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.
Meet Rachel Sides, carnivore caretaker!
How long have you worked at the OKC Zoo?
September will mark five years!
When did you know you wanted to work with animals?
I have been fascinated with animals since I was a kid. I knew at a young age that I wanted my career to focus on animals in some way.
What is your favorite part about being a zookeeper?
Making eye contact with the animals you care for in a crowd of people.
What is a fun fact about zookeepers?
Keepers can do things one-handed faster than most people can do them using both hands.
What do most people not know about zookeepers?
We do more than just take care of the animals. We are involved in making sure their habitats are clean, well-maintained and safe. That means I trim trees, cut grass, prepare diets, offer medication, clean windows, prepare enrichment activities, clean up messes and everything else that our animals require.
Being a zookeeper means… fill in the blank!
Caring for animals day-to-day. They see you on your best and worst days, and you care for them on their best and worst days.
Do you have a favorite animal that you care for?
I really enjoy working with the bears and otters!
What has been your most memorable moment while working at the OKC Zoo?
A few years ago we made a hammock for our black bears. Initially they were not fully using it to lie in, but to rest their head or legs on. The day that they started using the hammock to fully lay in I was really excited that all the work we put in to help make them more comfortable was worth it! Now they use the hammock almost daily.
What do you enjoy most about working at the OKC Zoo?
The Oklahoma City Zoo supports wildlife conservation and allows its staff to sponsor projects that are important to us. Projects are selected based on merit, and allow staff to share projects they truly care about with guests who’s visit support these projects through the Round Up for Conservation Program.
What is your favorite conservation project that the Zoo supports?
As an AZA institution we support the SAFE program, Saving Animals From Extinction. This program focuses on several species, one of which is African lions. This species’ population has drastically decreased in the past several years and need help if we want future generations to have lions on this planet. By visiting AZA zoos, you are contributing to preserving this keystone species.