Zookeeper Profile: Whitney Willis

Whitney Willis, bird caretaker

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.

Next up is bird caretaker, Whitney Willis!

How long have you worked at the OKC Zoo?

Just over 3 years!

When did you know you wanted to work with animals?

I’ve known I wanted to work with animals ever since I was young. I have always been drawn to the mysteries of our animal kingdom.

What is your favorite part about being a zookeeper?

My everyday interaction and learning experiences with the animals I work with. Also, I always get an extra spark of joy when the animals I care for recognize me, even in regular clothes.

What is a fun fact about you or fun animal story you’d like to share?

I have been chosen to be the 2019-2020 Bowling for Rhinos Chair. I’m ready to rock it, and raise money for conservation.

What do most people not know about zookeepers?

We have stomachs made of steel. Between the smells, sights, and the stuff we stick our hands in on a daily basis, you can’t be squeamish!  We also tend to have the most interesting and descriptive conversations while eating.

Being a zookeeper means… fill in the blank!

Never having plans right after work again. A shower is always a must whether you worked all day or just a few hours. ALL SMELLS CLING!

Do you have a favorite animal that you care for?

That is really hard! That would be a toss-up between Gus, the Zoo’s Von der Decken’s Hornbill, and the Zoo’s four female Ostriches who live in the Pachyderm building.

What has been your most memorable moment while working at the OKC Zoo?

My most memorable moment would have to be the time I watched one of our flamingo chicks hatch. I’ve watched videos in the past, but seeing it in person is something completely different.

What do you enjoy most about working at the OKC Zoo?

Working with a group of people who have the same level of love and compassion for our animals and their wild counterparts as I do! Knowing that there are others who have sleepless nights when they are worried about a sick animal or are excited for the birth of a new one.

What is your favorite conservation project that the Zoo supports?

The Northern Rangelands Trust in Kenya. This conservation effort not only helps a large variety of animals, but we’re also able to teach and give jobs to local communities who care for these lands and the animals who call them home. The thought that we have the ability to preserve these lands for generations to come only adds to the joy of working for the OKC Zoo.

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