| Areas of Expertise
Large Carnivore Specialist
Fort Wayne, Indiana
| Favorite Quote
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
– Margaret Mead
| Job Title
Large Carnivore Zookeeper – Tulsa Zoo
I have a Bachelor’s in Zoo Science from Friends University in Wichita, Kansas.
| Tigers are the best associates.
I knew from a very young age that animals were going to be the focal point of my life, but I didn’t know how. I dreamed of working at Sea World while I worked at veterinary clinic jobs through high school. I entertained the idea of becoming a veterinarian. I worked at a dog boarding and daycare facility for a time, and truly enjoyed the aspects of canine behavior I picked up while I was there. I finally settled on being a zookeeper, and did research into what schools would offer the programs I needed. I attended Friends University in Wichita, KS for their Zoo Science program, and I’ve never looked back. I believe it’s important to be an active part of the profession, so also I serve on National AAZK Resource Committee (ARC) on a volunteer basis, working on gathering better resources for keepers, networking and sharing information. My main passions are training and enrichment, but I have a list of short term and long term career goals (and I advise every young woman do this, to keep them on track) that I keep in the back of my mind at all times. In my spare time I enjoy sci-fi shows, collecting artwork, photography, red dirt country music, and collecting ethically sourced skulls and bones.
| Scratch that, leopards are the best associates.
I have ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), so it’s safe to say I am my biggest obstacle. It has taken many years of hard work, creating routines and learning what coping mechanisms work best for me to become the person I am today — a reliable, safe zookeeper. I have a great time at work and I love my job, but I also work very hard to keep myself on track.
| Emotional Story
Every zookeeper, at some point in their career, comes across their heart animals. These are animals that change the way we think, improve us as keepers and stay in our hearts forever. I’ve had two heart animals in my career, the most recent being a male jaguar named Bebeto. The world was Bebeto’s, and we just lived in it: he did what he wanted, when he wanted. This made managing him in a captive setting difficult sometimes, so I worked hard daily to make sure he was fulfilled, enriched and happy. Bebeto lived to the ripe old age of 20, and when it was his time, it was one of the most heartbreaking moments in my zoo career to have to say goodbye to “my heart,” a handsome old man jaguar who had taught me so much. His story doesn’t end there, though: few weeks before his death, Bebeto had been put with our female jaguar for breeding. Less than three months after he left us, his legacy was born in the form of a feisty female jaguar cub. And now, much like her father strutted his stuff, the world is Babette’s…and I’m so happy that I get to be a part of her growing up. She is a beautiful ambassador for her species.
| Conservation Tip
There are so many small things you can do in your daily life that add up to a big positive impact. My favorite practice is to be mindful of what your money is saying for you. Choose to buy items that are sustainably and ethically resourced, have minimal or recyclable packaging and come from companies that you want to show your support for. Not only your big purchases — every time you go to make a transaction, think about the ramifications and how you can be bettering our earth by making your money speak for you.
Zookeeping is a career of passion. You get into this field and you live it, you don’t just work it. The animals and your coworkers become your “zoo family.” It’s emotionally and physically taxing, dirty and it does not pay well. And it’s completely, totally, unequivocally worth it. I have a few pieces of advice for young woman thinking about pursuing an animal care career: Zookeeping is highly competitive, and you will have to put in your volunteer and internship time. Do the grunt work, the time without pay, the dirty work. It’ll pay off in the end, when it’s time to apply for job and you have experience and the backing of keepers you worked under. Even though zookeepers usually go into the field because they prefer animals to people, 75% of your job will be dealing with people. Your job will be so much easier if you understand people. Take psychology classes. Learn your Myers-Briggs profile. You will be more successful, and in the end, help your animals and educate your public better, if you make it a point to appreciate those humans around you. Never stop learning. If you think you know everything, you’re doing it wrong. This field is constantly evolving, constantly improving. Be open and absorb knowledge.
| If You Could Be Any Animal, What Would You Be?
I think I would have to be a turkey vulture. They’re not my favorite animal, and they’re not a high profile animal, but they’re pretty awesome. They are highly intelligent, they have a great time riding on thermals and they help keep our earth clean and happy by disposing of unsightly waste. They work as an integral part of many ecosystems, and they seem to have a great time doing it!
Website: I would like to share the facility that first helped mold me into the keeper I am today. This is an amazing sanctuary that has a strong internship program, for anyone interested in the field of zookeeping: bpsanctuary.org.
Social: Instagram: @demonrattie