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!



Search Blog & Website

Subscribe to the Blog

Enter your email address to subscribe and receive new blog posts by email.

Houston Zoo Facebook Page

The rings are in! Shasta stands watch to guard rings for students at University of Houston. ... See MoreSee Less

2 days ago

The rings are in! Shasta stands watch to guard rings for students at University of Houston.

Colin Bailey, Mehreen Arshad and 23 others like this

View previous comments

Beth BanksOk...I am old enough to remember when Shasta was alive and well, strolling around campus! Needless to say, she was beautiful to see each morning!

2 days ago   ·  16
Avatar

David RaffettoThis really is a cool tradition. Thanks, Houston Zoo!

2 days ago   ·  7
Avatar

Patty PeErik I want my ring in there soon 😫

2 days ago   ·  3

1 Reply

Avatar

Amanda FloresWish I was there to witness it

2 days ago
Avatar

Stacey SandersOklahoma gonna take those rings come week 1!!!

2 days ago

8 Replies

Avatar

Eliseoo HdzThis is dumb but oh well

2 days ago

3 Replies

Avatar

Ryan AvCheryl Love Avina we need to go see Shasta!

2 days ago
Avatar

Jessica FernandezI wish they started this in Fall 2010 not summer 2011.

1 day ago
Avatar

Kandi Blalock ClarkKimberly Brown, I thought this was pretty cool. They have a sign all about UH at the zoo.

1 day ago
Avatar

Denise NelsonLove these college tradition. Got my MEd there

2 days ago
Avatar

Nallely ContrerasLariza Contreras soon your ring will be there :)

1 day ago   ·  1

2 Replies

Avatar

Julie CooperCan someone explain about the rings for us English folk please xx

2 days ago   ·  3

7 Replies

Avatar

Celeste MarquezOur rings are supposed to be in there 😭😭 Jesus Aguilar we are such procrastinators.

2 days ago   ·  2
Avatar

Amanda BlankeHow cool is this Mary?! Love it!!

1 day ago   ·  1

1 Reply

Avatar

Shannon RaffettoGo Coogs!!

2 days ago   ·  1
Avatar

Leo N CandiceWill she be protecting them all weekend so that we can go and see

2 days ago   ·  2
Avatar

Kloe WoosleyRyan Woosley you're lucky Beaumont is closer :p I would die to be a cougar.

2 days ago   ·  1
Avatar

Donna S. GuerreroWhat a beautiful cat !! ❤️

2 days ago   ·  1
Avatar

Beatriz Medina-LaresTanya Torres is your ring in here???

2 days ago   ·  1

5 Replies

Avatar

Jaime FrancoAnybody got pics of this?

2 days ago
Avatar

Davi Case GarzaEsther Garza check out Shasta!

2 days ago
Avatar

Austin VaughnYay Shasta!

2 days ago
Avatar

Ronnie LeeI totally want to pet shasta. :o

2 days ago   ·  1
Avatar

Jennifer DailyEva, check it out!

2 days ago
Avatar

Reed Roberson#GoCoogs!

19 hours ago
Avatar

Comment on Facebook

Our pair of elderly male African painted dogs were excited to meet their new pack-mates, three female dogs that recently moved to Houston from a zoo in the UK! Check out the video and learn more about the new group here: www.houstonzoo.org/endangered-wild-dogs-form-new-pack/ ... See MoreSee Less

3 days ago

Jessica Motivator Johnson, Efren Berrones and 23 others like this

View previous comments

Cathryn GaborLet's protect this spectacular endangered species! Fundraiser on May 3 in Houston benefiting Painted Dog Conservation. Thank you Houston Zoo!

3 days ago   ·  4

2 Replies

Avatar

Emilee MayberryI've never even seen them moving! They are always sleeping in the same spot. Maybe these new girls will revitalize the pack :)

3 days ago   ·  8
Avatar

Lilian CorriganIt's cool to see them so active. Whenever we visit the zoo they are usually just laying around.

3 days ago   ·  2
Avatar

Linda TidswellSure hope they weren't moved here because they mate then kill their mates😂

2 days ago   ·  1
Avatar

Michelle MungerThey were sleeping when I was there.

3 days ago
Avatar

Patricia TamézBlaze and Mikita have new friends!

3 days ago
Avatar

Austin VaughnAww! Look at those precious puppies!

3 days ago
Avatar

De'jon BaptisteI love dogs

2 days ago
Avatar

Megan ConnerHunter Wayne Mattocks I figured out what Harper is mixed with

3 days ago
Avatar

Ashley NicholeJamie these are awesome

2 days ago   ·  1

5 Replies

Avatar

Michelle Wheatley PajakRobin Roxburgh Kellogg 😄😄yay!! Makes me happy!

3 days ago   ·  1

1 Reply

Avatar

Lori Miller SouderGorgeous animals!!!

2 days ago
Avatar

Diana KimmelThat's awesome!

2 days ago
Avatar

Brooke LynnRy Edward

3 days ago   ·  1

2 Replies

Avatar

Annita Smith McGinnesRhianna Rhee Hedrick, did you see this?

3 days ago   ·  1
Avatar

Kat RogersNick

3 days ago
Avatar

Comment on Facebook

Animals In Action

Recent Videos

Oops, something went wrong.