Behind the Scenes: Zookeepers play important role at Caldwell Zoo

TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - Have you ever visited the zoo and wondered what it would be like to be a zoo keeper?

Today is the start of National Zoo Keeper Week, and we have an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at Caldwell Zoo to show what it’s like to work with exotic wildlife.

“You never know what you’re going to come in to do or see, and you never know what the animals are going to do, so you always have to react quickly and be able to figure out how best to react to what they’re going to do,” says Jessica Marsh, a zookeeper at Caldwell Zoo.

Marsh has been a zookeeper for five years, and loves the dynamic work environment that it offers. She primarily works with the elephants, giraffes and the cheetahs.

“The elephants are super fun,” Marsh says. “We always have to work with them with someone else and so we always have someone having our back for that and we get to do all kinds of things with them since they’re so smart and they know so many different behaviors and it’s always a challenge to work with them.”

Marsh says she loves getting to work with the animals. She says it’s really interesting to learn from them, such as how they eat and what foods they like and don’t like.

Commissary lead Sonia Arzola started off as a keeper and transitioned into food prep at the commissary, where they prepare foods for all the animals in the zoo.

“I like doing all these diets, all of them, prepping, It’s, I mean, to tell you, I’ve been here 38 years so that tells you, I like what I do,” Arzola says.

Hayley Bragg, the senior keeper with the Mammals 2 Department, did a training session with their two Louisiana black bears. She says she is building a relationship with the bears and helping them learn how to participate in their own voluntary medical care. She demonstrated how they get the bears to open their mouths so they are able to inspect their teeth and see any possible issues.

“Not only am I playing an awesome role in their husbandry, but it’s fun as well for us, because growing up, this is what most of us wanted to do. We wanted to work with animals and be zookeepers. Sammy and I here are getting to live the dream right now,” Bragg says.

Caldwell Zoo employs 35 zookeepers working daily to care for the animals.

Zookeepers’ starting pay ranges from $15 to $19 an hour, with opportunities to move up into management roles within the zoo.

Every day this week, you can get an in-depth behind-the-scenes look at different zoo keepers working with some of your favorite zoo animals.

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Willie Downs

Willie Downs

Willie Downs is a KLTV news reporter and born and raised in East Texas. He earned his Bachelor of Business Administration from The University of Texas at Arlington and graduated with honors from the Mass Communication Foundations course at the Defense Information School, as a member of the Air Force Reserve.