Biracial (Asian/ White)
Year zoo career began:
Olivia Cooney is an elephant keeper at Zoo Knoxville where her day revolves around the care and husbandry of three African elephants. Olivia and her fellow keepers are responsible for everything ranging from cleaning the barn and outdoor yard spaces, to training new behaviors and assisting with basic medical procedures. One of the most important jobs as an elephant keeper is the ability to maintain an elephant’s feet. The elephants at Zoo Knoxville regularly participate in voluntary training sessions, where they present each foot and allow us to trim their nails and pads. Olivia also enriches the elephants by providing access to mud wallows, sand beds, pools, and even food puzzles. She also spends time giving keeper chats, which is a highlight of her day as she can engage with guests and help them better understand the elephants and their behaviors.
Olivia grew up in a small town in Syracuse, New York, and attended Tulane University in New Orleans to broaden her perspective. Through her degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Olivia was able to complete fieldwork in threatened wetlands, which showed her how important it is to protect the natural world. While in college, Olivia completed two internships at Disney’s Animal Kingdom before graduating and being hired in her current position.
Olivia’s favorite part of her job is when she is able to watch elephants act like elephants. She loves being able to glance out the window and watch the elephants spar with one another, go for a swim, or splash around in the mud wallows. Olivia spends a lot of time each day trying to find ways to rearrange items in the barn and yards to make the elephants’ spaces different and more mentally and physically stimulating. Olivia recommends that aspiring animal keepers get as much experience as possible, whether it’s through volunteering, interning, or working in a zoo. Her favorite animal is her dog named Blue, but she loves working with her favorite species, elephants!