeeper is hard work, and it’s not always glamorous. But if you are passionate about the animals you care for, you will enjoy it immensely and thrive.
If you’d like to meet Suzanne, catch her during a show in the Wild Wonders Outdoor Theater or a close encounter on the Zoo grounds.