Keeper by Kismet

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Zoo InternQuest is a seven-week career exploration program for San Diego County high school juniors and seniors. Students have the unique opportunity to meet professionals working for the San Diego Zoo, Safari Park, and Institute for Conservation Research, learn about their jobs and then blog about their experience online. Follow their adventures here on the Zoo’s website!

Jade_Career_W6From the time we start school, most of us are told to get good grades in order to get into a good college so that we can get a good job. For some people, this plan is perfect. But for others, there is a different pathway to success. One person who falls in the latter category is Torrey Pillsbury, a Senior Keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Ms. Pillsbury started working at the Safari Park at the age of nineteen, with no college degree, previous internships, or related formal work experience. With an adventurous attitude, love of animals, and a little bit of kismet, Ms. Pillsbury started her career working in zoos.

All of her life, Ms. Pillsbury loved and owned horses. In high school, her love of animals led to her involvement in FFA, or Future Farmers of America. After graduating high school, Ms. Pillsbury did not go to college – but this clearly did not stop her from becoming a keeper at the Safari Park. One day, Ms. Pillsbury’s friend, who was in a horse show at the Safari Park, invited her to watch. Unfortunately one of the workers was injured and could not perform in the show. Fortunately, Ms. Pillsbury was there to step in. The horse show was what got her working at the Safari Park, but was not what kept her there. When the horse show was cancelled, she worked at the elephant show for six years. Following that, she took a break from the Safari Park and moved to Phoenix, where she worked at a zoo for six months. While she enjoyed working at the Phoenix Zoo, she was drawn back to San Diego. When she returned to the Safari Park she became a keeper, making her one of only two keepers without a college degree.

Ms. Pillsbury and her fellow keepers are cross-trained in three areas, the Animal Care Center, the Village (where visitors walk around), and in the field enclosures. Currently, Ms. Pillsbury works in the field enclosures. Most people think that Ms. Pillsbury gets to pet animals all day, but that is not the case. A typical day for a keeper begins in an office. All of the keepers meet to discuss the day’s schedule, such as which animals need check ups. After that, the keepers disperse to perform their daily duties. Ms. Pillsbury starts by picking up food for the animals in the field, which mostly consists of hay and pellets. What comes after feeding the animals varies from day to day, which is an exciting aspect of the job that Ms. Pillsbury likes the most. For example, if an animal comes from another zoo or if a baby is born, Ms. Pillsbury has to tag its ears in order to identify it from the rest. Animals must be differentiated so that keepers can keep records and communicate with each other about each specific animal. Another task keepers must perform is moving animals to different areas. An animal may have to be moved if it needs medical attention, is not getting along with other animals, or is needed for breeding. Methods of moving the animals include using crates, dump trucks, sedation, and trucks (depending on the size of the animal). Other jobs that keepers must do are cleaning up waste and keeping records. Ms. Pillsbury and her coworkers keep records of everything that goes on in their area and with the animals, such as births, deaths, shipments in and out of the Safari Park, movements within the Safari Park, health tests, and the total count of animals.

Of the three areas where she is trained to work, the field enclosures are Ms. Pillsbury’s favorite. In the field enclosures, the keepers are the eyes and ears. They do fence-line checks, count the animals, and notify veterinarians if they are needed. One of Ms. Pillsbury’s favorite parts of her job is searching for babies to make sure they are doing okay. Keepers also make sure that animals are not being harassed. For instance, when Ms. Pillsbury was showing us around, a northern white rhino picked up a baby waterbuck, causing Ms. Pillsbury and her coworkers to step in. By parking a truck in front of the waterbuck and using another truck to shoo the rhino away, Ms. Pillsbury and her coworkers were able to keep the newborn safe. This just goes to show that every day for a keeper really does come with unexpected surprises!

Even though Ms. Pillsbury did not get a college degree, she does have advice for those interested in becoming a keeper. Getting a four-year degree in animal science or zoology is extremely helpful if you want to work at a zoo. She also advises to be open to new experiences. Sometimes people come to the Safari Park and only want to work with one species, a very unrealistic mindset. Ms. Pillsbury endorses a positive attitude and a willingness to embrace every experience the Safari Park has to offer. Ms. Pillsbury herself has worked with bonobos, black rhinos, giraffes, orangutans, gorillas, and many more animals. The eager attitude Ms. Pillsbury had as a nineteen-year-old riding horses has not faded a bit. The incredible passion she has for animals makes her a dedicated and enthusiastic keeper at the Safari Park.

Jade, Career Team
Week Six, Winter Session 2013