Who's who at the zoo: meet keeper Mona Keith

Oct 23, 2013

As part of our “Who’s who at the zoo” series we spoke with Mona Keith, lead keeper at the zoo’s African Savannah section.

Mona has been a keeper with the zoo for about 31 years, during which time she has worked with a variety of the animals, including the large mammals and penguins. These days, along with her dedicated team of animal care specialists, she spends her days working with animals like the giraffes, hippos and lions.

Q: Who’s the most interesting person you’ve ever met?

A: “I’ve met Jane Goodall a few times, both here at the zoo and when she has come to Calgary to do presentations. She is such an amazing woman and role model, not just because of her dedication to wildlife, but also because she went against the norms of the day and became a leader in a male dominated field. Despite the continuous habitat loss and the obstacles she has faced, she has never given up.”

Q: Where in the world would you most like to visit?

A: “Antarctica. I have been once, in the spring of 2000, to see the emperor penguins. I have always loved birds, and I adore penguins, so it was a very exciting trip for me. But I would love to go back during their summer months when there is even more to see. At that time of year it’s possible to see king penguins, whales, elephant seals, albatross and a huge variety of other animals.”

Q: What has been your most life-changing experience?

A: “Coming to Calgary to work at the zoo. After completing a B.Sc. in zoology I always thought I wanted to do field work, but I took a summer job at the Calgary Zoo and it clicked. I have been with the zoo for about 31 years now, and I’ve never looked back. Working in the field you don’t get to make the connection with the animals that is possible here. I work with individual animals, getting to know them, and caring for them. I love living in Calgary, but, having grown up in Surrey, B.C., I also miss the ocean. It’s definitely the zoo that keeps me here.”

Q: What is the thing you haven’t done yet that you most want to?

A: “I would like to do more animal husbandry training. That’s about training the animals so that they are more comfortable participating in their own care; training them to open their mouths to have their teeth checked, or to lift a foot for hoof care, for instance. There are some facilities doing great work with husbandry training, and I would particularly like to spend some time at one of the giraffe facilities.”

Q: Which is your favourite animal at the zoo?

A: “The red pandas. I worked with them for quite a few years in the large mammal area, helping to create a successful breeding program. I hand raised two females, one of whom has since gone on to have her own cubs.”

Q: What do you love most about the zoo?

A: “I love the importance the zoo places on animal welfare. As keepers we are given the opportunity to attend conferences, workshops and training programs, as well as participate in job shadowing at other facilities, so that we can constantly develop our knowledge and skills. Sometimes the zoo is forced to make unpopular decisions, such as moving the elephants, but it always comes down to what is best for the animals. And, their increased focus on conservation and conservation research is a testament to their dedication to animals and wildlife.”

Come on down to the zoo, when we fully reopen on November 28th and meet Mona and her dedicated animal welfare team. In the meantime, check out the African Savannah page for a list of all the exciting animals you can see, and watch here for the next instalment of this series.