Story of a Zookeeper

Ethan Anderson, 24, communes with the animals as a Central Florida Zoo hoof stock keeper.

Roberto Gonzalez

“I was always fascinated with nature as a young boy. Animals that are born in zoos don’t know a life other than that. By working in animal care management, I wanted to give animals the best possible life, given the circumstances.”

By the time Anderson was 18, he had researched careers in wildlife biology and field studies. After interning at Zoo Boise in Idaho, where he grew up, Anderson got his two-year degree in zookeeping from Pikes Peak Community College in Colorado. Then he had the chance to intern at the Central Florida Zoo, where he was hired full time last year.

“I like working with the camel (Sir Gus Jr., shown) right now. He’s very intuitive and motivated; he’s got a great personality. Animals can teach you so much just from their body language.”

“My most memorable moment this year was hand-feeding one of the kangaroos. They kind of grab your hand with their paws, and it’s a form of kinship with the animal and respect for you in being their caretaker. It’s an enlightening feeling.”

“There are still moments when I get scared. Anything can happen. Sometimes you get in positions where the animal does get the better of you—that’s just part of the job. You can’t hold it against the animal; they’re just being a wild animal.”

“It happened to me with a kangaroo. We were restraining him to give him some medication. They don’t like being contained or held down, and when we finally got him and injected the medicine, he reached up and kind of punched me in the jaw. They do box you a bit sometimes. It wasn’t comfortable, but thankfully he didn’t get a full-on blow.”

Anderson starts his day at 7 a.m. “I do my rounds, making sure everyone is alert and healthy. Next, I feed everybody and clean up after them. Then, I work on training and enrichment with objects that keep them cognitively interactive and exploring their five senses.”

His favorite part of the day is cleaning the animals’ habitats because he likes working outdoors. He also enjoys the occasional “keeper talks” he gives to children. “The lights click on for kids when they are interacting with the animals; that’s their connection to nature.”

Recently, the zoo opened a new Indian rhinoceros exhibit. “That is an animal I’ve always wanted to work with. They are kind of misunderstood; people see them as big and dumb, but they’re actually quite intelligent.”

“As most animals experience the threat of habitat destruction, zoos are very important. If left in the wild, some animals might become extinct. However, zoos have special breeding programs, and it’s a huge network system. When an animal can be re-released into the wild, it can help replenish the population of wild animals in the world. Zoos play a huge part in that.”

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