ZAA accredited zoos and aquariums employ about 7,500 people across Australasia and one third of those are in animal care roles. With International Zookeeper Day today, we wanted to recognise and celebrate the people working one-on-one with the animals to give them the highest level of care.
So, we asked member zoos and aquariums to feature a keeper on International Zookeeper Day so you can get to know some of the amazing keepers across our region and the incredible work they do for wildlife every day.
Don’t forget to jump on Facebook today and get involved with International Zookeeper Day by using the Australasia Society of Zoo Keeping (ASZK) photo frame and posting “what’s in your toolkit” with these hashtags: #internationalzookeeperday #whatsinyourtoolkit
Brett has been with us at Adelaide Zoo for almost six years and he loves connecting people, especially children, with nature through presentations and animal shows.
A typical day for Brett includes looking after and caring for a number of different native and Children’s Zoo animals, letting children get up close and personal with mammals, reptiles and invertebrates as part of our Wild Show before allowing a number of birds to stretch their wings and delight visitors as part of our Flying Colours Free Flight show.
“I love being able to break down barriers between children and animals, allowing up close, hands on opportunities to develop empathy towards living creatures. It’s all about planting that seed in their hearts, helping them to want to grow and care for animals and the nature around them and realising we all have a role in saving species from extinction.”
Zac started off as a volunteer in 2012, become a casual zookeeper in 2013 and started as Venom Supervisor in 2017 after completing venomous snake training. His working milking over 100 snakes a week for the antivenom program saves more than 300 lives a year!
He looks after the 250 venomous snakes that live at the Australian Reptile Park and won “Best Paper” at the annual ASZK Conference this year for his talk on the snake milking technique of pipetting on Eastern brown snakes.
Dolphin Marine Magic would like to acknowledge the hard work of Greg Pickering for almost four decades! Greg began his zoo keeping career as a groundsman in 1963 at only 13 years of age and eventually worked his way to becoming an animal handler.
Greg coordinated and assisted many marine animal rescues over the years but still remembers his very first, a Fraser’s dolphin (Lagenodelphis hosei) in early 1971. His most memorable rescue was a female elephant seal (Mirounga leonine) pup that would be known as Sophie. Greg helped hand-rear Sophie and they worked closely together for 16 years.
Currently, Greg focuses his attention on the turtle rehabilitation program as well as the park’s collection of various species of fish and little blue penguins (Eudyptula minor). Greg’s extensive knowledge and experience is invaluable to the park. His relationship with the animals is unmatched. He often shares stories of the animals with newer staff members who listen intently with respect and admiration. Dolphin Marine Magic would like to thank Greg for his continuing dedication to the animals and the always evolving park.
Brit has been at Halls Gap Zoo for almost four years now and has worked with every animal in the zoo from primates, reptiles, Aussie mammals, birds and ungulates. Earlier this year she stepped up to lead our keeper team and took the role as head keeper. Not only does she carry the team through the tough times, but she works hard to learn as much as possible and always passes her knowledge onto the team, to grow everyone’s abilities.
Brit always puts the animal first, she really does pour her heart and soul into this industry and is part of the ASZK board. Our team is very lucky to have this one leading!
Tessa has been with the Lone Pine family for seven years and is currently our Head Raptor Keeper. From a young age, Tessa knew she wanted to work with wildlife and took part in many ‘Keeper for a Day’ experiences to get a feel for the job she one day hoped to have. She originally joined Lone Pine as a wildlife volunteer to gain real-life experience in the field, and also completed a Certificate IIII in Captive Animal Studies.
Working with our raptors is a dream job for Tessa, with the highlight being able to work alongside such highly-intelligent animals. Her favourite raptor is definitely the barking owl, who never say no to a good head-scratch.
Wildlife keeper, Drew, has been a part of our Lone Pine family for five years and is a valued member within our koala and reptile teams.
“One of the highlights of my job is getting to work with the animals so closely, on a one on one basis”, says Drew. “It’s rewarding to build a relationship with them and get to know them as individuals. Each koala, snake, crocodile, turtle and lizard has different quirks and personalities.”
Before working at Lone Pine, Drew completed a Bachelor of Science, majoring in Zoology, and completed a few months of volunteer work within the field to gain practical, hands-on experience.
Ria, being the team leader of the Aquarium & Reptile section of the National Zoo & Aquarium does a lot to ensure all species in the Aquarium are well looked after. She will start her day off by completing water checks, making sure all parameters, temperatures, etc are correct. She will then clean enclosures and organise food prep and seafood break out for all reptiles and fish.
Some Jamala Wildlife Lodge guests get the opportunity to meet Lady the leopard shark as a close encounter which Ria facilitates. She then feeds animals, completes rounds of water tests and will clean the aquarium and the laboratory before leaving for the day. She is a STAR!
Cam has been with us for the past five years as our trust has taken on the challenge of transforming our small zoo into a community conservation charity. He has been instrumental in overseeing the positive welfare of our exotics, bringing their conservation advocacy to life for all our visitors, and developing new training practices onsite that are enriching for the animals.
Cameron has developed high levels of trust with the animals, and they seek out opportunities to spend time with him. A mutually rewarding experience. He is famous onsite for his bond with one of our porcupines, who loves belly rubs from him, will let him inspect her skin between her quills, and engage in what is unmistakably play behaviour in the habitat. Her mate was initially jealous, but has decided it’s more fun to join in. Now the three of them can be seen together every day at 3:30pm when our porcupines show off their skills in a training session.
Currently specialising in the Australian Fauna round, Duncan started working at Perth Zoo almost 40 years ago! He has worked across all different areas of the Zoo as a keeper, with many different animals. One highlight is that he was responsible for the design and construction of the first tree kangaroo exhibit we had here when we first welcomed this animal to Perth Zoo.
“The conservation side of things is really great. I love getting to work with more endangered species too, including the western ground parrot, cassowaries and our Goodfellow’s tree kangaroos. They are such unique animals and it is rewarding to play a role in keeping their species going for the future.”
I have been working in the zoo industry for five years. I started out at Wildlife Sydney and Taronga Zoo as a volunteer. I was then able to secure casual keeper positions. I moved to Darwin in 2016 and am now the Supervisor of the Aquarium at the Territory Wildlife Park. Here we have 26 exhibits that trace the movement of water from the small rock pools of the Arnhem Land Escarpment, down through the creeks and rivers, through the estuary and out to the coral reefs.
My role’s varied and I like that. My favourite part of my job is presenting the Keeper Talks. I also really like working on very natural exhibits, we have about 98% real plants throughout the Aquarium. This takes a lot of work but I enjoy setting up enclosures that are actual mimics of the natural ecosystem while still maintaining ergonomics.
My most memorable wildlife experiences involves one of the Komodo Dragons at Taronga Zoo (sadly now passed). I was fortunate enough to get a meet the animal experience with Tuka. Getting up close and personal with this amazing reptile sticks with me to this day. He was such a gentle soul and shaped my desire to pursue a career in the animal keeping industry.
Wellington Zoo – April Turnbull, Herbivore Keeper
April looks after herbivores like our capybara, birds like our kea and little blue penguins and hoof stock like our nyala and giraffes. She recently went to South Africa thanks to a staff grant from the Wellington Zoo Conservation Fund, where she was involved in the first long-term ecological monitoring effort for the Angolan Giraffe, of which only 13,000 remain in the wild.
This opportunity allowed her to travel with GCF lead researchers, collecting and collating data on population dynamics, behaviour and genetics. You can check out her blogs from the trip online:
Tiff has worked at WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo since 2015. She loves being a zookeeper as it allows her to learn new things about our amazing Aussie wildlife every day. She is a dedicated member of our Zoo team and always goes above and beyond for our guests, animals and staff. We feel very lucky to have her!
Her favourite animal in general is an otter, but at WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo she loves working with our koalas the most!