“I have always been a city girl with a heart for the wild,” says Corina, an Ambassador Animal Keeper at the Nashville Zoo who was born and raised in Philadelphia. “I grew up in the most urban parts of Philadelphia…(where) there wasn’t much wild life or green space,” she shared, yet that didn’t stop her fascination with wildlife from growing, even if it was mostly inspired from some of the books she read growing up. This led her to start an internship at the Philadelphia Zoo, and to later pursue studies in Zoo and Wildlife biology at Malone University.
While in college, she was challenged to learn about wildlife in the local (mostly urban) environment around her, and to her surprise she realized that even within cities full of concrete sidewalks and asphalt roads, nature, albeit hidden, was still there. “(Growing up) it had been around me the whole time; I just hadn’t had the eyes to see it,” Corina shared. Now Corina aspires to reach out to students just like herself growing up – hoping to help them “tap into the passions (they) may have for wildlife, that may be lying dormant due to a lack of exposure.” In the future, she plans to pursue a Masters and Ph.D. in Biology, with a focus on avian migration, as she is particularly interested in the effects of human expansion and habitat conversion on migratory bird species.
What type of animals do you work with, and what are your duties as an Ambassador Animal Keeper?
I take care of a broad range of animals, including leopards and other large cats, snakes and lizards, birds of prey, parrots, skunks, and rabbits. Instead of specializing in taking care of a particular kind of animal, my department specializes in animal training. My responsibilities include animal husbandry (which includes scooping poop, completing comprehensive physical exams for each animal on a regular basis, administering medications, assisting with veterinary procedures), animal training (this includes training behaviors for husbandry purposes, such as voluntary beak/nail trims, animal shows, and outreach programs), and education. We do daily animal shows in our theater, and animal encounters throughout the zoo.
What is a typical day like for you at the Zoo?
We have a team meeting first thing in the morning to discuss any special programs that our animals will be doing and our goals for the day. Then, we medicate all of our animals that receive morning medications. Once this is finished, the next 3 hours are spent cleaning and scrubbing the messes made overnight, and providing enrichment for all of our animals.
Enrichment simply refers to any change to an animal’s environment that encourages them to engage in behaviors that they would do naturally in the wild (i.e. hiding worms in dirt for our opossum, giving leaves and twigs with scents from prey animals to our leopards). We then do a series of animal encounters, where we take animals out into the zoo to meet guests. LUNCH.
After lunch, it’s time to get ready for our show. Our show is a mixed species show in our outdoor theater that includes birds, mammals, and reptiles. After the show, we work on animal training projects behind the scenes and do more animal encounters. After about an hour and a half, we start closing up our animal areas and giving everyone their dinner and evening medications. Once everyone is trained and fed, we check to make sure all enclosures are secure and safe, and then we go home!
What role does coffee or your caffeinated beverage of choice play in your position as Ambassador Animal Keeper at the Zoo?
The beverage I drink for both energy and delight is Mountain Dew Kickstart. It both energizes my mind and brings joy to my spirit. When I drink coffee it is purely out of necessity. If I absolutely must drink coffee, I pair it with something that hides the coffee’s flavor (i.e. a way-too-sweet donut).
What is your favorite part of your job?
My favorite part of my job is flying our birds outside. It’s a fantastic way to allow guests to experience birds in their most glorious form. It’s also exciting to see the birds have fun flying. I especially love when I can have a one-on-one encounter with a guest that is simply fascinated by the animal I have with me. It rejuvenates my passion every time!
Outside of your love for science and animals, what hobbies do you enjoy?
Outside of my love for science and wildlife, I am performing arts lover at heart. I play piano in my spare time and take ballet classes.
What are some of the lesser known facts about Zoos and the types of broader impacts work they do?
Accredited Zoos and Aquariums are conservation organizations. They exist for the express purpose of keeping species from going extinct around the world, which is happening due to humans destroying habitats. They function like arks. The animals that live in zoos and aquariums are studied very closely, and scientists study their relatives in their native lands. this allows us to provide the proper care needed to maintain viable populations in human care to be released back to the wild. There have been many species saved by zoos from imminent extinction, such as the California Condor, the White Rhinoceros, the Micronesian Kingfisher, the Guam Rail, and the list goes on. It is critical for us…to contribute to the tireless efforts of zoo professionals to save the Wild.