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National Zoo Keeper WeekMeet the Animal Wellness Campus Team

July 21, 2016

Since early this year, Zoo visitors have been enjoying the Animal Wellness Campus because of our lovable tiger cubs who took up residence there. You might have seen a show at the ZooLive! stage or watched a special dinner being made at the Diet Kitchen. Dr. Amanda Guthrie, the Zoo’s Veterinarian, heads up the Animal Wellness Campus, but who are the other folks behind the glass windows contributing to our animal’s well-being? Let’s meet them now!

WHO ARE THEY?

Leah Rooker  Licensed Veterinary Technician, 12 years of service

Yohn Sutton  Diet Kitchen Chef, ZooFarm and Reptiles Zoo Keeper, 7.5 years of service

Jen Batkin  Licensed Veterinary Technician and Kospital Keeper, 9 months of service

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WHAT IS YOUR EDUCATIONAL BACKGROUND?

Leah  Associates Degree in Veterinary Technology from Harcum College; Bachelor of Science in Biology from Virginia Tech. I worked in the Large Animal Department at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Virginia Tech for 11 years before being lucky enough to get hired at the Virginia Zoo.

Yohn  Bachelor of Science in Biology with a minor in biochemistry from Old Dominion University.

Jen  Associates Degree in Veterinary Technology from Blue Ridge Community College; Bachelor of Science in Biology from Old Dominion University. I spent 14 years working in small animal and exotic animal veterinary practices.

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TELL US ABOUT A FUN EXPERIENCE AT THE VIRGINIA ZOO

Yohn  There are too many to name, but the most fun experience I can recall is anytime all of the Zoo Keepers get together to accomplish a major project, such as planting the tiger yard. The work is tough, but we have a lot of fun making the most of it and finishing the yard work was very rewarding.

Jen  Anytime we do a procedure on an animal. Most of our residents won’t allow us, or it is too dangerous, to perform exams or other health related tasks so they have to be sedated. I am always amazed at how different each species is and how each has evolved to perfectly fill their niche in the wild. My favorite things to look at are their hands/feet and teeth.

Leah  I agree with Jen about doing the procedures – it’s a lot of work but it is also always an amazing experience. Training our two tiger cub brothers to target and to crate was also a very rewarding experience for me!

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WHAT IS ONE THING PEOPLE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT THE VIRGINIA ZOO?

Yohn  The Virginia Zoo has a lot of potential that has not been discovered yet. Our staff works very hard on a daily basis to maximize the comfort and health of our collection, and we strive to unlock every potential that this beautiful place will give us.

WHAT’S ONE PIECE OF ADVICE FOR THOSE WANTED TO BE A ZOO KEEPER?

Yohn  Do more than just love working with animals. Understand their biology and natural behavior. Enjoy and love working with nature as a whole and learn how you can preserve it.

Jen  Zoo keeping is a dirty job that requires a lot of physical labor and dedication. Animals need to be cared for 365 days a year, so someone is always going to have to work holidays, weekends and during bad weather.

Leah  Be willing to put in the time; you may have to start by interning or volunteering to get experience in the field. If it is something that you are truly passionate about, take every opportunity you can to learn and increase your knowledge.

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WHO/WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE ANIMAL AND WHY?

Leah  I’ve always loved tigers, though it’s hard for me to put an exact finger on why. I think they are very beautiful, strong and majestic animals. Being able to help hand rear our two tiger cubs was an absolutely amazing experience for me that I will treasure for the rest of my life, and only reinforced my love for this wonderful species.

Yohn  It is a toss-up between Aldabra tortoises and the yellow foot tortoise. Tortoises in general have great personalities that are under appreciated and are a very hardy creature.

Jen  I have always had a love for the great apes in general, but orangutans are my favorite. They are so human-like and I can just see in their eyes that they are consciously thinking about everything around them. I am always amazed at how large and powerful they are, but also how docile.

 

ANYTHING ELSE YOU’D LIKE TO ADD…

Yohn  If anyone sees me bobbing my head in the diet kitchen, a very good song has come on. Or it is carrot day, I do love carrots.

Leah  No day is exactly the same! One day I could be helping with a physical exam on a porcupine, the next day a root canal on a lion. It definitely is not a boring job.

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