Date: September 28, 2010
Place: The National Zoo, Washington DC
Interview: Juan Rodriguez, Asia Trail, Smithsonian's National Zoo
Learn about being an animal keeper. Juan shows you some of the animals he cares for and talks about education and training.
My name is Juan Rodriguez. I'm an animal keeper here at this Smithsonian's National Zoo.
When I was a kid I think the very first instance where I realize I loved animals was when my older brother would bring home injured pigeons and cats and dogs, stray animals and I just fell in love with taking care of animals since I was like seven years old. Becoming a volunteer was sort of the first stepping stone in getting into this system as a full-time employee. And just basically the love of working with animals was the main reason how I got involved working at the national zoo.
They gave me the basics of understanding what my responsibility were and what I needed to do to become a keeper and after I was a volunteer for several months I was able to get a job here, but in terms of formal training I didn't have my degree when I first started back in '97 but as time went on I eventually obtained my Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology.
On a day to day basis the basic thing that we do is that we want to make sure when we come in the morning they're well, they're not sick, everything's normal. We get a head count of all our animals that we're in charge of and then at that point if there are animals that need any medication or any special treats in the morning we'll give them their medications in the morning and then we could continue through our day and basically after that were involved with many things such as research, behavioral watches, cleaning stalls, you got to do the dirty work too and then also the basic things of actually talking to the public so that they will learn more about the sloth bears and all the other animals in Nature Trail are and learn what they can do about conservation.
I think the favorite part of the job is when I'm actually talking to the public and they learn something new about an animal that I work with. You can just see sort of like a light bulb flash in their head and they're actually, "Wow, this is something really amazing. I've never knew about this about this particular animal" and then the other second favorite thing is when the animals are actually enjoying the enrichment item (toys and food treats, are used to help re-create an animal's natural habitat. The enrichment items encourage animals to exercise their natural instincts to play, learn and grow.) we have put out in the yard for them.
For example the sloth bears we can use big boomer balls. We drill holes into them and we actually put their kibble into the boomer ball and they will roll it around for minutes to sometimes even hours to try to get the food out of the boomer balls to anything you could imagine. I think the best advice I have for kids is basically if you love to work with animals just follow your passion, your desire to work with animals and if you're really determined to do that you'll always find a way to do what you're trying to accomplish. So if you like to learn more about the National Zoo and all the animals that are here, if you want to look at the live webcams like the lion cub webcam you can go to www.nationalzoo.si.edu.