Co-written by: Jenna Wingate, Kara McSweeney, & Wendy Rice (All keepers at the Zoo)
Happy National Zoo Keeper Week! This week, we will be honoring five of our “All-Star” keepers as nominated by their peers, starting with Rick Heithaus! As one of the Zoo’s most senior keepers, Rick boasts more than 30 years of exotic animal experience, working with an array of animals from big cats to the Asian elephants he works with today.
Rick is a great team player and he is constantly mindful of the well-being of both the animals in his care and the keepers working around him. Rick’s safety-oriented leadership when working with elephants is both admirable and invaluable. Rick goes out of his way to ensure the absolute highest safety standards are in place and he models safe behavior at all times. It takes a lot of self-discipline and focus to keep safety at the forefront of your day, and Rick has both in spades!
When interviewing some of the keepers who have worked with Rick, all praised his incredible mentorship skills. He never misses an opportunity to teach the young keepers something valuable, and he genuinely seems to enjoy sharing information with the next generation of keepers. Though he may seem soft-spoken and unassuming, once he opens up he is easy to talk to and more than happy to share. Young keepers who have had the pleasure of working with Rick love to hear his stories from “back in the day”. From camel rides to mixed-species elephant and hippo exhibits, Rick carries with him the experience and knowledge of a keeper who has lived through our industry’s “Wild West” days.
One of Rick’s coworkers describes him as the “Comedy Ninja” of his department, with hilarious jokes that come out of
nowhere! Rick never seems to complain, or even get mad. Rick has been involved with the “Adopt-a-Class” initiative for several years, and he is great with children.
In his personal life, Rick enjoys taking adventurous vacations with his wife, modeling a solid work/life balance for the rest
of us. His patience and humility are legendary and he models many of the Zoo’s core values on a daily basis. We are so proud to have Rick representing our amazing profession at the Cincinnati Zoo!