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Category — Zoo Academy

Happy National Zoo Keepers Week! Meet Bird Keeper, Rickey Kinley

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!

Rickey Kinley with one of his many feathered friends

Rickey Kinley with one of his many feathered friends

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.

Rickey Kinley back when he was a Zoo Academy student

Rickey Kinley back when he was a Zoo Academy student

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).

Rickey Kinley walking with penguins during the Penguin Parade

Rickey Kinley walking with penguins during the Penguin Parade

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!

July 22, 2015   2 Comments

Celebrating 40 Years of Graduates from the Zoo Academy

If you follow the Zoo blog, you’ve likely read posts written by some of current Zoo Academy students and are somewhat familiar with the program. This year, we are celebrating a milestone as the 40th class of Zoo Academy graduates prepares to walk across the Cintas Center stage and receive their diplomas on May 24.

The Cincinnati Zoo Academy has been a part of the public school system in Cincinnati since 1975. In 1995, the program underwent a substantial change from a strictly vocational program with an emphasis on natural resources and wildlife management to a four year college preparatory program where the students earn vocational degrees by working with zookeepers for two hours a day. During the 2008 – 2009 school year, we became a Tech Prep program with articulation agreements with UC Blue Ash and Cincinnati State. Students spend their ninth and tenth grade years at Hughes High School. During their eleventh and twelfth grade years, home base for the Zoo Academy is located on the first floor of the Education Center on Zoo grounds. The students spend several hours a day working alongside keepers, educators and other staff in labs throughout the Zoo.

Soon to graduate, Zoo Academy student Dominick Stowers (right) works with the Africa keepers and an ostrich.

Soon to graduate, Zoo Academy student Dominick Stowers (right) works with the Africa keepers and an ostrich.

Soon to graduate, Monneka Johnson socializes Bonnie, a screaming hairy armadillo, during her Education lab. (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Soon to graduate, Monneka Johnson socializes Bonnie, a screaming hairy armadillo, during her Education lab. (Photo: Shasta Bray)

This year’s graduates follow in the footsteps of an esteemed group of alumni. Many graduates have gone on to establish careers in environmental or zoological fields and some have actually been hired on as staff here at the Zoo, including Rickey Kinley, who has worked at the Zoo for 22 years and is currently a keeper in the aviculture department. Here Rickey shares his story in his own words:

“I started my life as an underprivileged kid. We were very poor.  I can remember being fascinated by nature and animals as far back as when I was three years old watching a ladybug on my window sill. At about the third grade, I had the epiphany that books held the information about the animals that I was so interested in. I became a bookworm, but only with books about animals. This curiosity developed further on to my teenage years when a freshman year science teacher mentioned to me about a high school called the Zoo School. As a teenager, this school seemed too good to be true. I applied, was accepted, and started school at the beginning of my junior year.

It was quite amazing to see on a daily basis all of the Cincinnati Zoo All-stars:  Cathryn Hilker (founder of Cat Ambassador Program), Mike Dulaney (current Curator of Mammals), Milan Busching (former insect keeper), and of course, Thane Maynard (current Zoo Director). These were people that I had regularly seen and idolized on the TV show “Zoo Zoo Zoo.”  Every single day I felt like I needed to pinch myself to make sure that it was a real high school.

Like every teenager, I was never quite sure what, when, or where life would take me or what decisions I should be making. The Zoo School gave me focus, direction, and mentoring. My very first lab rotation was in Wildlife Canyon with folks like Randy Pairan (current keeper) who taught me about the babirusa named Oscar that was more like a dog than a pig. During the Cat House lab, I was allowed to ride in the vet van next to an anesthetized lion on the way to the vet hospital for a root canal.

Rickey Kinley as a Zoo Academy student assisting with a procedure on a lion.

Rickey Kinley as a Zoo Academy student assisting with a procedure on a lion.

In the Bird House, Casey Nastold (former keeper) taught me how to hand-feed a variety of parrots, including baby macaws, eclectus parrots, African grey parrots, cockatoos, and the list goes on. Way back in 1992, the Bird House used to remove the eggshells from each egg before we smashed them for diets. I mentioned to Casey one day how in one of my books I read that many bird breeders smash the eggs with the shell on to provide grit and calcium for the birds. Casey decided that it made sense, the change was made and that is how we do our eggs still to this day. Looking back it still amazes me that she, in her managerial position, listened to the idea of a teenager.  It was extraordinary that she judged the concept on the merit of the idea and not from whose mouth it came.

Today, Rickey works in aviculture with birds, including the rhinoceros hornbill.

Today, Rickey works in aviculture with birds, including the rhinoceros hornbill.

I met Mary Abbott (current keeper) during my rotation in the Children’s Zoo.  In this department lived a turkey vulture named Greta that only liked Mary. Actually, she only liked women.  Any woman could pick this bird up like a baby, but men were never treated so kindly. Even though Greta was partial to women in general, I could tell that this vulture was a great judge of character because Mary was one of the nicest people I met as a student.

I want to help others understand how great of an impact that a program like this can have on a person.  Two things seemed impossible to me as a youngster with few opportunities:  1) to one day become a zookeeper and 2) to own my own business.  I have now been at the Zoo for 22 years and I have been a business owner for 13 years.”

Rickey shares his knowledge as a bird keeper with participants in the Zoo's Spring Break Camp.

Rickey shares his knowledge as a bird keeper with participants in the Zoo’s Spring Break Camp.

Learn more about the Zoo Academy and hear inspiring stories from other graduates here.

 

May 22, 2015   1 Comment

The Importance of CREW’s Domestic Cat Research

Guest blogger: Zoo Academy student, Jane Collins

The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) is famously known to the world for its hard work on saving endangered plants and animals. Whenever people learn about CREW, they hear about the projects on polar bears, Sumatran rhinos, wild cats, and many plant species including autumn buttercup, four-petal pawpaw, and Avon Park harebells. You learn a lot about how important these projects are, but I believe there is one important aspect of CREW that is not as well known to Zoo visitors as it should be. I’ll give you a hint, re-read the title!

That’s right. I’m talking about cats. I don’t mean the wild African lion, cheetah, or tiger that you may have been thinking about. I mean domestic cats. CREW’s Domestic Cat Research is actually important to saving endangered big cats in the wild. These special cats help CREW with a number of things, including testing a contraceptive vaccine and conducting oviductal artificial inseminations and embryo transfers.

Three of the CREW cats - Taneshia, Beth and Paige

Three of the CREW cats – Taneshia, Beth and Paige

The cats in this program are given vaccines for common diseases and are spayed and neutered when at the appropriate age so they are completely cared for. CREW volunteers take the time to socialize with the cats also so they are very affectionate cats and are never neglected.

As a Zoo Academy student, I personally have had the opportunity to spend time with the cats and see up close how well they are treated.  Washing cat dishes, litter pans, animal carriers, and a few other responsibilities may have not been the finest experience, but I liked that I was making even the smallest contribution to the care of the cats. I also was able to spend quality time with most of the cats playing and relaxing, whichever the cats preferred for the day.  I had a great time learning a few of the cats’ individual personalities. One cat physically demands love and affection by climbing right into your lap. Another is very vocal. And another cat even loves water.

My favorite cat was a three-year old grey tabby with black stripes. He was the largest male domestic cat I have ever seen and looked like he belonged deep in a dark jungle rather than at a zoo. At end of my time at CREW, he was up for adoption. I couldn’t bring myself to part with him and decided to take him home. His new name is officially Chaz. He likes to follow me around EVERY square inch of my house and cries when I’ve gone too long without petting him. He is a loving member of my family. It is very cool to have a cat from the Cincinnati Zoo that has contributed to research that helps to save endangered wild cats.

Me and Chaz, a cat I adopted from CREW

Me and Chaz, a cat I adopted from CREW

April 8, 2015   1 Comment