Carolina Duque Powell
Animal Keeper- Primates
Smithsonian's National Zoological Park
Year zoo career began:
“Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway”- Earl Nightingale
“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible” – Walt Disney
Carolina currently works at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in the Great Ape House where she works with orangutans, gorillas, siamangs, gibbon, guenons, and lemurs. Her duties include basic animal husbandry such as feeding, cleaning enclosures, and administering any medications that the animals may need. Carolina’s favorite parts of her career include animal training, which allows her to monitor their health but also build a trusting relationship with the animals in her care. Because great apes are so intelligent, they will “test” keepers and take a long time before they let their guard down. Carolina finds training and building relationships with these intelligent animals very rewarding and loves making a positive difference in their lives.
Carolina originally wanted to become a veterinarian and pursued an undergraduate degree in Animal Science from Rutgers University. After a veterinary assistant internship, Carolina realized that she did not want to become a veterinarian, and instead got an internship in the development office at the Bronx Zoo shortly after graduating from college in 2011. Carolina left this internship without knowing what she wanted to do for a career and viewed a job working with zoo animals as an unattainable option. A year after her internship, Carolina reached out to her supervisor at the Bronx Zoo and was eventually put in contact with the bird curator at the Bronx Zoo and a curator at the Central Park Zoo. This opened a door for Carolina to begin volunteering at the World of Birds in the Bronx Zoo in 2013 and then begin interning at the Central Park Zoo in their petting zoo a few weeks later. After several volunteer positions, internships, and even a three month paid temporary keeping position at the Queens Zoo in 2013, Carolina got her first “big break” as a keeper 2 (now a relief keeper) at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore in 2014. This position consisted of helping out in various animal areas around the zoo. In 2016, Carolina was promoted to a primate keeper where she was able work with the zoo’s chimpanzees as well as other smaller primates. In 2019, Carolina was hired at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in her current position.
Carolina faced many challenges as she completed unpaid positions to gain experience working with exotic animals. She commuted about two hours by bus and subway, missed out on paid experiences that could help her single mom who immigrated from Colombia, and faced uncertainty if she would ever get a paid position as an animal keeper. However, Carolina believes in pursuing her dreams and knew that no other career path would be as rewarding for her as being an animal keeper and so she continued trying until she succeeded. She recommends that young animal lovers and conservations begin looking into careers early so they can gain experience while in school. For young conservationists coming from underrepresented communities, she would like to say that the journey is not easy but it is worth it. You will need tenacity and grit, but hopefully AMZP can demonstrate that there are options out there for you. Your dreams and interests will always be worth pursuing, and all you need is a single “yes”. Work hard and continue to strive for greatness.