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Meet Kendall Thawley

Meet Kendall Thawley, she’s one of our Hoofstock Zookeepers and you may have seen her on a few of our Bringing the Zoo to You Facebook livestreams. She’s been at the Zoo for a little over seven years and loves working with our giraffes. Outside of work, Kendall is a big Star Wars nerd, and enjoys horseback riding and reading. Read more about Kendall’s role as a keeper and what she does behind the scenes!

1. Where did you start your Zoo career?
I started my career right here at the Houston Zoo! I was an intern in the Hoofstock and Carnivore departments while I was still in college. I then continued to volunteer in both departments until I graduated and was hired on in Hoofstock.

2. What is your favorite thing about working at the Houston Zoo?
I grew up in Houston, so it’s great working at the Zoo that I used to go to as a kid and seeing how far things have come. I get to look back through photos that I took years ago on school field trips and see the people and animals that I now work with. 

3. How did you know that you wanted to be a zookeeper?
I think I was born with it. Animals have been a constant in my life, for as long as I can remember I have always wanted to spend time around them. That dream really took shape when I was 11 and I got to do the Beluga Whale Interaction Program at Sea World San Antonio. I remember feeling something click into place in my head that day because from then on, I knew that I wanted a career working with animals.

4. What does a typical workday look like for you?

I start work early in the morning, bring all the animals inside their barns to check on them from overnight, and feed them breakfast. Then I clean all the outdoor areas, which means raking up all the poo and old food, cleaning out all the water troughs, hosing out pools, adding new dirt or sand, trimming plants and mending fences, and then I have to set up all the new food and enrichment for the day.

Then I move the animals outside and start doing all the same cleaning on the indoor areas, raking and shoveling, hosing and scrubbing, doing dishes and weighing out food for the next day. I medicate any animals that need it, weigh them regularly to monitor their growth, build enrichment to keep them physically and mentally engaged in their surroundings, do training sessions so they are always learning new things. I also frequently lead behind-the-scenes tours and conduct keeper chats so that I can educate others on just how amazing the animals in my care are. Then I do it all again the next day.

5. What is the most challenging part of being a zookeeper?
The hardest part of this job is saying goodbye. We, as keepers, know these animals as individuals, their personalities and quirks, and their likes and dislikes. We work hard to build strong, positive relationships with them and we feel responsible for their lives and care. So it can be devastating when one dies, because we haven’t just lost an animal, we’ve lost a friend.

6. Have you traveled abroad to do conservation work as a part of working at the Zoo? 
I went to Namibia for 3 weeks in 2017 to work with the Giraffe Conservation Foundation as they surveyed the population and collared giraffe in the area.
 The collars we attached allow the GCF to track the giraffe’s position by satellite, so that we can learn how they use their available habitat and how to best protect them and the spaces they need to survive. I spent 10 days driving around Namibia looking for giraffe, sleeping in a tent and cooking meals over an open fire. It was pretty perfect.

7. When you aren’t at work, what are some of your hobbies? Do you have any pets?
I love horseback riding and reading. Also, I’m a huge Star Wars nerd, have been for a long time. I read the books and the comics and watch the movies and the shows. 

8. What is your favorite animal to work with?
The giraffe! I love how they can be graceful and silly and majestic and goofy all at the same time. I love training them to participate in their own vet care, and I’m really proud of the things they’ve learned to do over the years. We can take x-rays and draw blood and trim hooves without having to sedate or restrain them in any way.

9. What is your secret talent or something most people don’t know about you?
I actually really enjoy boot camp-style fitness classes and am starting to dabble in weightlifting. I already regularly have to lift objects weighing over 100 lbs as a zookeeper, which I think would surprise most people, but I want to be able to do even more.