It Takes a Zoo! In recognition of dedicated animal care professionals, the OKC Zoo is joining the American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK) and zoos and aquariums across the nation to celebrate National Zoo Keeper Week (NZKW) from July 19-25, 2020.
In addition to bringing awareness to the animal care field, AAZK’s NZKW promotes professionalism and the dedication to conservation shared by all keepers.
The OKC Zoo proudly employs 52 animal caretakers, ranging in years of experience and expertise. Without these passionate and hardworking individuals, and the unwavering dedication they have toward the animals in their care, the OKC Zoo simply could not exist.
These individuals are leaders in their field, educating guests about animal conservation daily, and contributing to conservation efforts locally and worldwide.
This year, AAZK is introducing its 'It Takes a Zoo' social media campaign to showcase how caretakers collaborate with many different departments, and sometimes act as those departments in addition to their animal care jobs, to accomplish excellent animal care, conservation and education!
To honor this special week, we have selected three incredible animal caretakers to spotlight with a special Q&A session. Meet primate caretaker, Stephanie Smith!
How long have you worked at the zoo?
I’ve been a full-time animal caretaker for five years and worked part time for two years before that.
‘Finish the sentence: ‘It takes a zoo to…”
It takes a zoo to connect with the community! Recycling cell phones and small electronics can help save gorilla populations by protecting their habitats from further destruction. The OKC Zoo is a drop off location for cell phones, and this year, we have had an overwhelming amount of community involvement. Shout out to all the businesses, groups and individuals who have worked with me to recycle cell phones!
How many years of experience do you have?
I have spent my entire career in the primate department at the OKC Zoo. Before I was hired, I completed an internship in the pachyderm area and volunteered with hoofstock and pachyderm departments.
Why do you enjoy caring for the animals in your department?
There are six species of primates in our department, ranging from tiny squirrel monkeys, all the way up to the great apes. We also care for tanuki and agouti as well. It’s interesting to have such a wide variety of animals in one area who all have such unique needs and personalities.
What’s your favorite thing about being a zookeeper?
Every day at work is different! There are daily tasks like cleaning and diet preparation but on any given day, I may be weed eating a yard, giving a public talk or working with a vet to perform a cardiac ultrasound on a gorilla.
Is there an OKC Zoo animal you feel a special bond with?
George is a 16-year-old male in the Zoo’s bachelor gorilla group. As his primary trainer, I’ve worked closely with him for several years, and I’ve been able to watch him grow from an ornery kid to a giant silverback. He is laid back, goofy and always makes me laugh.
What inspired you to become an animal caretaker?
I grew up visiting the OKC Zoo with my family, and it has always been one of my favorite places. I went to college with the intention of being a vet, but during my junior year, I started volunteering at the Zoo. I ended up loving the animals and the atmosphere and realized that being an animal caretaker was the perfect career for me.
What do you want Zoo fans to know about what goes into being an animal caretaker?
Our main job is to provide care for the animals at the Zoo, but our job also includes education and conservation. Many of the species we work with are critically endangered and it is vitally important to raise awareness of the problems facing them in the wild. A lot of my coworkers volunteer their own time to participate in research projects or organize awareness campaigns and fundraisers.
Do you have a favorite animal?
All the species I work with are amazing, but if I had to pick, I would say gorillas are my favorite. A common misconception is that they are “aggressive”, but they are actually extremely gentle and family-oriented. They’re stoic by nature but they can also be very playful and silly. One of the coolest things to see is a 400-pound silverback play wrestling with the tiny gorillas in his group.