Meet the Africa Team
WHO ARE the zoo keepers?
Jennifer McNamara Lead Keeper, 3 years of service
Jason Strohkorb Africa Keeper, 14 years of service
Kaitlin Rebello Africa Keeper, 4 years of service
Brenda Eppenstiner Africa Zoo Keeper, 9 months years of service
Denise Luckey Africa Zoo Keeper, 26 years of service
Amy Douglas Africa Zoo Keeper, 1.5 years of service
WHAT IS YOUR EDUCATIONAL BACKGROUND?
Jennifer I have a Bachelors of Science in Biology from the University of Missouri
Kaitlin I have a Bachelors of Science in Biology from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. I did an internship at Roger Williams Park Zoo and was a keeper for 4 years at Cameron Park Zoo in Texas.
Brenda A.S. Zoo Animal Technology
Denise I have a Bachelors of Science in Biology from Old Dominion University.
Jason I have and Associate Degree in Business Administration and a Bachelors of Science with a minor in Chemistry.
Amy I have a Bachelors of Science in Biology from Penn State University, with 3.5 years of experience working and interning at zoos including the Lehigh Valley Zoo, Wildlife Safari and the Indianapolis Zoo.
TELL US ABOUT A FUN EXPERIENCE AT THE VIRGINIA ZOO
Jennifer Giving tours to guests that are genuinely excited and interested about the animals is the best part of the job. We are here so that when people leave they care about an animal they saw and will maybe take one small step to better their environment. Maybe they will think twice about littering or releasing a balloon.
Kaitlin Anytime I get to interact with the animals it’s fun, I love training them as well as just watching them interact with one another. I really enjoy watching the babies grow and learn. One of my favorite memories is when one of our giraffe calves, Kellen finally learned how to control his gangly legs and run– he didn’t stop running around the holding yard all day and looked like he was so proud of his accomplishment and enjoying feeling the wind in his mane.
Brenda Doing the behind the scenes tours are fun. A lot of times, these tours are the only opportunity people have to get up-close and personal with these animals. I love to see their reactions.
Denise Our first “surprise” litter of lion cubs!
Jason Every time we have a baby animal born at the zoo it reminds me why I decided to become a Zoo Keeper.
Amy The best part of my job is getting to interact with the animals; it is fun learning each animal’s personality and watching them grow!
WHAT IS ONE THING PEOPLE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT THE VIRGINIA ZOO?
Jennifer Take time to stand in front of the exhibits while you’re here. If you run past an exhibit or just glance in you may miss something really cool. I see people walk right past animals all the time because they don’t take those extra few second to look.
Kaitlin The Virginia Zoo is very supportive of our local AAZK chapter, an organization made up of keepers from the Zoo, the Virginia Living Museum and the Virginia Aquarium. The organization supports local conservation efforts, raising money for local and international conservation organizations, as well as holding fun events to help keepers connect with one another, share information and make fun enrichment for our animals.
Brenda Its collection is very diverse and you get a chance to see animals you wouldn’t normally see in other zoos.
Denise It has NEVER been officially named the Norfolk Zoo!
Amy Here at the Virginia Zoo we are involved in a lot of conservation projects around the world. We also participate in several studies to help learn new things about our individuals here. Whatever we can do to help learn more and teach people about our animals is important.
WHAT’S ONE PIECE OF ADVICE FOR THOSE WANTED TO BE A ZOO KEEPER?
Jennifer Start saving your money now! Becoming a keeper is a very competitive job that unfortunately doesn’t pay all that well. You have to be very passionate about it.
Kaitlin Be prepared to work hard to get a job, and then work hard on the job; don’t be afraid to show your passion and love for the animals.
Brenda Get your animal experience in as soon as possible. You don’t have to work with exotic animals, experience with domestic animals is valuable as well.
Jason Hard work and dedication pay off.
Amy Work hard and don’t give up. Take each opportunity as a learning experience, don’t be afraid to try something new, be ambitious and determined and you can do great things!
WHO/WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE ANIMAL AND WHY?
Jennifer Elephant. There is no other animal on earth like them. They are intelligent and iconic.
Kaitlin I love all hoofstock (giraffes, bongos, duikers, etc.) but my favorites have always been giraffes because they are such a contradictory mixture of awkward and graceful, scared and curious, smart and stubborn. Lisa and Cita, who are now at Zoo Maimi, will also always hold a very special place in my heart.
Brenda The meerkats! They make me laugh everyday.
Jason Elephants (Lisa and Cita) because I worked with them for 14 years and I have never worked with any other animal that was as personal as them.
Denise Zebra. I am a horse person at heart. When I was young, I used to tell my mother that one day I was going to have a zebra, because they look like horses in pajamas. I am, also, very partial to rhinos.
Amy I have too many favorite animals! I love elephants, walruses, and lemurs. I also love working with the bongos because they enjoy attention from us keepers, and there is not much cuter than a baby bongo.