Written by Memory Mays
Normally the blogs that I write about involve Hoofstock baby announcements or fun facts about the animals I work with. This time this blog is going to be different. It’s going to be about people. Three people in fact. What better way to celebrate National Zookeeper Week than to talk about a family of zookeepers? Meet my family. There’s my mom, Phyllis, the manager of the Animal Nutrition department. And my dad, Stan, the curator of the Herpetology department. Then myself, a Hoofstock keeper. We all work at the Houston Zoo.
Both of my parents have been working here for over 30 years! Within that time, they have worked with nearly every type of animal you can think of. Elephants, hippos, bugs, giraffes, sea lions, birds, snakes, frogs, apes, and goats. This list goes on and on. Growing up as a zookeeper’s kid, I heard all kinds of different animal stories from my parents and their experiences.
As a child of two zookeepers with not so normal schedules, I had to tag along to work sometimes. Particularly on weekends and holidays when day care centers were closed, but the zoo animals still needed food and care too. It’s these childhood memories that stand out the most. At a young age, what kid didn’t want to be a zookeeper? I always wanted to help out and pretend to be one. I was too young for my own set of keys and radio, but my mom would sit down with me and show me how to prep animal meals. We plucked pounds and pounds of grapes for birds, primates, and bats. We weighed out pellets and other kinds of grains for other animals too. We made popsicles for lemurs, antelope, pigs, and several different species.
I learned loads about snakes, frogs, and turtles from my dad and his position at the herpetology building. My dad would hand me a mini snake hook and show me how to properly handle snakes; of course, while using the fake stuffed animal snakes from the gift shops. To this day, I’m still fascinated by the herpetology world, particularly tortoises and Grand Cayman blue iguanas. However, my love for horses led to my love for the Hoofstock animals. I fell in love with exotic hooved animals even more when I became a Zoo Crew volunteer and spent my summers working alongside some great zookeepers.
It’s really no surprise that I wound up in the zoo world with that kind of childhood, right? I’ll admit, I tried a few other career paths like photography, and accounting, but I just kept coming right back to the zoo. I applied for and got the job as a Hoofstock keeper here five years ago. I consider myself lucky that I get to work at the zoo where I practically grew up with some amazing zookeepers. I’m even luckier that I get to share working here with my parents. Instead of just listening to their stories like I did as a kid, I now get to share and compare my own experiences with theirs.