Lincoln Children's Zoo
Year zoo career began:
My name is Stephanie and I have lived most of my life in Lincoln, Nebraska. I feel like my early-year passions for wanting to become a zookeeper were the same as many others: I always loved animals and wanted to work with them but I didn’t want to be a veterinarian. However, the difference for me was that, in my small city, loving animals like that, working with animals, and caring about conservation was more of a taboo amongst black people. It was not easy trying to fit in when you had a passion you felt like you couldn’t discuss with friends or family, and when I joined animal clubs, that further excluded me from my black peers. Finally, the summer before I started 7th grade, I started volunteering at Folsom Children’s Zoo (currently Lincoln Children’s Zoo). The zoo quickly became my home away from home. There I could talk about animals all day long and no one batted an eye. I could ask all the questions I wanted and someone either knew the answer or gave me a book to find the answer. Even now, almost 24 years later, I still get flutters of excitement in my stomach on my way to work.
I volunteered for four years and was then hired right after I graduated high school. I spent many years in the education department and working as a part-time relief keeper before I was finally hired on as a full-time keeper. I have had so many wonderful experiences working at the zoo. One that stands out the most was going to Washington D.C. to receive a community service award from Laura Bush. Some other highlights are working alongside Joel Sartore on the Photo Ark (which was founded at the Lincoln Children’s Zoo), a truly amazing experience, and hand-raising Red Panda cubs and Pygmy marmosets, both of which was unforgettable. But what really gives me the flutters of excitement is just coming in and seeing my animals. It’s the day-to-day stuff: the personalities, that look they give you, the breakthrough in training, the small victories, and the daily animal drama.
The zoo provided me with the outlet I needed to bring my passion to life. There are still struggles that I have had to deal with and am still learning to deal with. I have been the only black keeper since I have been hired and it as has had a huge impact on my personality. I am working on finding more of a balance. Over the years, I have been trying hard to educate the younger black generation. I have gone to after-school programs with animals to show them that it’s okay to like animals. I have always brought animals around my young cousins, brothers, sisters, nieces, and nephews, and because of that, there are more people in my family who love animals now than when I was younger, and that makes my heart very happy. Lincoln, NE is a small city, but among the black community, I am Stephanie who works at the zoo!