During this year’s National Zoo Keeper Week (NZKW), the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden is expressing its appreciation for all of its hardworking animal caretakers and highlighting six exceptional individuals who have dedicated their lives to caring for its animal family.
NZKW focuses on the need to protect and preserve our wildlife and vanishing habitats via conservation messages created by zoos and aquariums, accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Animal caretakers have an essential role as educators and wildlife ambassadors.
The 2019 NZKW theme, ‘Keeping it Real’, inspired six Q&A sessions the Zoo’s six animal caretakers! Follow along this week as we introduce you to Alicia Snellen, life support technician; Darby Thackerson, marine mammal trainer; Stephany Hernandez, herpetologist; Rachel Sides, carnivore caretakers; Jessica Quinnett, hoofstock caretaker; and Whitney Willis, bird caretaker.
Meet aquatics caretaker, Alicia Snellen!
How long have you worked at the OKC Zoo?
I have worked at the OKC Zoo off and on for 5 years total in various animal departments - as an intern, volunteer and lastly, a full-time caretaker.
When did you know you wanted to work with animals?
I knew at a very young age (9 or 10 years old) that I wanted to work with animals.
What is your favorite part about being a zookeeper?
I think my absolute favorite part about being a zookeeper is watching guests react to the animals, whether young or old, as they become completely elated when seeing the animals here at the Zoo - genuinely interested in learning more about the animals.
What is a fun fact about you or fun animal story you’d like to share?
A fun fact about me is that I have a culinary degree, and I am a classically-trained chef but chose to pursue a career as a zookeeper.
What do most people not know about zookeepers?
Zookeepers are always learning and researching new, improved ways to enrich the animals’ lives, habitat and daily processes.
Being a zookeeper means… fill in the blank!
Never having dry socks and expecting the unexpected.
Do you have a favorite animal that you care for?
Although I do not specifically take care of any certain animals, I have always said that the Harbor seals and the Galapagos tortoises are my favorites here at the Zoo.
What has been your most memorable moment while working at the OKC Zoo?
The most memorable moment I have had at the OKC Zoo was when I was an intern in the aquatics department. I put together a training project to crate train the Volitans lionfish. I built a submersible crate and over time, I was able to train the lionfish to enter the crate so that the tank could be thoroughly cleaned, without there being any danger to the aquarist or the lionfish.
What do you enjoy most about working at the OKC Zoo?
The thing I enjoy the most about working at the OKC Zoo is the travel opportunities that the Zoo provides the staff to participate in conservation projects.
What is your favorite conservation project that the Zoo supports?
My favorite conservation project that the Zoo supports is the Texas horned lizard project. I have always been fond of these animals and am super excited to be able to help in the research and process of increasing their populations.