| WOMEN IN THE WILD

Chandelle Cotter

| Areas of Expertise

Animal Behavior and Training

| Born

Anchorage, Alaska

| Currently

Anchorage, Alaska

| Favorite Quote

“Never accept anything less than you deserve. Remember, you teach people how to treat you”

– unknown

| Job Title

Animal Behavior and Training Manager at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

Degree or Certifications

| Certification in Exotic Animal Management and Training

| Chandelle training a black bear to receive a voluntary injection.

| Biography

I grew up in a remote village in Alaska. I always knew I was going to work with animals. Once I graduated I had the opportunity to get hands on experience at a zoo school in Washington working with large carnivores. I became fascinated with animal behavior and the first opportunity I got to train was with a rescued cougar named Cimarron. He was known for being difficult but when I started to work with him using positive reinforcement his life changed and so did mine. I saw the power he had to choose to participate in his care and I was sold. Soon I had made my way to California and was the supervisor of a Wildlife Department caring for over 40 species from giraffes and fruit bats to sloths and alligators. I met some amazing women who pushed me to be a better trainer and improve the lives of all the animals in my care. I devised training programs for both the animals and my staff and watched our team thrive. After a decade, I made my way back to Alaska where I have helped start training programs in other facilities, improving the lives of animals in human care. 

| Challenges

My remote location could have easily stopped me from pursuing my goals. I had to leave my family and friends and everything I knew to follow my passion. There were very limited opportunities in Alaska. I’m the mother of three young children and I started my family right before I took my first job in management. It was a struggle to maintain the balance between home and work but I have found that my children are becoming passionate, strong, animal-loving individuals because of what they have been raised around. I think all women are amazing and moms have such a big choice to make and so much pressure from society about working or staying at home. This is one area I hope we can all support each other more in because every mother is a superhero! My family is very unique, I am one of 5 children, and my youngest sister is adopted from Africa. My kids are 3 of 25 grandchildren for my parents and all but 9 are adopted. Adoption and children in general, hold a very special place in my heart, so I love how education can bring my love of animals together with my love of kids. Ultimately, my huge family is what brought us back to Alaska so our kids could live where my husband and I were both raised here. I am incredibly grateful to have the support of my family. 

| Emotional Story

I worked with a very disabled giraffe, she was born with some severe physical disabilities and when she came to my facility we wanted to be able to manage her daily life so her pain would be minimal and her life comfortable. We started a rigorous training program with her so that she would allow us to be able to do X-rays, injections and tactile work with her. We didn’t use a restraint system but instead allowed her free choice to come to where we were and work with us. Using positive reinforcement, we were able to accomplish many of our goals and even offered her massage, laser therapy and acupuncture. After so much time and effort working with her to build trust she began to communicate with us to let us know what and where she needed work done to offer her relief. It was one of the most amazing moments in my career, for an animal to be able to communicate her needs and trust us to take care of them. This is what it’s all about, why I believe with my whole heart in training and why I think It’s such an important piece in giving animals in human care the most enriched and comfortable lives possible.  

| Conservation Tip

It’s easy to do things that may seem small but can make a huge difference. For example, get reusable straws and shopping bags, skip the balloons for parties, and always check your labels to make sure you choosing products that don’t harm our environment. If every person made small changes, the difference would be HUGE!

| Advice

1.Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. If a girl from bush Alaska can then so can you!
2. Be kind, in a world where it’s all too common to tear each other down, build each other, support each other and don’t let your own ego stop you from celebrating others accomplishments.
3. Always remember to say thank you to those who have invested in you, mentored you and built you up. Don’t forget where you came from and who helped to get you there.

| If You Could Be Any Animal, What Would You Be?

If I could be any animal I would want to be a coati. Coati’s are a matriarchal society so the women rule the band. They are smart, problem solvers, they live in large family groups, they are very protective mothers, and there is nothing stopping them, even scorpions… they eat those things for breakfast… literally!

| Contact

Website: The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center – www.alaskawildlife.org
Social: Instagram: @chandelleskye    
Email: alaskagiraffe@gmail.com