Happy Zookeeper Appreciation Week! Today’s Keeper spotlight features Ashley J. of the Rock Island/Valley team! We interviewed Ashley to get her thoughts and opinions on working at The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore and she had some interesting words to share.

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

Blackfoot African penguins, white-breasted cormorant, prairie dogs, and most of the large birds in the zoo including white storks, Abyssinian ground hornbills, and west African crown cranes.

How long have you been working at the zoo?

3 years.

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

I went to Towson University and majored in Animal Behavior and Psychology. I then started as a keeper II working in the public areas and with different teams. I then found my place on the Rock Island/Valley team.

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

We pill fish with vitamins and salt tablets.

What do you want the public to know about zookeeping?

We have to know our animals as if they were our own children because they cannot tell us when they are sick. We have to be able to know what is normal and abnormal so we can act promptly if there is ever a serious medical problem.

Why did you want to become a keeper?

I have always had a passion for animals and as my knowledge grew I became passionate about wanting to help with conservation and educating the public.

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

Concerts, hiking, movies, taking pictures, and playing sports.

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

Watching the penguins during their morning swim. They get so enthusiastic with porpoising and preening.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

Breeding season tends to be an extremely busy part of our year. We are constantly monitoring eggs, bird weights, and feeding chicks. But it is also one of the most rewarding.

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

I would love to go anywhere that has wild penguins. Also, I would love to go to Alaska to see whales, grizzly bears, wolves, etc.

What do you think is the most important reason to support the zoo?

The animals at the zoo are not here for entertainment. They are here to educate people on why conservation is so important and the efforts we make at helping endangered species.