The Phoenix Zoo was approached by Bear Essential News For Kids to expand on our “Interview with a Keeper” blog segment. Through our collaboration, we gathered questions for our keepers from kids all across Arizona.
For a chance to see your “Ask the Phoenix Zoo Keeper” question in Bear Essential News For Kids or on our blog, email your question(s) to firstname.lastname@example.org!
Keeper: Heather, Primary Cat Keeper
What do you do for your job? What is your favorite thing about working at the Phoenix Zoo? - Killian
I observe, feed and clean up after all carnivores at the Zoo, in addition to providing behavioral enrichment activities such as new scents or items to stimulate the animal’s natural behavior. I also help train the cats to encourage behaviors that make it easier to assist with daily care and medical procedures.
My favorite thing about working at the Zoo is being up close and personal with animals on a daily basis, getting to know the individual personalities of the animals and being able to develop relationships with them.
How do you get into the tiger area to feed them without being eaten? Do tigers have a specific place where they go to the bathroom, like a litter box? - Gabriel
Here at the Zoo, we practice what is called ‘protective contact’; there is always a barrier between the animals and myself. The cats have been trained to go inside their night house to eat every day and when they are safely locked inside, I can then go out into the exhibit to clean and do what I need to do. Once I have finished my duties in the exhibit, I can then let them out.
Tigers don’t go to the bathroom in the same specific spot daily, but they do tend to go to the bathroom along the perimeter of the exhibit as their way of “marking their territory.”
Are you scared when you feed the lions and tigers? - Abran
I’m not scared, but when I first started working with them, it was intimidating to have a large predator just inches away from you!
How many times do you have to feed the animals? How many hours do you work each day? - Evelyn
I feed the animals twice a day in my 10-hour work day.
Why is it that the lions always seem to be sleeping? - Lexie
The lions sleep during the day to conserve energy for hunting in the nighttime.
Who or what inspired you to become a zookeeper? And how did they or it convince you that this was the right career path for you? - Tori
I have always been interested in animals since I was a kid, so I decided to go to college to get a wildlife biology degree. My professors were a huge influence on me. Before working at the Zoo, I was a volunteer. Working with other keepers convinced me that this was the right career.
How long have you worked at the Zoo? What is your favorite animal? - Brynne
I’ve worked at the Phoenix Zoo for ten years.
It’s really hard to pick a favorite because they are all so cool! However, if I had to choose, the cat species are my favorite – but I can’t even narrow it from there!
How do you brush an animal’s teeth? - Martha
I don’t brush the lions’ or tigers’ teeth. The big cats clean their teeth themselves by gnawing on bones. When they are sleeping during an annual exam, the veterinarian can scrape off any tartar if necessary.
What is your favorite memory of working at the Phoenix Zoo?
One day, I was watching the female lioness sleeping on her back next the pond that is in her exhibit. I could tell she was dreaming, and then she became so startled that she rolled right into the pond! Lions don’t typically like the water, so it was quite a surprise for her. She hasn’t slept that close to the pond since!