Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

She Talks to the Animals, and Cleans Up after Them, Too, at the St. Louis Zoo

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

She Talks to the Animals, and Cleans Up after Them, Too, at the St. Louis Zoo

Article excerpt

When Mylisa Whipple goes to work, she picks up a power washer and does the walls and floors. She gathers up food scraps and collects feces.

And she earned a master's degree to help her get this job.

Whipple, 36, said she knew as a child she wanted to work with animals. So perhaps being a primate keeper at the St. Louis Zoo was her destiny.

She's one of about 82 full-time keepers, along with 27 part-time and seasonal ones at the zoo. Two-thirds of the keepers at the zoo are women; most hold bachelor's degrees in zoology, biology or a related field.

"The chance to work with animals so closely, especially the endangered ones, is an exciting experience," she said.

The zoo is marking National Zookeeper's Week, which runs Sunday through July 25. Visitors will have the chance to chat with zookeepers, learn about their careers in animal care and get up close with some of the animals.

To become a zookeeper which involves far more than cleaning up around and after the animals and their displays Whipple earned a bachelor's in biology, with an emphasis in zoology, at Western Illinois University.

Then she got her master's in zoology with an emphasis in animal behavior at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Whipple plans activities for her charges, which include monkeys, lemurs, sloths and tamarins.

Officially, it's called environment enrichment, and it's done to stimulate the primates' natural intellect. Because the animals are in captivity, Whipple says, it's important to keep their brains stimulated.

So instead of just plopping their meals in front of them, she devises hiding places for food, such as putting it inside tubes so the animals have to think about how to get at it.

Spending her workday with animals, Whipple has built a close relationship with them. She knows their behavior patterns and can tell when an animal is not feeling well or is out-of-sorts.

"I don't really have a favorite animal, because they're all fun," said Whipple, who has worked at the zoo for 11 years. "But I tend to like the really old ones."

As a keeper, Whipple also trains the primates on things like how to behave when receiving medical treatment. If a monkey or tamarin knows how to react to medical personnel, it makes the experience of getting a shot or a checkup less traumatic for them, she said. …

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