Cool Careers – Zoo School

Cassie, 31, Teaches Zoo School

Where Do You Work? Palm Beach Zoo at Dreher Park

Palm Beach Zoo is a non-profit zoo in Palm Beach County with over 550 animals and 190 different species spread over 23 acres. The Zoo is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

What do you do? I am a Lead Education Specialist

I teach classes and summer camps at the zoo to help kids learn about all the different types of animals and the ecosystems where they live.

Every day is different. Sometimes I am helping to take care of the animals, other days I am working with other teachers to make lesson plans, and some days I travel to schools to give presentations on animals.

How long have you worked there? Nine Years

I moved down to Florida right before I applied to work for the zoo. It’s really lucky it worked out too because I didn’t really have another plan. I just wanted to work at the zoo (and live somewhere warm!).

What kind of school do you need? A Bachelors Degree

You can have a degree in a lot of different things, from science to education to art. But you do need to take a certain amount of classes in subjects like Biology and Zoology. You should also take classes in things like education and public speaking. You need to be good at communicating with other people, both in the classroom and when taking care of the animals.

What else do you need? Experience

Like most jobs, zoos want you to have experience. This helps to make sure that the people who work there are serious and aren’t just wanting to work at the zoo so they can pet the animals (which is a really bad idea!). I have worked at outdoor education centers and at other zoos.

What is your schedule like? It changes

My hours kind of depend from week to week. Some weeks I work certain days, but that might be different next week because of meetings, camps, classes, or events. And if something happens with one of the animals you can’t just say ‘well, I’m done for the day’ and leave. When the animals need you, you’re there. It’s supposed to be 40 hours a week, but things come up and things happen. Sometimes it is more like 60-80 hours a week, especially during Summer Camp.

How did you know what you wanted to do?

I’ve always sort of ended up either teaching or working with animals. I’ve worked in summer camps and outdoor education programs. I have worked at barns and taught horseback riding. I kind of figured this was the best way to do both.

What is the Best Part of your job?

There are a lot of great things. But I guess the best part is when someone is a little bit nervous or afraid of an animal, like an alligator or a bird, and I get to just be there and talk with them. “Actually, these are a really interesting animal because-” or “Did you know that these are such an important part of the ecosystem because-“. And you stand there and talk to them for a little while and, by the end, even if they’re not excited, they’re not afraid anymore. That moment in their eyes when you can see them understand how important an animal is or respect or even start to like the animal. You know that you changed their mind, even a little bit, about this amazing creature. That moment, that is my favorite part.

What is the Worst Part of your Job?

It’s not the poop. That you kind of get used to. It’s actually the schedule. Because it changes from week to week, and sometimes you have to go in early or stay late if something happens, it can make it really hard to plan other things like making appointments or even going out with friends. It’s really hard to plan your week if you don’t know how much of it you are able to plan.

Tall Tails: The Case of the Disappearing Dingo

*Some names have been changed to protect their privacy.

Oh goodness, there are so many great stories about working at the zoo, but I guess the weirdest ones are when an animal is somewhere they shouldn’t be. Or, of course, when an animal is not somewhere that it is supposed to be…

One day I was talking with one of my coworkers when someone from the front gate called in on the radio. The radios at the front gate are very scratchy, so it was kind of hard to hear them. But it sounded like they were saying that there was a dog in the front area by the fountains. My coworker and I just kind of looked at each other for a moment before picking up the radio and asking them to repeat themselves.

By now both of us are walking quickly but not running, we didn’t want to cause a panic, towards the front of the zoo. Sure enough, they say there is a dog just wandering around by the front fountains. My coworker is radioing them back, trying to figure out if this is a stray dog or a service animal and trying to figure out just how it got in when I see it.

“Uh, it’s not a dog. It’s a dingo,” I say.

“What? How do you know?”

I point up at the roof of the pavilion by the front and, sure enough, there is a dingo just standing on the roof looking down at us like ‘Oh, hi guys! what are you doing down there?’

So we radio back the front to say we’re on it and now the two of us are just standing there, staring, trying to figure out how in the world this dog, which is actually a dingo, got up on the roof of this pavilion and, maybe just as importantly, where the other one is. Because there are two dingoes, both male, named Brisbane and Buckley. Brisbane is the more curious of the two and tends to go off to explore while Buckley would just as soon chill out and have a few snacks, but will still follow Brisbane on occasion. Brisbane, of course, is the one currently on the roof.

Sure enough, Buckley is just hanging out in his enclosure, which is right next to the pavilion, like ‘Don’t look at me, I didn’t tell him to do it’. So now there is a dingo on the roof and he’s starting to get a little bit panicked and we’re both on the ground trying to figure out (a) how in the world he got up there and (b) how we are supposed to get him down.

My coworker asks if maybe she should go get the ladder, and I’m looking up at this dingo going ‘Ok, yeah, go get the ladder’ and she goes off.

A few moments later another coworker, Jeff comes by and asks what I’m looking at so I just point up at the dingo that’s still on the roof and looking not too happy about it. Jeff stares for a moment before he asks how the dingo got on the roof and I shrug. He asks how we’re going to get the dingo down and I tell him we’re getting the ladder. So now we’re both standing there starring at the dingo trying to figure out how he got up there and how to get him down when Jeff asks another question.

“If I go up there, is he going to bite me?”

“I mean, probably not.”

“Probably?”

“Well, he’s trained, kind of. He’s part of the Wild Things show but he is still a wild animal.”

“So, will he bite me?”

“Probably not.”

“Probably not?”

“Yeah, probably not.” I shrugged. Probably was as good of a guarantee as he was going to get. Jeff just shook his head and looked at the tree and the chain-link fence next to the pavilion. Then he, with his long legs, just takes one giant step and climbed halfway up the fence into the tree and got onto the roof. Now I’m standing there at the bottom and Jeff and one of the dingos are on top of the roof. I’m looking at how he got up there and thinking ‘Well if he can do it then I can do it too.’ So I climb up the fence onto the roof and now there’s two of us standing there just staring at a dingo who’s getting more and more annoyed with the fact that he’s still on the roof.

Right about then was when my coworker returns with the ladder and she’s looking around for us when we call down to her. So now she’s standing there, with the ladder, staring up at the two of us, who are already on the roof.

“Oh! How’d you get up there?” she asks.

“Climbed the fence.”

“Okay… anything I can do to help?” I shrug because none of this has exactly been planned at this point and we’re still just standing on a roof with the dingo. “Should I maybe go and get the harnesses?”

“Yeah, that’s a good idea.”

So now she’s going to get the harnesses and we’re still just standing there on this roof with this dingo. Brisbane is looking more and more upset that his impromptu adventure has not turned out quite as cool as he thought it would and is now pacing across the roof. Buckley is looking up at him from down below like ‘I told you not to do it, dude’. And we still don’t know how to get the dingo off the roof.

Eventually, Jeff asks – “If I go pick him up, will he bite me?”

Again, the only answer I can give is “Probably not.”

“Probably not?” Jeff asks. I just shrug.

So Jeff sighs and takes a step towards the dingo, but Brisbane is already having a bad day and is really not in the mood so he bares his teeth at Jeff in a warning not to get back any closer. Jeff looks back at me. “I thought you said he wouldn’t bite me?”

“I said he probably wouldn’t bite you.”

But now Brisbane really doesn’t want Jeff getting any closer so I figure well, he knows me, maybe he’ll do better with me. I take a few steps forward and either Brisbane recognizes me or he just prefers me to Jeff. Either way, he stops baring his teeth and kind of wags his tail a little bit so I figure it’s okay and I take a few more steps forward until eventually, I’m close enough that I can pick him up. So now I’m standing there with an arm full of dingo and he’s just chilling in my arms like ‘Oh, Cassies here, this is fine.’ but we are all still just standing there on the roof.

So Jeff goes down the ladder and between the two of us we manage to lower Brisbane back down into his pen with his brother just as my coworker gets back with the harnesses.

Crisis averted, both dingos are back in their pens, Brisbane seems happy and Buckley is relieved his brother is back in one piece. But we still have to figure out how exactly he got up there in the first place. We are all standing around debating how a dingo could have possibly gotten onto the roof when, apparently bored of our conversation, Brisbane leaps through the air and jumps into the same tree Jeff and I had used to get onto the roof ourselves.

“NOOO!”

And that is the story of the time the dingo escaped… or, one of the times anyway.

To learn more about Brisbane and Buckley, what it takes to become a teacher at Zoo School, or to check out the other amazing animals at Palm Beach Zoo, check out PalmBeachZoo.org.


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