Como Spotlight: Zookeeper Lauren, Marine Animal Keeper

What is your job title at Como and how long have you been in this role?

I have been a Marine Animal Zookeeper at Como Zoo for two years and have worked in animal care roles at zoos and aquariums for the past five years. At Como Zoo I work with a team of zookeepers who care for the harbor seals, California sea lions, polar bears, penguins and puffins.

What has been the most rewarding part of being in these roles?

The most rewarding part of working in animal care for a zoo or aquarium is providing the best care for the animals that call Como Zoo “home”. As zookeepers we are constantly working on new ways to enrich the lives of the animals in our care. We confer with colleagues at other zoos and aquariums and attend workshops and conferences to keep current on the best practices of animal care. Most of us were inspired to pursue a career in animal care because we love the animals we work with and want to help preserve them in the wild. It is a very competitive field and many of us have worked long and hard obtaining relevant degrees, volunteering and interning to secure a zookeeping job.

Why are these roles so important?

Zookeepers are on the front line of providing the best care for the animals that visitors connect with at a zoo or aquarium. Through advanced positive reinforcement training techniques we are able to monitor the health and wellbeing of our animals very closely. From training a sea lion to participate in a voluntary ultrasound to training a polar bear to present a paw for a voluntary blood draw- all of these things add up to provide our animals with the best care possible.

While zookeepers provide the day to day animal care, there are many other jobs filled by talented passionate people that move our organization forward.  It is through all of us working together that we are able to accomplish Como Zoo’s mission of inspiring the public to value to presence of living things in our lives.

Tell us a little bit about the African penguins at Como Zoo and their wild counterparts.

Here at Como Zoo we are home to a colony of 10 African penguins. They all have unique personalities! Two of our African penguins are Animal Ambassadors and visit educational programs to connect with our visitors. This is not only a fun experience for our guests but an enriching experience for the penguins as well!

As with all of our animals, African penguins here at Como Zoo are ambassadors to their species in the wild. African penguins in the wild are experiencing a steep decline and are listed as endangered by the ICUN and the US Endangered Species Act. It is estimated that they could be extinct in as little as 15 years. Major threats to their survival include pressures from overfishing, fish populations moving further from land due to changes in the ocean temperatures, and oil spills to name a few. The good news is that there are a number of organizations working to help save African penguins from extinction.

How is Como Zoo working to support organizations that help African penguins in the wild?

This year Como Zoo introduced a new initiative called Conservation Champions supported by grants from Como Friends. This program gives staff members the opportunity to share their ideas about how Como Zoo can contribute to conservation efforts. It is a great program because so many of the staff who work here are very passionate about conservation!   Through the Conservation Champions initiative, Como Zoo is contributing funding to a research project in South Africa that is part of the AZA SAFE program. Como Zoo is also sending another zookeeper, Kelley, to South Africa in the fall of 2017 to participate in a keeper exchange with the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB). Stay tuned to hear more about her trip later this year!

Can you describe the AZA SAFE program?

First I should explain that AZA stands for Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Como Zoo has been a member since 1990. The AZA has rigorous standards that zoos and aquariums are held to for the well-being of animals and humans. Additionally they provide professional development opportunities, oversee animal management programs and lead conservation initiatives such as their SAFE program.

SAFE stands for Saving Animals From Extinction and was created to connect zoos and aquariums, researchers, non-governmental organizations, and government organizations under one common goal: saving species!  Using a “One Plan” approach for 10 key species, they have a developed Conservation Action Plan to identify the most pressing needs to save a species from extinction. It’s a really great program because it brings together everyone’s strengths to make the biggest impact for animals in the wild. Zoos and aquariums play a large role in this process as AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums have over 180 million visitors each year! Como Zoo alone had almost 2 million visitors last year!

What is SANCCOB and what is Como Zoo doing to support them?

The South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) is a seabird rehabilitation facility with three locations in South Africa. They take in all types injured and abandoned seabirds and rehabilitate them for eventual release in the wild. African penguins make up approximately 25% of their patients. They are also the primary response team in the event of an oil spill. An independent research study concluded that through their rehabilitation efforts they are responsible for 19% of the current population. That’s almost 1 in 5 African penguins alive today!

Como Zoo is able to join a large group of zoos and aquariums in supporting SANCCOB through a financial donation and staff support. Another Marine Animal Zookeeper, Kelley, is traveling to South to assist SANCCOB during their busiest season this fall. These efforts were made possible by donations from the community to our support organization, Como Friends.

Anything else you would like to add?

For more information follow Como Zoo on Facebook and check out the links below!

Como Friends

AZA SAFE

SANCCOB

AZA’s “Invest in the Nest” Kickstarter Campaign