Co-written by: Jenny Gainer, Cody Sowers, Aimee Owen, & Wendy Rice (All keepers at the Zoo)
Our third honoree for National Zoo Keeper Week is Rickey Kinley! Rickey works as a keeper in the Aviculture (bird) department. Of all the nominations we received this year for National Zoo Keeper Week, only one keeper, Rickey, was unanimously selected by the committee as well. Rickey serves as an excellent role model for so many keepers in so many different ways, it’s no wonder he was an easy selection!
As a former student with the Zoo’s high school, the Zoo Academy, Rickey naturally connects with the current Zoo Academy students and he absolutely sets the bar in terms of mentorship. Rickey always takes the time to get to know each student and he uses what he learns about them to relate to and inspire that student. Ricky goes out of his way to include the students and make them feel like they have an important role in the bird department, and he consistently challenges them to try new things, even if they are unsure of themselves.
Head Keeper Jenny Gainer says of Rickey, “He was a mentor of mine as a student, so I’ve experienced it first-hand. And I’ve witnessed even 15 years later he still goes the extra mile to work with these kids and support the program.”
Outside of his stellar involvement with Zoo Academy students, Rickey clearly connects with every keeper he works with as well, and the fun and playful relationship he shares with most colleagues was evident in their praise and recognition for him. According to his coworkers, Rickey likes to laugh at penguins, and he likes to laugh in general. He has an international fan club that spans many generations and in the past, he may or may not have been known to rock a sweet flat-top hairstyle (a la “Kid N’Play”). Additionally, some reports suggest that the “Morgan Freeman of the Birdhouse” has been known to eat multiple cans of spinach a day (in spite of not having a Popeye-style anchor tattoo), and owns one of the most musically diverse iPods currently in existence (although this fact has not yet been confirmed by Apple Inc. or Guinness World Records).
But in all seriousness, this experienced keeper, who trained under Andrew Erkenbrecker himself, possesses vast avian knowledge and has published many different papers on training (including one of the first papers ever published on penguin training!). Rickey is well versed in critical and logical thinking and he performs well when pushed outside of the box. His contributions to the bird department have been innumerable over the years, and he is absolutely a shining example of zoo keeping. Thanks for all that you do Rickey!