Keeper Profile: Stephanie Mantilla – National Zoo Keeper Week Series

From July 20-26, zoos all over the U.S. are celebrating National Zoo Keeper Week. Here at the Houston Zoo, we are honored and privileged to have such amazing professionals on our team. We got a chance to sit down with a few of our keepers and get the inside scoop on what it’s like to be an animal keeper. Be sure to follow along with our keeper profile series during this great week celebrating zookeepers!

 

Keeper Profile: Stephanie Mantilla
Steph-Bug-Resize

Hi Stephanie! Tell us a little about yourself. Since we’re always asked what it takes to be a zookeeper, can you give us some details about your journey to the Houston Zoo?

Sure! I have actually been at the Houston Zoo for three years now and I work with our carnivores. I hold a B.S. in Biology and Environmental Science and I have lots of experience working with animals. Before I came to Houston, I worked at the Brookfield Zoo for three years, Virginia Aquarium for two years, and held internships at the Cosley Zoo, Racine Zoo, and The Wildcat Sanctuary in Sandstone, Minnesota.

 

So what does a typical day look like for you in the carnivore department?

I come in at 6 a.m. and our entire department has a morning meeting to plan out the day. After that, I’ll go to my section and we begin to work on training sessions with the animals that I care for (Willow the black bear cub, Mattie the lion, Tarak the clouded leopard, and Haley the cougar). This helps us maintain the relationships that all keepers have with their animals. It takes a lot of hard work to establish trust with an animal. Our next task it to shift our animals around so we can monitor diets and at this time we’ll also administer any medications if necessary. Next, it’s cleaning the exhibit areas, then more shifting to get the group on exhibit and even more cleaning the inside areas that the animals just left. Enrichment is an important part of the day so I’m always sure to spend some time working in various enrichment to the routine. We’ll do keeper chats and/or lion and tiger window tours depending on the day. And guess what…. all of this happens before lunch! The afternoons tend to be a little quieter, and we typically work on things like developing future enrichment ideas, training exercises, and finishing projects.

What would you say is your favorite part of working at the Zoo?

For me, it’s seeing animals up-close every day. It’s also very rewarding to watch our animals develop behaviors after working tirelessly on our training sessions.

What would you say is the hardest part of your job?

It has to be the weather! From freezing winters in Chicago, to the humid heat of Houston, we’re out there all the time, all day long.

What is one thing you want visitors to know about being a zookeeper?

Being a zookeeper isn’t just playing with animals. Nearly all zookeepers have at least a bachelor’s degree, some master’s degrees. If you’re interested in becoming a zookeeper, it’s important to pay attention in school and get good grades.

Do you have any good stories you can share with us?

Sometimes, Shasta the cougar likes to play a game before he will shift to our inside areas. Cougars enjoy stalking their prey, so if Shasta can see us inside our building, we’ll turn our backs to him. When we turn back around to face him, he will be closer but frozen in a different position as he stalks closer to us. It is like a more intense version of “red light, green light.” Don’t worry though, we’re not in Shasta’s area. We’re in a safe spot so Shasta can enjoy the chase, and we can enjoy providing some enrichment that mimics natural behaviors.

Stay tuned for more interviews with our fantastic keepers!



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Status Update

Baby Giraffe at the Zoo!
We are proud to announce the birth of a female Masai giraffe! After a 3-hour-long labor, both first-time mom Asali and the yet-to-be-named calf are doing well and are currently bonding behind the scenes with keeper and veterinary teams watching over the pair.

Read more: www.houstonzoo.org/baby-giraffe-at-the-zoo-2
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21 hours ago

Jennifer Espinoza Salas, Betty Gibbs Burt and 23 others like this

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Julian FennessyCongrats from all of us at Giraffe Conservation Foundation!

17 hours ago   ·  9
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Rachel Allene Adeline HodgeOh my gosh, this face 💕

21 hours ago   ·  180

4 Replies

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Charlotte Sullivan DickermanPlease protect her, our Dallas zoo baby giraffe has died from injury to herself recently

21 hours ago   ·  33

9 Replies

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Thelma LloydHouston Zoo is well planned lovely and spacious Jayne took me there last year to see two new arrivals a baby elephant and a cute giraffe who we fed with large lettuce leaves !!

16 hours ago   ·  7

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Bernard MarinoI was at the zoo this past Monday & the giraffe housing was very nice. Gigi would be A great name for her.

17 hours ago   ·  8
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Alyson QuintanaSo cute!!!! Mama had it easy with a 3 hour labor lol

20 hours ago   ·  11
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Charlie DickeyWhen giraffe babies are born they drop 6 ft to the ground. What a giant first step that is. Welcome to the world tall baby

10 hours ago   ·  4
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Cathy Rapski DuganCongratulations to everyone at the Houston Zoo on the birth of this beautiful little girl. Can't wait to see her on the cams in the yard.

17 hours ago   ·  4
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Samantha RodriguezLeila Orta new baby giraffe we need another trip to the zoo to go see!!!

21 hours ago
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Geraldine CarranzaMario Cabrera baby we have to go the zoo now! I want to see this cute baby giraffe!

13 hours ago   ·  2
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Vilate HallCongratulations Houston Zoo! Can't wait to see the new baby!

8 hours ago
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Lili SchulzDavid, a new baby giraffe! I think they should name her Daisy (as in Duck)! 😂 And she's welcome to roam the streets of The Heights!

21 hours ago   ·  6
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Sandi McConnell KerthSo pretty. I need to visit the zoo soon! Houston Zoo is great!!

10 hours ago
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Casey McaninchThat's amazing love this cute baby and the zoo

20 hours ago
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Maria SzczepaniakKatie, another baby animal born at the zoo!

16 hours ago
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Yesenia CampaBabe we need to go see the baby and take the girls Angel Ponce

19 hours ago   ·  1
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Hanna Uhrova-WardCongratulations to the new mommy! Beautiful baby, for sure!

13 hours ago
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Karen Purse PattersonWhat a beautiful animal. Congrats mom and the zoo.

21 hours ago   ·  3
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Abbey LewellynAw I will have to take my daughter to see it! She loves animals and baby animals especially! Congrats to mom and zoo staff!

20 hours ago
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Deborah Pennington GriffithCongrats!! She is beautiful. so glad to have seen the very beginnings of the labor in the yard. A new baby is awesome and they are both well cared for by all their keepers. Cannot wait to come see daughter in Houston and visit the new baby girl.

17 hours ago
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Jessica SueBaby giraffe!!!!!! Time to go to ze zoooooo!! Sam Schultz

20 hours ago   ·  1

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Katherine LevittBryony would be a lovely name for her. She had such a sweet face and gorgeous brown eyes x

20 hours ago
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Angela Brown CollinsThat's a nice labor and delivery!! I'm jealous of momma giraffe! Can't wait to feed her someday.

20 hours ago   ·  1
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Michael StoneA Twiglet, Twiga being the Kiswahili for giraffe.

7 hours ago
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Kelly McGeeBaby Giraffes are the cutest!

18 hours ago
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UPDATE 9/2/15: VIP Tickets are now sold out!

Tickets for Feast with the Beasts Presented by Revention go on sale at midnight! During our pre-sale from 9/2-9/16, you can save $10 off general admission by using the code FEASTPS.

Don't miss out on this great event that features delicious food from over 60 local restaurants and enjoy a live performance by Better Than Ezra.
www.houstonzoo.org/feast/
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2 days ago

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Elizabeth Turney Duarte, Jennifer Bullin and 23 others like this

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Sheryl MillsAre VIP already sold out or is the link not working?

23 hours ago

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Jeana SublettVIP link is not working --- cetainly all tickets can;t be gone.

23 hours ago

1 Reply

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Nancy RiveraAlma Auth

21 hours ago   ·  1
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Jordan N Sarah HalasI'm a zoo member and I never received an email about this. Not happy!

15 hours ago
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Jeff CeynarI am glad I got mine before being sold out.

19 hours ago
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Hank GriffithGot my 2 VIP tickets at 5:30a this morning.

23 hours ago
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In honor of the Chinese animal zodiac, we’re celebrating the Year of the Goat and featuring a goat in our Children's Zoo each month. This month, our keepers write about male goat, Jack, and how guests often mistake him for being pregnant.

www.houstonzoo.org/year-of-the-goat-featuring-jack/
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2 days ago

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Venetia Taylor, Gretchen Lindquist and 23 others like this

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Holly StephensJack is my and my 3 year olds favorite goat. He's so sweet!

2 days ago   ·  1
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Liz MorenoHouston Zoo please post a different goat each day. Thanks.

1 day ago
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Dorothy FabriguzePretty little guy, I am a Capicorn so the goat is my sign animal.

16 hours ago
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Lori CainJack always comes and tells me hello when I am in the yard. Such a sweet guy!

11 hours ago
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Wilfredo J PenateI know that goat!

2 days ago
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Vicente Gonzalez

2 days ago   ·  2
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Ashli HernandezIt's okay. People sometimes mistake me for being pregnant too. We're working on it! 😉

1 day ago
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Mary FingerI love goats! <3

2 days ago
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Briana MonakinoWas just there a few days ago and snapped a pic of this little cutie ♡

2 days ago
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Keri Hanna DeanMy girls LOVE Jack!

1 day ago
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Isaac MartinezLeann its jack!!!

2 days ago   ·  2

1 Reply

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Christina Fezatte-ThibodauxPoor Jack. He's just a tad bit chubby. Poor guy being mistaken for being pregnant. :)

2 days ago
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