This Zookeeper Week, we shadowed Amanda, a zookeeper at Northwest Trek Wildlife Park. Amanda works with the black bears, grizzly bears, cougar, lynx, bobcats, foxes, and gray wolves. We asked her about her experiences in zookeeping and what working with animals and wildlife means to her.
Q: What is your favorite part of the job?
A: I love providing enrichment to the animals and watching them express their natural behaviors. For example: I will put an antler up in a tree in Carly the cougar’s habitat to encourage her to climb and explore.
Q: What is your favorite animal at Northwest Trek?
A: The black bears and the cougar are my favorite animals. Black bears Benton and Fern have wonderful personalities. They are both sweet and extremely intelligent.
I have so much respect for Carly the cougar. I am a cat lover by nature but being able to work with such a powerful animal has really added to that love. Her willingness to work and train with the keepers and the bond we have with her is incredible.
Q: What was your journey to becoming a keeper? What inspired you to become a keeper?
A: I’ve always loved animals, and I was the kid who brought home injured animals to my parents and said, “we have to help them!” I knew I wanted to be an advocate for those who couldn’t help themselves and be a voice to the voiceless.
I earned my degree in wildlife ecology and conservation from Washington State University. While on campus, I worked with raptors in rehabilitation, black-tailed, white-tailed, and mule deer, and volunteered in the exotics ward at the veterinary hospital.
After college, I was a veterinary technician in Vancouver, Washington before coming to Northwest Trek as an intern. In 2019, I was hired at Northwest Trek part-time and in 2020 I was promoted to full-time. While here at Northwest Trek, I realized my true passion wasn’t in medicine, but rather the zookeeping side of things.
Q: What does your day typically look like?
A: My day begins with record-keeping. I check on the bears, cats, and wolves and note any abnormal behaviors I see. Then I give them breakfast and fresh water, move them from their behind-the-scenes bedrooms to their public-viewing habitats, clean their bedrooms, and prepare their enrichment items. I also do training sessions with the animals throughout the day. Another huge part of my job is checking locks. As I move animals in and out of their habitats, I triple-check that all the locks are on where they should be to ensure the safety of everyone in the park.
Q: What is something people wouldn’t expect about your job?
A: There is a lot more cleaning and dirty work than people think! A big chunk of our day is cleaning the animals’ bedrooms and picking up poop.
Q: What advice would you give someone who wants to be a zookeeper?
A: Be patient. This job is a hard field to get into and it takes a lot of time and hard work. Take any animal care work you can get, never give up, and keep trying. Be willing to move around from state to state when a job is available to get experience.
If you’d like to meet Amanda, catch her during a keeper chat in the bears, cats, or wolf area.