While visiting the Zoo you have probably seen some of our amazing keepers out and about in habitats across the park. Carnivores, ectotherms and birds, among others, all have keepers to ensure that they are in good health and good spirits. From creating behavioral enrichment for an aardvark, to showering down an elephant, there is never a dull moment in the life of a zookeeper. The keepers at the Phoenix Zoo are passionate, dedicated and caring individuals who work long hours to ensure our animals are happy and healthy 365 days a year. They selflessly serve our animals, our Zoo, and our patrons to ensure each visit to the Phoenix Zoo is one that is enjoyable and cherished.


In honor of National Zookeeper Week we spoke with a handful of our amazing keepers about what makes the job so special.

Kiersten: Keeper I – Equine

Who or what inspired you to become a zookeeper?

“I have always loved animals; my aunt Debbie really inspired me and fostered that curiosity I had for them. Debbie has been a zookeeper here at the Phoenix Zoo since I was very young, she is the one who got me passionate about having a career as a zookeeper. Now years and years later, here we are, she is a primate keeper, and I am an equine/farm keeper!”


Lysi Keeper II – AAR

What do you enjoy most about being a zookeeper?

“I love being a zookeeper because every day is an adventure! Working with animals means that no two days are the same, and I am proud of the care I provide for each animal I work with. I am especially passionate about encouraging a conservation mindset in the next generation, which I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to do every day as an AAR keeper. Seeing the expressions of joy and wonder and hearing the excitement in the voices of guests as they learn about and interact with our ambassador animals gives me hope for the future of their wild counterparts.”

Lysi Newman

Alyssa: Keeper II – Carnivores

What’s something you want people exploring a career as a zookeeper to know?

“Being a zookeeper is the most rewarding job I’ve ever had, and I wouldn’t change it for anything! However, it’s not as easy as people might think it is! Yes, we get to spend time with amazing animals of all shapes and sizes, but the vast majority of our time is spent raking, hosing, preparing diets and medications, training, creating BE for our animals and much more. We spend 10 hours a day taking care of our animals, most of it on our feet, getting dirty and sweaty, and you go home tired and exhausted, all to do it again the following day. The trade-off is incredible, though. Spending time and building relationships with our charges is worth all the sweat, pain and yes, sometimes tears. But knowing that you’re adding quality to your animal’s life, making sure they do not want for anything is a true feeling of fulfillment.  I hope people understand and realize that we’re not just “sitting around petting animals all day”.. (I work with the big cats, and I like my fingers, thanks!), but that we’re giving 100% effort into the care for our animals. We want to make sure every animal at the zoo has a long, peaceful life filled with lots of love and respect from their keepers. If you’re thinking about entering the field of zoo keeping, make sure you have good intentions, nice hiking boots and a lot of patience!”

 Brittnye: Senior Hospital Keeper

What animal at the ACNC have you had the most meaningful connection with?

“Everyone will immediately laugh because if you know me at all you would know this without even thinking, but Meatball the red-necked wallaby has been my absolute most favorite animal to form a relationship with at ACNC! I was very much a birds-only keeper when I started working here, so when I found out I would be taking care of wallabies I was a little nervous because it was so new to me. However, Meatball immediately stole my heart and we quickly developed a really close relationship where I was able to work with him on all sorts of husbandry training like scale and shift training, and because I was able to develop that relationship with him it actually helped the other two wallabies come around and get more comfortable with me as well.”

Becky: Keeper I – AAR

What do you enjoy most about being a zookeeper?

“What I enjoy most about being a zookeeper is helping to make connections between our guests and the animals. There is nothing better than seeing a child light up when seeing the ambassador animals up close. I love the exclamations of surprise when we bring out our aardvark or fly our Harris’ hawk during the show. I enjoy having good conversations with guests and seeing the connection they make with the animal. I love seeing people get excited about animals and if I can encourage and contribute to that then I know I’ve done my job.”


Caitlon: Keeper II – Ectotherms

What do you enjoy most about being a zookeeper?

“What I enjoy most about being a zookeeper is working with the animals. Whether they are big or small, I enjoy getting to know the different personalities. Some of my favorite to work with are our Galapagos tortoises. Especially during the summer, Elvis, one of our males, enjoys showers from the hose!”

Caitlon Hartzell

Ryan: Keeper I – Birds

What inspired you to be a zookeeper?

“I have always had a deep love for the natural world, but as I grew up, birds frequently captivated my attention. Learning about bird’s unique adaptations and the roles they play in their ecosystems made my interest grow more and more over the years. I knew I wanted to work with birds and help conserve their natural habitats, but I did not know what capacity I could help them until I had the opportunity for an internship at an AZA-accredited zoo while in college. During my internship I saw firsthand the conservation that AZA zoos participate in, and I fell in love, I knew that this was the career for me! Now I get to work with the birds I love while helping save their species!”

Ryan Vittetoe

Emily: Keeper II – Carnivores

What animal at the ACNC have you had the most meaningful connection with?

“Jojo-bean (Joanne) the Sumatran tiger. She’s a perfect princess… even when she’s not cooperating with me. I have always been a fan of tigers and she is a beautiful gal full of ‘cattitude’.”

What’s your favorite memory from being a keeper at the ACNC?

“Not necessarily a memory as it happens often but I enjoy hearing the animals calling: be it the gibbons singing, the lion roaring or the wolves howling. There is something very magical about it.”

Jo Up Close and Personal

Sam: Keeper I – Birds

Sam’s Keeper Journey:

“I’ve been lucky enough to grow up at the Phoenix Zoo. I first started as a Zoo Teen Volunteer in 2014 and continued as an adult volunteer in college before working my first zookeeper job with our Farm and Equine Department. I recently joined the Birds Team and am excited to continue to grow as a zookeeper. From feeding rhinos, to swimming with stingrays, or assisting with cheetah annual exams, I have been fortunate to learn from the best mentors, both human and animal, who have helped me become the keeper that I am today!”

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