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.
First up is Stephany Hernandez, herpetologist!
How long have you worked at the OKC Zoo?
I have worked at the OKC Zoo for over a year. I started as a volunteer in the reptile and amphibians department and began working part-time in April 2018. A year later, I was promoted to a full-time herpetologist.
When did you know you wanted to work with animals?
Animals have always been a driving force in my life. I have known that I wanted to work with animals since I was a child. I remember always picking up animal books to read in school and watching ‘Zoboomafoo’ with the cute little lemur and the crocodile hunter when I was a pre-teen.
What is your favorite part about being a zookeeper?
The best part of being a zookeeper is working with animals. Some of the reptiles we work with are endangered, or critically endangered, and it is our duty to care for these creatures so that they can be ambassadors for their species, to inspire a love for animals in our future generations.
What is a memorable animal story you would like to share?
One day, when the team was closing up the Herpetarium building for the day, we happened to witness our female Taylor’s agama laying her eggs. She just happened to have dug her hole against the glass. That was a special moment to witness.
What do most people not know about zookeepers?
Being a zookeeper is hard work. It’s not just hanging out with the animals all day. It is a physically demanding job. As caretakers, we are responsible the animals’ physical and mental health. It’s our responsibility to ensure that the animals receive exceptional welfare and enrichment opportunities every day.
Being a zookeeper means… fill in the blank!
Being a zookeeper means not being afraid to get dirty. On any given day, one of us has probably been pooped on. It’s part of the job!
Do you have a favorite animal?
I don’t have a favorite animal, but I will say that monitors are one of my favorite reptile groups.
What do you enjoy most about working at the OKC Zoo?
I enjoy working with my team and the collaboration between departments.
What is your favorite conservation project that the Zoo supports?
My favorite conservation project that the Zoo supports is the Texas horned lizard tracking that is conducted at Tinker Air Force Base. 2019 is the first year that I have participated, and it has been a lot of fun. Although it’s hot being out there, looking for and helping to conserve these special animals is worth it.
This is my favorite conservation project so far because the people here in Oklahoma can actually help with this research project. If they ever find one of these little guys rooming about, they can log on here and report their sighting and help with the project.