By: Ric Urban, Chief Conservation Officer
This is one of my favorite times of the year, National Zoo Keeper Week. Since 2007, when Congress declared the 3rd week in July as NZKW, we get to celebrate the dedication of the thousands of men and women that dedicate themselves daily to professional animal care in our nation’s zoos, aquariums and wildlife centers. During my 35 years in the industry, I have seen many changes in our profession. Keepers are the ‘front line educators’ for our guests. People want to know more about the animals under our care, and they want to hear it from the person who takes care of the animals. We are out in the elements 365 days a year. We are out in the freezing snow and ice, we are out in the blazing heat; but we are always out there providing the highest standards of care to the animals that are in our institutions.
As a long-time zoo and aquarium professional, I want everyone to know and appreciate my colleagues in conservation. Our mission is to ‘save wild animals and save wild spaces.’ More keepers today are species population managers. Within the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), there are over 600 managed species of animals around the world. Many of these programs are managed by keepers. They travel to the range countries where these animals live, they work with local governments on protecting this species as well as the other flora and fauna that lives in that ecosystem. Keepers do amazing things.
A keeper’s day is more than just feeding and cleaning. Keepers may be involved in environmental enrichment, exhibit design and landscaping, administering medical treatments, or training. They are ‘jacks of all trades.’ Keepers are dieticians, carpenters, designers, horticulturists, public speakers and educators.
Zoo Keeper is such a generic term sometimes… we are called aquarists, biologists, aviculturists, herpetologist, animal technician or animal care specialist. Whatever you call us… please recognize us as passionate and dedicated to our profession.
At the Newport Aquarium, we are proud of the contributions our biologists make for the preservation of species. They work on committees for the management of the North American populations of animals, they work for the preservation of our local waterways and wetlands, they develop guidelines for care of captive wildlife, and they work for the conservation of habitat and ecosystems for wildlife where they live.
Newport Aquarium is an accredited member of the AZA (Association of Zoos & Aquariums), which means we meet exceptional standards in animal care, wildlife conservation and public education. Newport Aquarium is one of only 233 accredited institutions in North America, where there are over 3,000 professional animal keepers providing invaluable roles as leaders in animal conservation and the frontline educators.
Spend some time this week visiting and let the keepers know they’re doing a great job!