Tattoos are often a physical expression of something that a person is passionate about. Nowhere is that more evident than at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden! Many of our staff members have artwork on their bodies that represent the animals that have lived here. Read on to find out details about the tattoos that the CZBG Team is excited to show off!
Andie Haugen, Cat Ambassador Team
Animal that your tattoo represents: Donni the cheetah
Who was your tattoo artist?: Dino Nemec in Columbus, Ohio
Why did you get a tattoo of this animal/what does this tattoo mean to you?: I have always had a very special relationship with Donni and his larger-than-life personality. He’s a very confident, charismatic, intelligent and affectionate cat and I knew if I was ever going to get a tattoo, I’d want it to be of him. I got the tattoo of him to celebrate how far I’ve come overcoming hardship in my life and accomplishing my dreams. It’s a look back on where I’ve been and a look forward to what my future holds.
Alicia Sampson, Cat Ambassador Team
Animal that your tattoo represents: Sihil the Ocelot
Who was your tattoo artist?: Randall Wagoner at Moonlight Studios in Champaign, Illinois
Why did you get a tattoo of this animal/what does this tattoo mean to you?: Sihil was one of the first cats that I fell in love with at the Cat Ambassador Program. She was a very sweet cat to the people that she would trust but that wasn’t very many people. I always felt honored that she would trust me to be able to take her into some of the crazy programs that we use to do. Someone had captured this picture of her years ago and I always knew that is what I wanted to be tattooed, I just needed to find the right artist. I wanted to be able to take a picture of her with the tattoo but sadly she passed away about 1 month before I could finish the process.
Colleen Nissen, Cat Ambassador Team
Animal that your tattoo represents: Santos the Ocelot
Where did you get your tattoo/who was your artist?: I got my tattoo done and retouched by Zach Good in Centerville, OH
Why did you get a tattoo of this animal/what does this tattoo mean to you?: Santos was an ocelot we hand raised, so I had an immediate bond with him. But Santos is a great reminder of the work we do to be advocates for our animals. Alongside all of the physical necessities we provide for the animals in our care, we are also responsible for their mental growth, stimulation and well-being. Santos has been diagnosed an anxiety disorder, something him and I have in common. I am proud to have worked collaboratively with my team and our Vet staff to come up with the best possible quality of life for him and make adjustments for him to thrive and blossom.
Michelle Curley, Communications Director
Animal that your tattoo represents: Fiona
Where did you get your tattoo/who was your artist?: Northside, Dasha Gilliss
Why did you get a tattoo of this animal/what does this tattoo mean to you?: Getting a tattoo was never something I thought I would do. But, when I was lucky enough to help care for Fiona during her early days, it just seemed right to put a permanent reminder of that amazing, life-changing experience where I could see it every day. It’s actually on my back, but I know it’s there if I want to see it. The first paragraph of this NYT article references my tattoo and the fact that my husband doesn’t like it!
Emily Myers, Cat Ambassador Team
Animal that your tattoo represents: Tommy T the Cheetah
Where did you get your tattoo/who was your artist?: Matt Clanin (He has a new shop- Love Bee Tattoo!)
Why did you get a tattoo of this animal/what does this tattoo mean to you?: Tom was the first cheetah I really connected with. He was also the first cheetah I learned to walk and train as a part of the Cat Ambassador Program! He’s such a sweet boy, and I’ve been lucky enough to develop a great relationship with him over the years. When I think about all the things I love about my job, he is definitely near the top of the list! I wanted my first tattoo to be extra special, and nothing felt more special than getting Tom (and his signature “snaggle tooth”) tattooed on me forever 😊
Ashley O’Connell, Bird House (Formerly of Wildlife Canyon!)
Animal that your tattoo represents: Six-banded armadillo, Dilbert, vampire bat from Night Hunters, Western Lowland gorilla, Kwashi, Bactrian camel, Humphrey, takin, Harry, Sumatran rhino, Harapan, potto, Gabriel, Przewalski’s horse, Bajkit (her shoulder “star trek” marking is on Humphrey’s side)
Where did you get your tattoo/who was your artist?: Chris Powell; previously at Aisle 9 in Dayton OH, now Chris Powell Tattoos in Springfield, OH
Why did you get a tattoo of this animal/what does this tattoo mean to you?: It was an 8 year idea. I wanted to get a photorealism, black and gray tattoo of some of my favorite animals I’ve worked with over my career. The original idea was to add on to the tattoo as I went through my career but after 8 years and all my favorites I had so far it ended up being a whole tattoo itself. I’ve worked in 4 different departments in my 12 ½ year career; Primate Center and a relief keeper for what was then Nocturnal House, Primate Center keeper, Wildlife Canyon keeper, and now Bird House keeper. (A bird tattoo is in my future.) This tattoo not only highlights my career but also is a memorial for animals that I’ve cared for that have passed on, moved to different locations, or are in different departments than me here at the Cincinnati Zoo.
Alicia Sampson, Cat Ambassador Team
Animal that your tattoo represents: Tommy T the Cheetah
Who was your tattoo artist?: Steve Kenny at Beelistic Tattoo
Why did you get a tattoo of this animal/what does this tattoo mean to you?: Tommy T was the first baby cheetah that I got to raise. He is such a sweet large cheetah. In 2012 we got a chance to run all of our cheetahs for a shoot for National Geographic and Tommy T run that was the last one on the last day ended up being the best shots of the week. He ended up being the centerfold of the National Geographic magazine. This picture is based on the centerfold picture. It was always a dream of mine to be able to work for National Geographic and here I was working with them with one of my favorite animals. It was a dream come true.
Raven Cox and Lindsay Porter, Wild Encounters Team
Animal that your tattoo represents: Zoey the Giraffe
Who was your tattoo artist?: Damien Ridgeway at Hybrid Image in Clifton
Why did you get a tattoo of this animal/what does this tattoo mean to you?: We got this tattoo together this year! We absolutely love Zoey and her funny floppy ear! We wanted to get a zoo-related tattoo and once we started working and doing the giraffe feedings, we knew that we needed to get our icon, Zoey! This was Raven’s first tattoo!!
Shae Miller, Manager of Wild Encounters
Animal that your tattoo represents: Audra the Red Panda
Who was your tattoo artist?: Jessica Poole at Rebel Rebel Tattoo in Dayton
Why did you get a tattoo of this animal/what does this tattoo mean to you?: I was leading red panda tours in 2019 and early 2020 before the zoo closed for the COVID-19 pandemic when Audra was a baby. I loved her so much and getting to see her was the best part of my day! One day that winter, it snowed really hard and Audra and her sister, Lenore, had a ton of fun romping around in the snow while I was in the yard with them. It is one of my most cherished memories that I’ve made here! She is one of my most favorite animals at the zoo and when we were closed for the pandemic, I missed her so much. To protect each other, and the animals, we divided into teams and we weren’t able to intermix. I spent the summer with the Cheetah team which was awesome but I didn’t get to visit with Audra. I got my Audra tattoo in the summer of 2020 to celebrate our reopening and getting to see her again!
Wendy Rice, Africa Team
Animal that your tattoo represents: John the African Lion
Where did you get your tattoo/who was your artist?: Designs by Dana, Dasha Gilliss
Why did you get a tattoo of this animal/what does this tattoo mean to you?: Working with John has provided me with the biggest challenges and the most rewarding experiences of my zookeeping career. Watching him grow and change over the 10 years he’s been at our zoo and seeing him develop into this amazing confident cat when he started out so unsure of himself has been beautiful to witness and inspirational. I have loved developing a relationship with him and being able to communicate with him through training. Building trust has been so magical and is everything I had hoped for when I became a zoo keeper. I love watching our guests be “wowed” by John. He’s magnificent and special and also funny and ridiculous in so many ways. I have truly loved being his keeper and cherish every day that I’ve gotten to be a part of his life. 😊 It’s a geometric representation of his nose and it includes his whisker spots from his identification row (his top row) of whiskers. The identification row (when compared with the second row, or the reference row) is entirely unique to each lion just like our finger prints. So this is John lion’s whisker pattern of his identification row. I’ve also assigned each individual whisker spot to a special person in my life… so each spot represents one of the most meaningful people in my life sort of orbiting around my heart while also representing my favorite animal!