OKC Zoo Names Emory Pachyderm Curator; Highlights Female Leaders in Honor of Women's Day

This International Women’s Day, the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden is pleased to announce the promotion of Rachel Emory, as curator of pachyderms. Emory will oversee the Zoo’s Indian rhinos and Asian elephant herd, while managing day-to-day operations and supporting the Zoo’s conservation efforts and practices pertaining to the endangered species in her care.

Originally from Flushing, Michigan, Emory graduated from Michigan State University (MSU) with a bachelor’s degree in zoology in 2014. As an upstanding student of MSU’s College of Natural Sciences, Emory earned the Outstanding Academic Achievement and Promise in Zoology Award as a senior. Prior to graduation, Emory interned with the pachyderm departments of Zoo Miami and Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. In 2014, Emory began her career at the OKC Zoo as a pachyderm animal caretaker within the Zoo’s large mammal department, where she was later promoted to lead elephant caretaker. With that invaluable leadership experience, she thrived – preparing Emory for her new role as the Zoo’s curator of pachyderms.

“One of my favorite parts of working with elephants, in particular, is the variation of personalities of each individual animal,” said Emory. “To connect with each animal requires flexibility, adaptability and creativity, which can be considered challenging, yet extremely rewarding.”

As Curator of Pachyderms, Emory looks forward to leading the Zoo’s pachyderm program as it continues to push organizational standards through innovative thinking, collaboration and research. Emory is thankful to be leading a team of dedicated and passionate individuals – believing that a huge component for growth and progress within a leading conservation organization is the commitment of its team members.

Of all of the strong women in Emory’s life, the woman who has inspired her most is her friend, Taylor. She admires her friend’s grace and ability to stand strong for what she believes in. This is something Emory strives to incorporate both in her career and personal life – standing strong with grace as she continues to inspire individuals to empathize with and take action for endangered species.

Emory joins a leadership team comprised of 44 hardworking and insightful directors and curators - 19 of whom are women.

Female Leaders of the OKC Zoo


Tammy Burnett, Director of Human Resources

As the Zoo’s Director of Human Resources (HR), Burnett leads and manages HR services, policies and programs of the Zoo with an overarching goal of creating an internal culture emphasizing quality, productivity, goal attainment and job satisfaction in support of the Zoo’s mission. Burnett earned her Bachelor of Applied Arts and Science from Midwestern State University, a Master of Arts in Communication and a Master of Human Relations from the University of Oklahoma. Before joining the Zoo’s leadership team in 2017, Burnett served as human resources manager for Empire Paper Company and the City of Wichita Falls, Texas. Burnett is a member of the Society of Human Resource Management and the Oklahoma City Human Resources Society. She is proud to utilize her extensive knowledge of HR at the Zoo as she works to ensure the ongoing success of supervisors and employees, while helping to hire and promote qualified applicants. Burnett is inspired daily by the engaged, hardworking women around her doing heroic work that makes a difference in the world.

Dr. Gretchen Cole, Associate Veterinarian

As the Zoo’s Associate Veterinarian, Dr. Cole oversees the Zoo’s animal health program, supervises the animal hospital staff, oversees the quarantine process of newly acquired animals, and trains veterinary residents and students. Dr. Cole graduated from Kansas State University with a doctorate in veterinary medicine and a bachelor’s degree in veterinary science. Before starting her career at the OKC Zoo in 2010, Dr. Cole worked within various veterinary departments of zoological institutions and universities, including the University of Wisconsin and Indianapolis Zoo. Dr. Cole is a member of several professional veterinary and zoological organizations. She is also board certified by the American College of Zoological Medicine and European College of Zoological Medicine. When asked what her greatest achievement has been, Dr. Cole expressed the sense of happiness she feels as she watches each animal she’s cared for have a long, healthy life. Dr. Cole’s mother has been a constant source of inspiration for her. Her mother earned a degree in food science and began working in the food industry, where she eventually came to own a bakery, restaurant and catering business. Dr. Cole learned from her mother that hard work is always worth it and to never stop dreaming.

Dr. Jennifer D’Agostino, Director of Veterinary Services

As the Zoo’s Director of Veterinary Services, Dr. D’Agostino oversees the Zoo’s veterinary healthcare and nutrition programs, while caring for the Zoo’s large collection of 1,300 animals and contributing to veterinary science efforts. Dr. D’Agostino attended Michigan State University, where she earned her doctorate in veterinary medicine. She started her career at the OKC Zoo nearly 16 years ago as a veterinary resident after gaining experience at Kansas State University, Sunset Zoo, Topeka Zoo and Rolling Hills Zoo.

Dr. D’Agostino is a member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), American Association of Zoo Veterinarians (AAZV), American College of Zoological Medicine (ACZM), Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians (ARAV), Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV) and the Elephant Managers Association (EMA). She is also chair of the examination committee for ACZM, and serves as an associate editor of the Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine in correlation with her commitment to the AAZV editorial committee. During her tenure, Dr. D’Agostino is most proud of the growth and progress she’s contributed to and witnessed while leading the Zoo’s veterinary department, as well as the development of the Zoo’s polymerase chain reaction lab that has helped the Zoo commit to the study and prevention of the elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus. As a child, Dr. D’Agostino was most inspired by her grandmother, Jo. Dr. D’Agostino spent many summers with her grandmother and remembers her as a force of nature who established a farm that became a part of the city of Flint, Michigan’s educational system. As an adult, Dr. D’Agostino is inspired by women from various types of backgrounds - friends, colleagues, conservationists and photographers. Women who are striving to make a difference in the world inspire Dr. D’Agostino to persevere and continue to grow in her career field.

Kimberley Leser, Curator of Behavioral Husbandry and Welfare

As Curator of Behavioral Husbandry and Welfare, Leser works to develop the Zoo’s animal behavior program by conducting training sessions, implementing new animal enrichment curriculum and training animal caretakers to ensure the maximum health and safety of more than 1,300 animals within the Zoo. Leser received a Bachelor of Arts in communications, with an emphasis in biology and verbal/nonverbal skills relating to interpersonal and small groups, from Emporia State University in Kansas. Leser spent two years with Disney’s Animal Kingdom as a behavioral husbandry associate before joining the OKC Zoo’s leadership team in 2017.  Leser is a member of a number of Association of Zoos and Aquariums committees including the behavioral advisory and animal welfare committee. Her proudest achievement has been the development of the Zoo’s behavioral husbandry department. Witnessing the Zoo’s animal care teams accomplish goals and reach new milestones in the training program is a great joy to Leser. Leser is inspired by every woman she works with at the OKC Zoo. She feels privileged to collaborate with women from different backgrounds who share their unique perspectives with her. Leser’s mentor, Michelle Skurski, has also made a large impact on her life.

Candice Rennels, Director of Public Relations

As Director of Public Relations, Rennels is responsible for managing the OKC Zoo’s public relations efforts and the content it delivers, while raising awareness of the Zoo’s mission and organizational goals. Rennels began working at the Zoo in 1994 as a high school intern for the public relations department. After graduating from the University of Central Oklahoma with a bachelor’s degree in public relations, Rennels worked at the Zoo in a series of roles including public relations assistant, public relations associate, and manager of marketing and public relations. Rennels serves as a member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums public relations committee, Oklahoma City’s Adventure District’s marketing committee and Business Improvement District financial board, Read Across Oklahoma board and acts as liaison to many outside agencies, companies and individuals to build partnerships at the Zoo. She is also a member of the Junior League of Oklahoma City. During her tenure, she has witnessed many milestones in the Zoo’s history from her first special event, Judy the Elephant’s 50th birthday party, to the Zoo’s centennial celebration. Candice has also helped grow Haunt the Zoo into the state’s largest Halloween celebration with more than 500 volunteers and 29,000 participants in 2016. Rennels has a long list of women who have inspired her throughout her life including conservationists, celebrities, authors, artists, teachers and colleagues; but it’s the incredible women in her family – her mom, sisters, grandmothers, aunts who have made a genuine impact on her life, constantly encouraging her along the way.

Rachael Robinson, Director of Education

As the Zoo’s Director of Education, Robinson provides strategic vision to the Zoo’s education department by enhancing the Zoo’s camps, preschool, toddler, adult and family overnight programs, and expanding the Zoo’s distance-learning and volunteer programs. Robinson received a Bachelor of Arts in zoology and environmental studies from Ohio Wesleyan University and a Master of Science in environmental education from Lesley University, Audubon Expedition Institute, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Prior to joining the OKC Zoo’s leadership team in 2017, Robinson worked at Zoo Atlanta for eight years as manager, and then director of public education programs. Robinson is a regular Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) conference presenter; an AZA Volunteer Management Committee member, a member of the Oklahoma Science Teachers Association; and a certified interpretive guide and certified interpretive trainer through the National Association for Interpretation. Her proudest achievement during her two years at the OKC Zoo was welcoming Zulu, an educator from the Painted Dog Research Trust (PDRT), located in Zimbabwe, Africa, to the United States. Robinson hosted Zulu at the OKC Zoo, where he learned about the Zoo’s education program and teaching methods. During his visit, Robinson and Zulu were able to create a partnership with PDRT to connect students in Zimbabwe with students in Oklahoma City. Robinson credits the support of her parents and the careers of female scientists such as Dr. Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey as her inspiration to pursue a career in conservation education.

Dr. Rebecca Snyder, Curator of Conservation and Science

As Curator of Conservation and Science, Snyder oversees the management of the Zoo’s growing and diverse conservation and research initiatives.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in zoology from Iowa State University and a master’s and doctorate in experimental psychology from the Georgia Institute of Technology, Snyder started her career at Zoo Atlanta. There, she served in various capacities, from education instructor and curator of giant panda research and management, to curator of carnivores, curator of mammals and giant panda program coordinator. In 2015, Snyder joined the OKC Zoo’s leadership team. Snyder is a member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), chair of the AZA Giant Panda Conservation Foundation and Bear Taxon Advisory Group; and a steering committee member of the Oklahoma Monarch and Pollinator Collaborative. She also serves on the University of Central Oklahoma’s biology department advisor board. Helping to found the Oklahoma Monarch and Pollinator Collaborative and establishing the Monarch Garden School Grants Program have been her proudest achievements while at the OKC Zoo. Snyder is most inspired by environmental activist and marine biologist, Rachel Carson, and her mother, Myrna, who taught her that a woman can be a wonderful mother and have a demanding, rewarding career.

-Sabrina Heise, social media content coordinator

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