Career Profile: Keeper II, Louisville Zoo
Growing up in Louisville, Kentucky Beka Vaile was sold on becoming a zoo keeper ever since her first visit.
“My family and I use to have a membership at the zoo. We would love to go on the afternoons and I instantly fell in love with all of the animals. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a zookeeper.”
Beka, who is a Keeper II in the Glaciar Run area of the Louisville Zoo, is part of a team who is responsible for the care and enrichment of grizzly bears, seals, sea lions, and a polar bear. Everyday is different and that is what Beka loves the most.
“Everyday we do something different with the animals. We never want them to get bored, so we send them to different exhibits and different people work with them. When we get here in the morning we check on the animals, move them to an exhibit, feed them, and then clean up. It is a full day of feeding, moving, and cleaning.”
Becoming a zookeeper has taken hard work and dedication. Beka has a Bachelors degree in Animal Science from the University of Kentucky with a focus on dairy cattle. During her time at UK she volunteered for the Louisville Zoo one summer and interned with an Indiana animal sanctuary another summer.
“In order to start working at a zoo you need to acquire a certain amount of animal hours; start from the bottom and work your way up. I started in the commissary formulating all of the animal’s diet for them. That was such an important experience for me because I learned about all of the animal’s balanced diets.”
Those animals hour have paid off though, Beka has been with the zoo for 5 years and with the animals at Glaciar Run for a year and a half. One of the best things for her, is having the relationship with her animals.
“Getting to work with the animals is amazing. For them to recognize me and build a relationship with me. Knowing I can be a small part of their lives is so rewarding for me.”
For those interested in this type of work, Beka suggests getting start now, not later.
“I would do as many internships or volunteer jobs as I could. Getting those animal hours and being around animals is invaluable experience and it doesn’t matter how old you are. This job is a lot of hard work so you need to test it out and see if you like it. Being a zoo keeper is something you do because you love it and you love the animals.”
It isn’t all about the animals though, Beka talks about the other skills you need to be a great zookeeper.
“You need time management skills along with really good communication skills. We are constantly moving throughout the day and educating the public on our animals and conservation. We are ambassadors for our animals and advocates for their species in the wild.”
When asked what her best piece of advice for people considering this career was she responded with, “No matter what you do, do what you are passionate about. If you aren’t sure, try things out. You learn almost as much when you find something you don’t want to do as you do when you find something you do want to do.”