During National Zookeeper Week, July 15 through 21, the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden is profiling a few of the hardworking, passionate and driven individuals who spend each day caring for its animals. Meet Kasey Butler, aquatics caretaker.
What animals do you care for?
I care for fish, sharks and stingrays.
What motivated or inspired you to become a zookeeper?
Coming to the Zoo as a child, I remember always having a desire to become a zookeeper. The desire never faded, so I followed it! As I grew older, my heart gravitated towards marine life. Once I began SCUBA diving, I knew this was what I was made to do.
What is your favorite part of your job?
On one hand, I absolutely LOVE being able to see the “Aha!” moment in guests at Stingray Bay when they realize how gentle our stingrays and sharks are. Roughly 85 percent of guests tare scared of the stingrays due to simply misunderstanding them. Every day I am given the opportunity to help guests transform their fear and nervousness into admiration and respect by answering questions, explaining the animals, and helping them pet a stingray. On the other hand, as a conservationist, I love being able to connect my fellow Oklahomans to aquatic life and to explain to them that we DO in fact have an impact on waterways (lakes, rivers, oceans) even being a land-locked state. Some find it hard to believe, but it is the truth!
What is an animal story that always makes you laugh regarding one of the animals in your care?
Our two female bat rays, Betty and Lucy, have a target they must bite onto in order to receive their food. Each target is a Kong dog toy slip-fitted on the end of a PVC pipe (meaning not glued, so it can fall off if pulled). Our cownose rays are extremely inquisitive and intelligent, so they have learned that when the bats touch the target, they get food. Betty is a very aggressive eater—not in a bad way, she is just excited for her shrimp! Sometimes she gets so excited that she will bite onto her target, pull it off the PVC pipe and start chewing before realizing it isn’t the shrimp and spiting it out. One day, she took her target and started to swim off with it before she spit it out, so I began to follow her so I could pick it up. As I was following, she spit it out. The cownose rays then began taking turns of picking it up, swimming with it, and dropping it in a different spot! After they dropped it, they would swim to me like: “Hey! I touched the target, give me food now!” So, there I was in the middle of the pool just watching 43 stingrays play keep away from me with the target. It was hilarious!
How long have you worked at the OKC Zoo?
A grand total of five years, beginning as a volunteer. Three years ago, I was hired as a part-time employee and become full-time two years ago.
What is a conservation project that you are proud that the OKC Zoo supports or that your particularly passionate about?
My favorite partnership is the Seafood Watch program created by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It is a program that helps consumers and businesses choose seafood that is fished or farmed in ways that support a healthy ocean, now and for future generations. Their recommendations indicate which seafood items are best choices or good alternatives, and which ones you should avoid. Our Seafood Watch station is located at Stingray Bay, so be sure to check it out during your next visit!
What is your favorite type of enrichment to prepare?
My favorite enrichment is painting with our stingrays! This includes a “food ball” on one end of a PVC pipe and a paintbrush on the opposite end. The stingrays will bite the ball and suck food out, which will in turn move the paintbrush on the canvas.