National Zoo Keeper Week – Alissa’s Story

From July 19-25, 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 hear their stories. Check back each day to see new keeper profiles during this great week celebrating zoo keepers!

Alissa Van Der Kamp – Senior Primate Keeper

I get to work with all of the primates. I have a B.S. in animal science with a concentration in zoo and exotics. Typically you can find me working with chimpanzees, but I love every species of primate I work with. Everyone has a very distinct personality. Some are playful and some are affectionate, always presenting a back or a shoulder for us to groom them.

willie enrichment
Willie, one of the male chimpanzees, enjoys some great enrichment!

Training is a big part of our job. Since we don’t go inside the habitats with our primates, we rely on animal training. This helps them know when and how to move from their exhibit to their night houses so that we can clean and vice versa. Also training is a necessity when we need them to sit on a scale to monitor health. We even need to give them injections from time to time. All of these tasks are accomplished through training.

Another big aspect of my job is enrichment. Enrichment can be anything that is stimulating and encourages natural behaviors. We just added a few hammocks to the chimpanzee yard. With this addition to the exhibit, the chimps gain arboreal resting spots, new places to climb on, new arboreal travel paths, as well as shady spots. Adding hammocks involved three keepers, an extension ladder, two A-frame ladders, and about two hours of climbing, tying rope, and moving ladders! Skills like safe ladder handling, rope braiding, and power tool use may not be what people associate with zoo keepers, but they’re absolutely necessary!

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Come on shake your body baby, do the conga.