It’s National Zoo Keeper Week and we’re sharing the love! To recognize the dedication and hard work of our amazing zookeepers, we are posting an interview of a keeper each day this week- and this year there’s video! This individual brought her passion for wildlife conservation to the Calgary Zoo, where her hands-on experience leads to great stories.
Meet the zookeeper: Jennifer Godwin
Q: How did you become a zookeeper?
A: “As long as I can remember I have wanted to work with animals. I was volunteering for the Humane Society and at vet clinics just for fun before I even had my first job at a dog kennel. After attaining my Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology at the University of Saskatchewan, I was able to spend a few months volunteering in South Africa at a wildlife rehabilitation centre and in Ecuador for an Andean bear research project.
I brought back my interest in wildlife conservation to Saskatchewan, where I worked as a Habitat Stewardship Coordinator for two Species At Risk programs. Knowing I wanted to be more hands on, I accepted an animal care position in British Columbia which eventually lead me to being a zookeeper at the Calgary Zoo, where wildlife conservation is a major focus. I am very happy to be a part of it.”
Q: When did you start working as a zookeeper for the Calgary Zoo?
A: “I started at the Calgary Zoo as an on-call zookeeper in January of 2011. Within three months of starting I accepted a full-time permanent zookeeping position and have been enjoying it ever since.”
Q: What’s your favourite animal to work with?
A: “I have always had a soft spot for carnivores, but I did fall pretty hard for the elephants when I had the chance to work with them – back when they were still at the zoo. Let’s be honest though, we all know I am going to fall in love with plenty of different animals before my career is done! Each and every species have their own quirks that make it easy to love them.”
Q: What’s a great zookeeping story that you can share with us?
A: “My first experience with gorillas was at the Calgary Zoo. Yewande was still really young at the time and their keeper let me feed her a fruit smoothie (which is used to help administer vitamins and medication). As I was pouring it into her mouth she reached out through the mesh and placed her small hand on the side of my face to check me out. She was looking right at me, and it honestly took my breath away.
A few years later I got the chance to lead Behind-the-Scenes tours for the gorillas, and our old silverback Kakinga had quite the sense of humour when meeting some new guests. We would be sitting in front of him, getting ready to feed him carrot pieces, and as the piece got closer to his mouth, he would look directly in the guests’ eyes and be completely still. Out of nowhere he would then flinch at them to scare them. If you’ve ever been right in front of a huge silverback, you know it could be very intimidating.
He definitely got the surprised reactions of guests jumping back or screaming (that I think he was hoping for) and I would just picture him laughing inside. It would keep me smiling for the rest of the day and looking forward to seeing his new victims on my next Behind-the-Scenes tour. Rest in Peace Kakinga!”
Don’t forget to follow the rest of National Zoo Keeper Week 2016! We’ll be posting a video of a different zookeeper each day from July 17-23.