Happy Keeper Appreciation Week! Today we have the spotlight pointed at Steve, from the Animal Embassy, who works with animals that travel outside of the Zoo’s grounds for educational purposes. Read his story below, and learn how passionate keepers are.

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What kind of animals do you work with or what area?

I work with a variety of animals in the Animal Embassy. It’s the zoo’s traveling collection that gets sent to schools, special events, and media relations all over the state. We have a collection of about 60 animals made up of snakes, turtles, predatory birds, amphibians, and mammals.

How long have you been working at the zoo?

Just over 6 years.

What steps did you take in order to become an animal keeper?

I made the most of my years in primary school; making sure that I got good grades and did what I could to better myself in the classroom. I was then lucky enough to be one of twenty freshman selected for the Zoo Science Bachelor’s of Science program (brand new at the time) at Delaware Valley College. I made it a point to work hard during my time at DVC while gaining experience in the animal field and doing zoo-related internships. Once graduation was upon me it was a matter of filling out applications and submitting resumes. Loads and loads of applications and resumes.

What is something you do everyday for the animal that would surprise us?

We have a 16 year old Chinese Alligator named Yang and every Monday afternoon he gets his teeth brushed.

What do you want the public to know about zookeeping?

It is by no-means a glamorous job but what it lacks in cleanliness it makes up for fulfillment. We work in wind, rain, snow, and unbearable heat. We work holidays, weekends, late nights, and early mornings. When we clock out we are sweat-soaked, filthy, and tired but it’s all worth it because zookeeping is one of the most rewarding careers one can aspire towards. We are college educated, dirt-caked, mud-splattered, and passionate people.

Why did you want to become a keeper?

I’ve wanted to be a zookeeper since I was probably 4 or 5. I grew up watching animal documentaries on Nat Geo and Animal Planet and was hooked on animals from that point. Animals and the outdoors have fascinated me my entire life and I can imagine no greater career than one that puts me face to face with both of those things every day. Admittedly I really wanted to work at Jurassic Park for a while when I was younger but things didn’t work out as planned.

What hobbies/interests do you have outside of your zoo life?

I try to be fairly active either socially or athletically. I enjoy going to visit other zoos/aquariums with my camera to just enjoy the animals and take pictures. I also coached high school wrestling for several years when I first started at the zoo. Whether it’s going to see my friends or screaming my head off at Baltimore Bike Party I find I am enjoying my time most when surrounded by people with whom I laugh the most. When I’m not out and about I’m pretty content with a book or a good movie to watch. When all else fails I have a 2 year old Aussie Mix that will play ball anytime anywhere.

What is your favorite part of a typical day at the zoo?

It would be easy to say “the animals” to answer this question but I think it’s a little bit of a given. I’m a zookeeper…. Why wouldn’t I choose the animals as my favorite part? That aside I think that the opportunity to talk to guests both on and off zoo grounds about our animals and our zoo is incredibly rewarding. The conversations I have had with curious children and intellectually engaged adults have defined some of my fondest moments at the zoo.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

Saying “goodbye”. Our lives, let alone our careers, are much longer than the average lifespan of many of the animals at the zoo even though their lives are significantly longer because all that we can offer them. You see those animals every day. They’re part of the “zoo family” and when their time with us is at an end it is not an easy pill to swallow.

Where would you travel to see animals, or what places have you traveled to?

My wife is also a keeper and we decided to spend our honeymoon in San Diego. While there we visited the California Wolf Center, Sea World, the San Diego Wild Animal Park, and the San Diego Zoo…. Twice. It was the zookeeper’s dream vacation and I ended up taking around 14,000 photos in 8 days of all the animals we saw. If I had the time and money to go abroad it would absolutely be to South Africa to see African Painted Dogs or to Australia/Tasmania to see the devils or platypi.