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Category — Keeper’s Komments

Happy National Zoo Keepers Week! Meet Manatee Keeper, Lindsay Garrett

Co-written by: Chris Edelen, Megan O’Keefe, and Wendy Rice

When it comes to incorporating natural talents into your career, few keepers have mastered the art as well as Lindsay Garrett. Not only is she super creative, but her artistic talents have come into play on more than one occasion in her role as zoo keeper. Whether she is shaping concrete for turtle enclosures or casting animal molds to raise money for conservation, Lindsay constantly finds ways to incorporate her strengths into her work.

When alligator “Lucy” was not shifting well into her holding area, Lindsay took it upon herself to trouble-shoot and come up with a solution. She reached out to keepers at other zoos for help and even built a gator-friendly ramp that would allow Lucy to feel the water in her holding pool, making shifting more comfortable for the visually-impaired crocodilian.

Lindsay with an alligator

Lindsay with an alligator


Additionally, Lindsay’s incredible patience and focus help make her a talented trainer. She developed a target-training program to facilitate shifting Lucy (who now shifts on cue successfully on a weekly basis!), and her colleagues call her a master of manatee training.

Lindsay training manatees

Lindsay training manatees

When it comes to educating the public, Lindsey is always willing. She even helped to develop an underwater keeper chat to help guests feel more connected to the Zoo’s manatees. Not only is Lindsay a wealth of knowledge regarding the animals in her collection, but she also conveys their environmental importance during her interactions with the public. She has also helped raise funds for conservation through her involvement with the Zoo’s American Association of Zoo Keepers chapter.

Lindsay’s positive influence even extends beyond her own department through her active involvement in the enrichment committee. Lindsay’s knowledge and insight help ensure that all the animals at our Zoo have safe and appropriate enrichment.

Co-worker Megan O’Keefe says of Lindsay: “She is ridiculously hard-working. I’ve never met anyone more on top of things than she is!” Chris Edelen said of Lindsay: “She goes above and beyond, and I am a better conservationist for seeing things through her eyes…”

Thank you for your dedication to our field Lindsay!

July 21, 2015   1 Comment

Happy National Zoo Keeper Week! Meet Head Keeper, Rick Heithaus

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.

An historical photo of Rick Heithaus with an African elephant

An historical photo of Rick Heithaus with an African elephant

Rick Heithaus visits with an African elephant

A more recent photo of Rick Heithaus visiting with an African elephant

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!

Rick introduces an elephant to a patron of our Behind the Scenes Experience

Rick introduces an elephant to a patron of our Behind the Scenes Experience

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.

Rick during a Behind the Scenes Elephant Experience

Rick during a Behind the Scenes Elephant Experience

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!

July 20, 2015   No Comments

No Need To Fear The Carpenter Bees!

Spring has sprung at the Cincinnati Zoo, and so have the Carpenter Bees! However, the Zoo’s Curator of Invertebrates, Winton Ray, has some comforting news for you. It’s time to stop fearing the bee. At least the Eastern Carpenter Bee!

The Eastern Carpenter Bee (Xylacopa viginica) is the large, yellow and black flying insect frequently encountered on Zoo grounds at this time of year. Though they are often mistaken for Bumblebees they can be most easily differentiated from them by their black, hairless abdomens; Bumblebees have fuzzy abdomens. Carpenter Bees were so named because the females excavate nest tunnels in wood. They only nest in the wood, they do not eat it. And while nesting bees can sometimes damage wooden structures the damage associated with them is sometimes caused by woodpeckers working to excavate the bees themselves for food.


Carpenter Bees are among the first insects observed in spring. The Carpenter Bees Zoo guests are generally encountering are males. Male Carpenter Bees can be easily distinguished from females by the white or gold patch between their eyes. Each male stakes out a territory in the vicinity of a nesting female awaiting the opportunity to breed. Any other males entering the territory will be chased away and just about anything will be investigated. It’s these investigative flights that bring them into close proximity with you, the innocent bystander zoo guests. Carpenter Bees are large and fast flying so it’s easy to see why people mistake their curiosity for aggression even though they’re essentially harmless. Male Carpenter Bees, like all male bees or wasps cannot sting. Let me repeat that: they cannot sting! The stinger is a modified ovipositor (egg laying organ). Female Carpenter Bees are capable of stinging but rarely do. They spend most of their time visiting flowers or in their underground nest tunnels.

In a few weeks the Carpenter Bees we’re seeing will be gone but in the tunnels they’ve created their offspring will live on. In late summer young Carpenter Bees will emerge to feed on nectar in preparation for a long winter hibernation. They’ll generally hibernate in the same tunnels their ancestors survived previous winters in. Carpenter Bees on Zoo grounds are going about their lives the way they have for countless millennia, they’re just doing it at the Zoo instead of in an Eastern forest.

So, good news for your next Zoo visit! Carpenter Bees pose essentially no danger to us. You’re actually more likely to be injured trying to swat or flee from Carpenter Bees than by the bees themselves. Next time you see a Carpenter Bee, you can let your friends know, there’s really nothing to fear!


April 25, 2015   2 Comments