Kaitlyn Burrell, Zookeeper
Being a zookeeper is more than scooping up animal waste. It is more than spending time with cuddly critters. It is more than putting on a show for a crowd's entertainment. It is not locking animals up and using them for financial gain. These are the most popular stereotypes about the zoo industry.

But as a former zookeeper, I can tell you that working in this field is so much more important than all of that. Being a zookeeper is about realizing the significance of the lives of animals and doing everything in your power to protect them. It is educating the public on the importance of endangered animal conservation in the hopes that someone's heart will be touched. It is taking care of the animals within the zoo itself and providing them with a happy and healthy lifestyle. This is what zookeepers work for everyday.

Many people believe that zoos only exist to bring in revenue. I can tell you first hand that this is not the case. Some of you may have visited Chehaw during our Native American Festival and passed by the conservation booth set up by the zookeepers. Everything on that table was a product of a zookeeper's own time, money, and labor. Every cent made from selling those items went straight to conservation programs for Cheetahs, Black Rhinos, and Guatemalan Beaded Lizards. The zookeepers who sacrificed their time, money, and labor received nothing in return other than the satisfaction of knowing that they helped make a difference in the battle against extinction.

Another strong stereotype against zoos is based on the belief that animals can't possibly be happy being "locked up" rather than being in the wild. I assure you that I have never seen as much joy in any living thing as I have seen in Bogart the Bactrian camel when he runs and bounds around his exhibit after seeing his keeper's golf cart pull up. The happiness seen in Roswell and Ellie, our two cheetahs, when they are rolling around in their lush exhibit grass on a sunny day is unmistakable. When our Black Bears (Daisy, Rosie, Theodore, and DJ) receive surprise enrichment, they can certainly be seen enjoying themselves. Not once have I ever been under the impression that our animals felt imprisoned or oppressed in any way. They simply enjoy the good life that is being fed every day and living in a safe environment where predation and poaching are not a threat.

Having the opportunity to be a zookeeper has been a huge blessing. The most valuable things I have learned from working at Chehaw are respect and compassion for the animals that I had the chance to work with. My time here has provided me with the most amazing memories I possess. This zoo, along with its residents and faithful employees, will always have a special place in my heart.