This Zookeeper Week, we shadowed Becky, a zookeeper at Northwest Trek Wildlife Park. Becky works with all of the animals in the Cheney Discovery Center, Forest & Wetlands area, and all of the birds in the wildlife park, but is the primary trainer for raccoons McKenna and McChord, badgers Lavender and Poppy, bald eagles Cheveyo and Sequoia, and Tolmie the porcupine. 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 working with species that are native to the Pacific Northwest and watching them adapt through the four seasons just as they would in the wild. I also enjoy thinking of enrichment items that will encourage the animals’ natural behaviors, like burying frozen mice in the badger’s habitat for them to dig up.
Q: What is your favorite animal at Northwest Trek?
A: The badgers! I work closely with the badgers every day to train them on different behaviors, like stepping onto a scale to check their weights. By having them voluntarily participate in their own healthcare, it allows us to monitor them and better care for them. For example, the badgers are less active in the winter and their metabolism slows down, causing them to gain weight. By the summer, they are more active and can drop weight somewhat quick. Being able to check their weights ensures that we are feeding them the correct amount of food daily and getting them to an appropriate weight range at a steady pace.
Q: What was your journey to becoming a keeper? What inspired you to become a keeper?
A: I went to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and earned a degree in Fisheries and Wildlife. As part of the program, I had to intern somewhere. I ended up interning at the local zoo and found my passion in zookeeping. I came to intern at Northwest Trek in 2019 and was hired on as a part-time keeper in the Free-Roaming Area that September. In 2021, I was promoted to a full-time keeper in the Forest & Wetlands area.
Q: What does your day typically look like?
A: I work 5 days a week from 7:30am-4pm. When I first get to work, I briefly read and respond to emails and check-in with the team. Then, I do morning checks — meaning I walk around and make sure all the animals in my area are healthy. After that, I give medications to any animals that require them. For example, McKenna the raccoon receives her oral chemotherapy medication daily (she was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2019). I also feed most of the animals 3-4 times a day, give them fresh water, wash the windows of each of the habitats, pick up poop, give the animals enrichment items, empty compost bins, and prepare diets (or prepare fun enrichment items like apple popsicles for the racoons).
Q: What is something people wouldn’t expect about your job?
A: How many things we do! There is so much we do every day, like working with the animals to train them on different behaviors, how much thought we put into enrichment items for each animal, and how much trust it takes to create a respectful bond between a keeper and animal. I am always thinking about the well-being of the animals, whether I’m at work or at home.
Q: What advice would you give someone who wants to be a zookeeper?
A: It takes a lot of determination and hard work to get a full-time position as a keeper. It takes many years of interning for free or low wages before you can move up, so it’s important that you’re passionate about the job and caring for animals.
If you’d like to meet Becky, catch her during a keeper chat in the Forest & Wetlands area.