August 9, 2023
Why We Do It
- as seen by -Olivia Morgan Williams
Frequently, we are asked how we as animal keepers got into this field. Most of us respond with an emphasis on three things – getting a college degree, doing internships, and generally gaining experience in animal care. Truly understanding what it takes to become an animal keeper requires insight into what the job entails. It is simply not for everyone.
To work in animal care means you may miss out on weddings, funerals, birthdays, holidays, and family vacations. You could be needed at just a moment’s notice. You can encounter extreme conditions including severe weather, heat, even wildfires. Your body aches from carrying pounds of fish and heavy SCUBA gear.
To work in animal care means you also have many rewards. In an urban area like New York City, you have a unique career opportunity. You don’t spend much time at a desk. You get to see an animal you have worked with voluntarily participate in behaviors that lead to valuable animal welfare – radiographs, blood draws, eye exams, surgical procedures. You experience a sense of elation when you see an animal interact with an enrichment device you spent four weeks constructing. You become a master of all trades – maintenance, psychology, construction, food preparation, housekeeping, and more. You inspire so many to love and appreciate the animals you work with, often serving as a catalyst for people to partake in meaningful conservation efforts. You form an unimaginable bond with animals who serve as ambassadors for their species and their environment.
Our job knows no rest. Animal keepers around the world go to work and do what they do best – give the animals they love a new and exciting day, every day. We do not leave the job at the workplace. We take home thoughts of our animals, thoughts of how we can do better, thoughts of how we are going to train a new behavior, thoughts of what new types of enrichment we can try (above, rescued California sea lion Halftime with a blue ball during a window play session at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s New York Aquarium).
An animal keeper’s job is 24/7. Why do we do it? We understand and embrace with pleasure what being in animal care means in its entirety.