Fun In The NeighborhoodTravel

Like Animals?… Here’s A Bit About My Experience Working At A Zoo…

When I was hired at The Zoo, they were 9 months into hand-raising this baby orangutan named Kera.All this talk about wildlife animal webcams took me back to the days when I worked at a Zoo…

It was The Gulf Breeze Zoo in Gulf Breeze, Florida — near Pensacola. (We lived in Pensacola for a year, and Gulf Breeze for a year, before moving to Nashville, Tennessee.)

In my job, I wasn’t supposed to be hands-on with the animals, but it’s kinda funny how things worked out.

I was pretty much hands-on with this little orangutan from Day One — if you count the day of my interview!

When this baby orangutan was just 9 months old, I entered the picture — assisting the Zoo’s director with HR duties his personal calendar, booking wildlife safari trips to Africa, and other computer and website stuff.

I first met little Kera on the day of my interview. I must say, holding a little Great Ape in my arms was quite an experience!

It sealed the deal for me… I knew this was a place I had to work.

I mean, what are the odds that I’d ever get a chance to interact with wildlife like this again while learning some behind-the-scenes secrets of Zoo life and administration?!

However, I wasn’t so crazy about the fact that they made me eat chocolate-covered crickets as part of my induction.

I was initiated as part of The Zoo's staff on the day of my interview when I became an official member of the 'I Ate A Bug Club' for eating a cricket!

(…It was “Big ‘ol Bugs week” at The Zoo that month.)


Who’s Really In Charge Here?

While Kera practically had everyone wrapped around her little finger, the Zoo’s deputy director, Jean Benchimol (left), and Lucie Easley (right), a Zoo staff member, were the primary caretakers of Kera — taking her home each night while alternating between their two homes. You see, Kera’s mother (who was hand-raised) didn’t quite know how to raise her own firstborn, so zoo staff had to take over.

Jean Benchimol at her desk at The Gulf Breeze Zoo. Lucie Easley with her Zoo baby... Kera the orangutan.


During the work day, Jean and Lucie would turn over some of the day-to-day care and feeding duties to other Zoo staff members. Kera’s playpen was up in our administrative office, so we all spent some time with her throughout the work hours.

Kera and Lucie going for a walk on the zoo grounds. Lynnette watching the baby orangutan learn to climb in and out of her playpen at the zoo.


Between 9 months and 1 year of age, she was becoming more and more adventurous and harder to keep confined in a playpen though.

Around one year of age, this baby orangutan became quite a handful to hand-raise. She could now climb in and out of her playpen.


At 22 months old (after I’d left The Zoo), Kera was ready to move on to another zoo (Cleveland Metroparks Zoo) to be with playmates her own age and learn how to be a mother herself. Coincidentally, Kera’s mother Sara was about to give birth for the second time (…of the 10 great ape births in captivity at this time, 2 were from our zoo).


All Things Great And Tall

This newborn giraffe was born at The Zoo at Gulf Breeze one morning as I arrived at work. Also while I working at The Zoo, I witnessed a baby giraffe (“Midway Maji”) being born. This took place first thing in the morning, right before my shift to start work. It was quite exciting!

Giraffes are born with the mother standing up, meaning a 5 to 7 foot drop to the ground before landing on its head!




He weighed 120lbs and was 6’1″ tall at birth! His mother “Heritage” was also born in a zoo. She didn’t have any mothering skills either, so zoo staff hand-raised this little guy too!

(I only wish I’d taken more pictures. I was sort of camera shy back then… Imagine that!)

Lynnette in her best safari outfit -- actually a ladies pantsuit from JCPenney's. All in all, my time spent working at the Gulf Breeze Zoo was quite exciting. I ate bugs, held orangutans, witnessed a handful of wildlife births, helped coordinate an AZA (American Zoological Association) conference for zookeepers all across the country, and I learned a ton about wildlife safaris (though I never got to go on one… it’s still a lifelong dream of mine).

This job was my first conscious attempt at “thinking outside the banana”.

For someone who likes animals, you can’t beat a job working at a zoo!

The 'zoomobile' at the Gulf Breeze Zoo featuring their orangutan exhibit.

Here’s an update on The Gulf Breeze Zoo, which is now called The Zoo Northwest Florida.