Zookeeper and Animal Trainer

Zookeeper and Animal Trainer

LisaAnnOKane

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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Last Answer on September 18, 2015

Best Rated

Why can't cats be trained to sit, stay, or heel like dogs can?

Asked by luke about 9 years ago

Great question, Luke! Cats are often much more difficult to train than dogs, and the reason makes perfect sense from an evolutionary perspective. Cats have evolved to be mostly solitary hunters, so they are much more self-sufficient and independent than pack animals like dogs and wolves. Dogs are already hard-wired to respond to social cues from their pack mates, so this behavior is easily redirected into training sessions. (And nowadays, we just happen to be their pack mates!)

When you get an exotic new animal, how do you know it will tolerate the food you feed it? Do you have to import food from its native habitat too?

Asked by zazreal about 9 years ago

Hi Zazreal! The great things about zoos and aquariums is that they often work together to ensure their animals receive the very best nutrition possible. In addition to consulting on-site veterinarians, they work together to find out which foods are working best at other facilities. Native food is brought in whenever possible. When it is unavailable--like in the case of polar bears, who primarily eat seals--its nutritional makeup is replicated through supplements and science. Zookeepers also work with the preferences of their individual animals, and they do their best to provide "favorites" whenever possible.

Are there any animals normally found in zoos that, in your opinion, are more trouble than it's worth to keep them there?

Asked by Hammartime almost 9 years ago

Hi Hammertime, and thanks for the question. I've been giving this one a lot of thought, and my personal opinion is that large saltwater creatures (whales, sharks, whale sharks, etc.) are definitely the hardest to maintain in human care. Saltwater environments are incredibly hard to replicate, so the saltwater must be tested nearly constantly to ensure the right pH levels and such. Additionally, large animals need even larger enclosures--plus lots of enrichment and diversity--so their care becomes costly very quickly. That being said, I still think my answer to your question is no. I believe these animals are still worth the trouble. If they can be housed safely and comfortably, I think their presence is jaw-dropping enough to inspire visitors to care about the ocean in ways others animals probably can't. Think about the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California. They periodically house Great Whites before releasing them back into the wild, and visitors come from all across the country to see these sharks up close. Once visitors have been given the opportunity to get to know these animals, their respect and empathy toward them grows exponentially. And like that great quote from B. Dioum says, “In the end, we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.”

Would a lion or tiger born and raised in a zoo ever survive and live a full-term life if just released into the wild?

Asked by bunny about 9 years ago

Hi Bunny! Unfortunately, the answer is most often no. There is always a chance--because the will to live is a powerful one--but survival is difficult enough for an animal that was born and raised in the wild. Consider a civilized human--even a really fit marathon-type of human--and imagine what would happen if you dropped him in the middle of a rainforest. His strength and will and determination would be there, but he would struggle with basic things like knowing what is safe to eat and how to find water and shelter. Now consider a lion that has been hand-raised in a zoo. Not only does he lack basic hunting skills, but he also isn't used to predators or the incredibly complicated way other lions maintain their social order. Most dangerously for him, he also believes humans are his friends. (He even believes that's where his food comes from!) So, there's always a chance. But more often than not, the ending to the story is a sad one.

What are the biggest and smallest animals you have handled? Pound for pound which was the most trouble/time consuming?

Asked by MrDuck about 9 years ago

I love this question! The biggest animal I have worked with is a 1,600 pound, seven-foot tall male Bactrian camel named Knobby. The smallest is probably a 110 gram, nine-inch tall male boreal owl named Mouse. Pound for pound, the camel definitely wins. However, I have worked with many high-maintenance little guys, including a snowy owl named Freya, a raccoon named Max and a muskrat named Critter. Although they were all fairly small, they still required a LOT of my mental energy!

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

Asked by TDubs over 8 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!

Do you prefer to work with one kind of animal and really learn and understand everything about it, or do you prefer to work with a wide variety and know a little bit about each? Put simply, do you prefer depth or breadth?

Asked by Himba about 9 years ago

This is an easy one. Depth! While I enjoy variation and getting to know lots of animals, I could be completely content working with just one animal every single day. There are ALWAYS things to do: cleaning, feeding, husbandry, training sessions, enrichment... The less animals you have, the more time you have for those fun things like making amazing enrichment and just spending quality time with them. Obviously, this prospect isn't financially realistic for most zoos and aquariums, so management does its best to strike up a healthy balance between depth and breadth. And we must do the best we can with the animals and time we are given!