Hometown: New York, NY
Section: Primates Supervisor- I supervise the Orangutans, Lemurs, Tamarins, Mandrills and Guenons, Gibbons and Babirusa.
Quote: “The assumption that animals are without rights and the illusion that our treatment of them has no moral significance is a positively outrageous example of crudity and barbarity. Universal compassion is the only guarantee of morality.” — Arthur Schopenhauer
Favorite animal: The orangutans, but I have a special affinity for Kelly. She is so intelligent and very challenging. I have been working with her since she was 8, and she is now almost 30 years old.
Animals you train: I train the orangutans for fun and for behind the scenes tours.
Special Interests/ Hobbies: I love to travel. I have been to Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya, Peru, Madagascar, Borneo, and Sri Lanka.
Interesting Facts: I love to volunteer. I have volunteered at Hermann Hospital NICU (Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit) with premature babies, have done hospice patient care, and I am traveling to Utah this summer to volunteer at Best Friends Animal Society with their pot-bellied pigs.
How long have you been in the animal care field and what institutions did you work at prior to coming to the Houston Zoo?
I have been working at zoos about 35 years. I worked at the Bronx Zoo for 4 years in the Children’s Zoo. We had wild boar and domestic piglets and that is where I fell in love with pigs. After that I worked at the Philadelphia Zoo for 2 ½ years as a relief keeper, so I was able to work in every department. I started out at the Houston Zoo nearly 29 years ago in the Small Mammal department (now Natural Encounters). I transferred to the Primate Department in 1988, and became a supervisor in 1991.
What made you want to be a zookeeper?
When I was a child, my mother took me to the Prospect Park Zoo in Brooklyn almost every day. From the time that I could articulate it, I knew I wanted to be a zookeeper. I was designing Sea Lion habitats when I was 3 years old.
What is your previous education/training?
I attended Hunter College, majoring in Physical Anthropology, for about four years. I became impatient because I wanted to become a zookeeper, so I quit. I wouldn’t suggest that to anyone now!
What sort of advice would you give to anyone wanting to enter the zoo field?
Volunteer first; get your hands-on animal experience. This job is not for everyone, so find out if you like it first. Also, get your degree!
What is your favorite animal story?
That is an easy one! When Kelly was having her first baby (Luna) in 1997 I was the only staff member with her at the time. It happened right in front of my eyes and I will never forget it. All of the sudden she stood up and gave birth and we were both simultaneously surprised! I was shocked because I didn’t know exactly when it was going to happen, and she was amazed because she had never done this before. Her instincts immediately took over and she cleaned the baby off, and the baby quickly started breathing and crying. It is difficult to describe the feeling for me, as there were so many emotions at once, but I will never forget that moment.
Written by Tina Carpenter, Keeper, Children’s Zoo