Throughout the week, zookeepers lead enrichment activities and talk to visitors about their careers in animal care. Enrichment activities include feeding gorillas whole watermelons, giving giant tortoises new toys, and offering lemurs colorful feeders with sweet treats.
Michael Macek, curator of birds, says the job of a zookeeper goes beyond animal management and caretaking. “It’s more than feeding and cleaning. Zookeepers are doing research, both on campus and out in the field. They’re educating visitors, not just about the animals they tend to, but about all the animals and activities at the zoo.”
Christy Poelker has been a zookeeper with the St. Louis Zoo for 13 years. Her name tag says she works with antelopes, but she cares for all ungulate mammals, or mammals with hooves. While daily tasks include feeding and cleaning up after animals, she has also done research on site and in Africa. “For 15 years, the St. Louis Zoo has been studying interactions between mother and infant antelopes. Through that, I’ve seen 100 births of calves, and it’s awesome every time. Then in 2007, the zoo sent me to Kenya to study zebras in the wild. Seeing how they behave, and what other wildlife and livestock they interact with, was fascinating.” Poelker also serves as chair for the National Conference of American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK), which the St. Louis Zoo will host in 2015. She says AAZK allows zoo keepers to share tips on going green and conserving animals in captivity and in the wild.
Kim Emerso, a gorilla keeper, says she enjoys National Zookeeper Week because it highlights the animals and gives zookeepers an opportunity to let people know what they do. “We get to tell kids what it’s really like to be a zookeeper, and tell visitors about the personalities of the animals. It’s really a whole community here, with the animals and with the people. Every day is different, and a bunch of animal nerds get to interact with beautiful creatures. I can’t imagine doing anything better.”
Regular keeper chats are offered every day at 10:30am and 2:30pm and on Saturdays and Sundays at 5 pm at various locations throughout the zoo.
By: Christina Santiago Turner