Jonathan "Yanni" Ramirez
Animal Care Specialist II
Year zoo career began:
Jonathan “Yanni” Ramirez works at Zoo Miami as an ambassador animal keeper, which means that he cares for and trains animals that participate in close-up encounters with the public. He spends most of his time cleaning, feeding, maintaining living spaces, and creating enrichment; however, a large portion of his day is dedicated to fostering the relationships with his animals via positive reinforcement-based training so that they can be as comfortable as possible when meeting guests. Yanni also has the opportunity to work with variety of taxa and species - including camels and domestic hoofstock, snakes and lizards, birds of prey, parrots, smaller mammals ranging from sloths to meerkats, and more.
Yanni was born and raised in Passaic, New Jersey; about 30 minutes outside of New York City. He was always fascinated by animals as a child, although he had very limited exposure to them outside of zoos and aquariums due to the lack of greenery. His passion led him to focus on colleges that had a strong biological or environmental science program. In 2005, Yanni began attending Rutgers University-Newark, where he gravitated towards any class even remotely related to the study of animal behavior. He also obtained an internship in the Marine Biology lab, where he assisted a Ph. D candidate with her research on blue crabs. Yanni graduated as a Biology and Psychology double major in 2009, and has his undergraduate honors thesis work published in a scientific journal under one of the Ph. D candidate’s submissions.
Yanni intended to continue his studies, but decided to take a short break from academia. He began working full-time in retail to take over some financial responsibilities and soon became stuck in the routine. As time passed, he felt that he was losing grasp on his career aspirations. In an effort to find motivation, Yanni joined the docent program at the Turtleback Zoo, where he learned how to further educate the public on wildlife conservation. Eventually in 2014, Yanni found his way to Hunter College (CUNY) in Manhattan and earned a graduate certificate in Animal Behavior and Conservation. Unfortunately, the momentum was soon halted once again as Master's degree programs and research internships were all proving to be out of reach. Frustrated by feelings of failure, Yanni took a risk and relocated to Miami in 2015 to regain bearings on his career path. After several months of applying for all kinds of positions in South Florida, Yanni finally found an internship opportunity with the Education department at Zoo Miami. He simultaneously worked as an intern at the Children’s Zoo (and later as an Animal Nutrition intern) for multiple months as his finances dwindled. Then, just as his checking and savings accounts were on the verge of being emptied out, he was hired as a part-time Keeper Aide at the Children’s Zoo.
Yanni’s favorite part of his job is cultivating relationships with the animals that he works with and forging trust that sometimes takes months to achieve. Yanni’s advice for aspiring zookeepers is the following: "Do your best to get any kind of hands-on experience with animals whenever possible. What you learn in school is important, but your reaction in a live situation is something that the books can't prepare you for. Also, always be receptive to new ideas and perspectives - the worst thing you can do as a zookeeper is be stuck to a specific way of doing things just because 'it’s always been done that way'. This field is constantly improving and evolving, and you must do so too."