This Zookeeper Week, we shadowed Jordan, a zookeeper at Northwest Trek Wildlife Park. Jordan works with all the animals in the 435-acre Free-Roaming Area, including nearly 90 bison, mountain goats, elk, swans, caribou, and bighorn sheep and dozens of black-tailed deer. We asked him about his experiences in zookeeping and what working with animals and wildlife means to him.
Q: What is your favorite part of the job?
A: I love how different every day can be. If an animal is behaving abnormally or needs a medical procedure, it can change my whole routine.
I also enjoy the solitude and peace of the Free-Roaming Area. Where else can you have a one-way conversation with a bison?
Q: What is your favorite animal at Northwest Trek?
A: I really enjoy working with and training moose. Training moose allows the animal care and veterinary teams to easily give them wellness exams when needed. Earning the trust of a moose, like Aspen, can help us easily check her neck and head, take blood draws, and eventually pick up her hooves and treat them if needed. It takes a lot of patience and hard work to create a bond like that with a moose.
Q: What was your journey to becoming a keeper? What inspired you to become a keeper?
A: I went to Arizona State University and earned a degree in animal behavior and physiology. I thought I wanted to work in the population tracking and research side of things. But after college, I interned at Wildlife Safari in Oregon and eventually was hired to work with carnivores like lions and cheetahs. I found my passion for zookeeping while working there. It makes sense that I loved working with the lions and cheetahs; I grew up with a big fluffy cat and loved nature shows about mountain lions.
After four years in Oregon, I worked at Houston Zoo in Texas. In 2019, I was hired at Northwest Trek and cared for the carnivores, like the bears, cats, and wolves, before working in the Free-Roaming Area. It’s been interesting to learn about hoofstock and how to care for them.
Q: What does your day typically look like?
A: First thing, I drive a loop around the Free-Roaming Area and look for all the animals, sort of like a morning scavenger hunt. I want to get eyes on everyone, all 88 animals, and make sure they are doing well. I watch for any medical issues, like limping, and make sure they are socializing appropriately with their herds. Knowing their “normal” routine is important, so I can recognize when something is off. Throughout the day, I feed all the animals, fill up water containers, and help with any medical procedures. I also work on training behaviors, like encouraging the caribou or mountain goats to voluntarily step on a scale to check their weights.
Q: What is something people wouldn’t expect about your job?
A: How physical our job can be! The Free-Roaming Area is a large area to cover, and it often involves hiking to check on animals. We also carry large buckets of food and grain and heavy bales of hay to feed the animals. It can really be a workout.
Q: What advice would you give someone who wants to be a zookeeper?
A: A strong work ethic and persistence stands out. If you can do all the not-so-fun, hard, physical parts of the job, then you can earn the respect of your colleagues and it will help you go a long way… and eventually you’ll get to the fun part!
Jordan is one of the keepers who leads the Keeper Adventure Tours throughout the Free-Roaming Area. If you’d like to meet him, book a tour here.