Keeper Highlight: Rachel Sides

The Oklahoma City Zoo & Botanical Garden is celebrating National Zookeeper Week – taking place from July 16 through July 22. Our staff of zookeepers are hardworking, passionate and driven individuals who spend each day caring for the animals in their various departments! This week, we are highlighting six zookeepers; ranging from elephant to carnivore caretakers. Next up is Rachel Sides! Keeper Rachel cares for the carnivores of the OKC Zoo.  

How long have you worked at the Zoo? 

I have worked at the zoo a little over 2.5 years.

What is a typical day like in your position?

My normal morning routine includes taking care of the otters, black bears, grizzly bears, bison, and elk, in that order, unless we have some other major project taking place in our area on a given day. Our volunteers are a big help with diet prep and yard maintenance for all of the animals in the carnivore department. The morning consists of our routine animal care duties – feeding, cleaning, and medicating, if necessary, and the afternoon usually consists of projects, enrichment, or catching up on routine.

Do you have a particular animal that you feel a closer bond with?  

I don’t have a favorite individual per se, but I definitely enjoy the bears the most, both species, I can’t choose a favorite.

What's your favorite memory been? 

The first time that one of the grizzly bears made eye contact with me while I was on the public side of the glass because they recognized me as one of their keepers. That was probably one of my favorite memories. I felt like I had been accepted into a club!

What inspired you to pursue this career? 

I wanted to interact with and have a bond with animals on a regular basis. I also wanted the opportunity to share with the public why conservation is so important.

Why do you feel that Zoos are important? 

The opportunity to observe an animal first-hand is what drives passion in people, especially young people. Learning in a book is a critical part of education, but real changes are made through experiences. We need more people to experience what will be lost if we don’t make the conscience effort to conserve many of the species that are threatened for various reasons. Zoos allow this to happen.

What cause are you most passionate about? 

REDUCE, reuse and recycle! We as humans have made many amazing contributions to life, this planet and other species but we have also had a detrimental impact as well, depending on the perspective you take. Being conscientious of the impact we have on those around us, big or small, will allow us to make sustainable choices for this planet’s future – hopefully, preserving it for generations to come.

What is your favorite conservation program that the Zoo partakes in? 

In the past, as a part of a special event put on by the carnivore department, funds were donated to the Tiger Conservation Campaign, which is helping with on the ground efforts to ensure the survival of the remaining subspecies of tigers left on the planet. A big part of this is the education of consumers about the palm oil industry, and how purchasing products with sustainable palm oil can have a big impact in preventing the destruction of the habitat this species calls home.

– Rachel Sides, carnivore caretaker 

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