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Animal Keeper Job Description: Watch Animal Keeper Deidre Ousterhout Save Animals at Work

Currently I work as an Ambassador Animals Keeper at Zoo Atlanta in Georgia. That means I care for, train, and monitor the health, wellbeing, and safety of the Zoo’s education animals. But my favorite part of my job is talking to the public about the importance of wildlife and the ways we can help them survive.

A love for animals has always been with me, but the first memory that stuck started in preschool. My teacher, “Teacher Terri,” was also a volunteer at the local Humane Society. She taught  our class how to greet dogs safely and respect different species of animals.

Presentation_armadillo

Having a drama teacher for a father comes in very handy when giving animal presentations. Although this three banded armadillo is quite the crowd pleaser, my theater background and animal knowledge are key in keeping audiences excited about the animals I am describing.

From there, my love and passion for animals only grew. When I was in third grade, my parents took me and my three siblings to a wildlife park. A zookeeper was teaching about the cheetah who was standing right next to her! I turned to my parents and told them, “That’s what I want to do!” Although now I don’t work with big cats as my younger self imagined, I am very happy. Over 20 years later, I get to focus on educating people about the misunderstood animals of our world.

Opossum

Living outside the wild, animals like this opossum aren’t able to naturally wear down their nails. Their nails can become long and break easily, which is uncomfortable. Because of that, we train animals to voluntarily participate in their own care, and even in medical procedures, such as this nail trim.

Sloth

Not all animals are the same. This sloth moves at a much slower pace than a bird of prey does. That’s why we have to be very patient whenever asking him to participate in training. But being so slow has its advantages. His slow gut results in less poop to clean up.

Presentation_parrot

When the COVID 19 pandemic hit, we thought our days of live animal presentations were over. Luckily, that wasn’t the case. With modifications such as smaller audience sizes, social distancing, and masks, we are still able to educate. As a social bird, Larry the African grey parrot was also excited to see his adoring fans again.

Growing up in the small town of Silverton, Oregon, I was lucky enough to have supportive parents, family members, and teachers who eagerly encouraged my interests. They helped me get to where I am today. 

My love and desire to work with animals is something that has always been a part of who I am. But my love of teaching and sharing my passion with others came from my parents. They both work as educators and showed me the true power of education. I believe that educating in a fun and informative way is the key to saving wildlife and wild places. Plus, it gives me an excuse to act goofy while doing what I love and to make a difference for both people and animals.

Target pole

Here I am teaching a group of guests about how and why zookeepers train animals. The animal not in the photo is a screaming hairy armadillo. The stick in my hand is called a “target pole.” When the armadillo touches the target pole with her nose, I give her a scoop of food (a gross, liquid, buggy mush).

Pine snake

Snakes are some of my favorite animals, because there is so much that most people don’t know about them. This is a Florida pine snake. With the use of their tongues, they can find food and avoid predators by hiding with their shovel-like noses in leaf litter.

Word of Advice: If you’re interested in becoming an animal care professional, find ways to work with animals. Enroll in programs/camps at your local zoo or aquarium. Volunteer at local Humane Societies, animal rehabilitation centers, or farms that care for animals. That way you can learn if working with animals is right for you, as well as which animals are right for you. As a kid, I always thought I wanted to work with big cats. But the moment I experienced the world of reptiles and birds, I realized where my career would lead.

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