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 Debbie Baston! Debbie cares for the Zoo's herd of Asian elephants!
How long have you worked at the Oklahoma City Zoo?
It will be 5 years this October that I have had the privilege of working with these amazing creatures here at the Oklahoma City Zoo. Being part of such a world class program that strives to be in the forefront of the best quality of care for elephants and being innovative in areas of daily husbandry, actively contributing to research and conservation efforts for wild populations makes my career choice very fulfilling.
What is a typical day like in your position?
A typical day consists of training sessions for all the elephants that call the Zoo home. Each individual elephant receives personalized attention, which allows our team to provide them all with the best quality of care. Their day begins with a daily bath. Baths allow us to check of every inch of the elephant's body – from the tip of their trunk to the tip of their tail and everything in between. Daily training can consist of footwork, taking blood pressure readings from their tail or drawing blood from the back of their ear. All training serves a purpose and directly helps us to keep the elephants as healthy as possible, not only physically but socially.
What inspired you to pursue this career?
I have always loved animals but became passionate about elephants when I had the unique opportunity to spend time around them and their caretakers at a previous facility. Instantly, I knew working with these majestic animals was my dream career, and I didn't stop until I reached my goal. I am in awe every day by their intelligence and the close-knit bonds they share with their herd mates.
What cause are you most passionate about?
Unfortunately right now, Asian elephants are facing a tremendous struggle with habitat loss, human conflict and poaching in their native country. But thankfully, our Zoo is working to help save them alongside supportive community members who donate to conservation through our Round Up for Conservation program. Without local support, the Zoo would not have been able to purchase protected land in Asia for Asian elephants.
Why do you feel that Zoos are important?
Zoos play a vital role in being able to connect local communities to animals that they may not be able to see otherwise. Zoos are also in the forefront of research, which directly contributes to helping a species flourish – ensuring that all exotic species are here for future generations to come. Seeing exotic animals up-close and in-person creates an experience for our guests that is life-changing. These experiences can help to create a lasting personal connection to wildlife – a teaching moment that we hope will carry on through our guests' voice, too.
– Debbie Bastin, elephant zookeeper