Zookeeper and Animal Trainer

Zookeeper and Animal Trainer


Tampa, FL

Female, 32

During my zookeeping and environmental education career, I have interacted and worked with a variety of animals, including brown bears, wolverines, red foxes, moose, camels, mountain goats, dolphins, sea lions, raccoons, porcupines, snakes, raptors and ravens. I am also a young adult author, and my debut novel ESSENCE was released in June 2014 by Strange Chemistry Books. Ask me anything!

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162 Questions


Last Answer on September 18, 2015

Best Rated

Did you hear about the guy who jumped into the tiger pit at the Bronx Zoo? Not that I'd ever do that, but is the best thing to do in that situation just to play dead?

Asked by Ted about 11 years ago

What a crazy story, right? I am continuously amazed by the people who make these decisions. I feel like you would have to be delusional or very, very troubled to actually assess this situation and make the decision to "become one with the tigers." (I can't, of course, speak for this particular man or his particular motives. It's impossible to accurately judge someone without walking in their shoes, so I will try my best not to make sweeping generalizations. I am just extremely bothered by the fact that this man's self-destructive behavior put both him and the tiger at risk.) In all honesty, there isn't much hope for you if you jump into a tiger enclosure. These are powerful, instinctual, apex predators, and every fiber of their being is tuned into capitalizing on their prey's mistakes. They are also lightning fast, and they make kills very quickly and efficiently. However, just for the sake of argument, I believe the best approach when dealing with big cats is to NEVER curl into the fetal position or play dead. This sometimes works with startled bears, but it simply signals an easy meal to big cats. If you encounter a big cat in the wild, the best idea is just to stay calm and hope the animal doesn't see or become interested in you. If it does, speak loudly, raise your arms and try to scare it away. (Big cats are notoriously shy, so this may actually work.) If the animal refuses to leave (which is way more likely in a zoo setting), you should never turn your back or try to run, because this will incite the tiger's natural chase instinct. Tigers also tend to go for the head and throat, so protect your neck and strike at the animal's face, using anything you can grab as a weapon. In all likelihood, of course, you're a dead man if you don't get some assistance from the tiger's zookeepers. This is how the man at the Bronx Zoo survived. The tiger's keepers managed to keep their cool and distract the tiger before anything too tragic happened. The man looks like he will recover, and the tiger is fine, too. This is the best news of all, because nothing upsets me more than when animals get punished for simply acting on their natural instincts. Kudos to the amazing staff at the Bronx Zoo for averting this tragedy with levelheadedness, skill and precision!

When a trainer gets attacked by an animal, is it usually because the trainer did something wrong? Or do wild animals sometimes just revert to their untamed nature?

Asked by zazreal over 11 years ago

I would say it is almost always zookeeper error. Of course, that error extends to our inability to sometimes read the cues our animals are sending us, so I guess it's really a combination of human error and animal wildness. No matter how often we work with a particular animal, we must never forget it is wild. It operates much more instinctually than a domestic animal, so its behavior can be much more unpredictable. A sudden noise, a smell... Many, many variables can affect that animal's behavior, so we must become experts at the vocal and non-vocal cues the animal gives us. We must also never think we are "above" the safety protocols put in place for us, and we mustn't be too proud to cut short a training session if we sense a change in our animal's behavior. The trick is just to keep control and to end our session on a positive note. We can always come back and try again later.

What animal are kids usually most excited to see?

Asked by catherine over 11 years ago

Elephants! And big predators like polar bears or tigers or sharks. Also, who can resist a dolphin or a sea lion? I suppose a better answer would be that it really depends on the child. Some kids freak out over petting zoo animals, while some love aviaries where little birds land on their heads. Stereotypically speaking, though, my opinion would be that the biggest animals tend to be the biggest draws. Maybe kids just like to be humbled, or maybe it's hard for them to comprehend how big an animal actually is until they see it? Hard to tell, I guess, but the elephant line always seems to be the longest... ;)

What types of animals keep themselves the cleanest?

Asked by Anna over 11 years ago

What a great question! I had to think about this a lot, actually, because every time I found myself settling on an animal, I would remember some gross thing about them that would make me laugh. ;) Most animals tend to keep themselves fairly clean, but I think the cleanest animals are the ones whose cleanliness is critical to their survival. Birds immediately come to mind, because they can't fly with gross, mangled and tangled feathers. Sea otters also come to mind, because they don't have thick layers of insulating blubber like other marine mammals. Instead, they must constantly clean and fluff their fur to keep it waterproof. This action also traps air bubbles in their underfur, and these bubbles insulate them as well.

Have you participated in any animal births. What is the experience like? Have there ever been complications?

Asked by TDubs almost 11 years ago

Hi TDubs, the majority of my birth expertise has been with birds. Because birds are so particular, my only role has been to provide adequate nesting material, increase diets, and decrease stress by leaving the expectant parents alone. I also helped prepare birthing dens for a wolverine once--but her pregnancy turned out to be a false positive. My other claim to fame is that I once got to hold a newborn snow leopard; an experience I will never forget!

Could you ever see yourself dating someone who *didn't* like animals (or was just generally indifferent to their plight)?

Asked by The Moz over 11 years ago

Never! I don't think it's necessary to find a partner who is your exact clone, but my love of nature and the outdoors is such an intrinsic part of who I am that I can't imagine having much in common with a person who didn't share these interests.

Have you had the pleasure of caring for koala bears? Are they as docile as they appear?

Asked by Sheba18 over 11 years ago

I actually never have, although I have visited them at sanctuaries in Victoria. Probably one of the most adorable creatures in the world, aren't they? People I know who have worked with koalas have really enjoyed them. They tend to be fairly low-key, and they make excellent outreach animals if they are trained consistently. The public loves them, and they are super charismatic ambassadors for their species. I have been told not to be fooled by their cuteness, though! Although they are known for being sleepy and slow-moving, they have wicked claws and incredibly strong teeth. They can be food aggressive, and males can be quite dominant sometimes. Their keepers must never be lulled into carelessness by their cartoon-like appearance. Another weird fact about koalas is that males have a scent gland on their chest that oozes a smelly, oily substance. They mark their territory by rubbing this oil on tree trunks, and the smell is PUNGENT. Definitely another hazard of the job!