As a way of giving our fans and followers a peek behind the scenes of the inner most working of Tanganyika Wildlife Park, we have begun interviewing a zoo keeper each month. This December I interviewed the lovely Janiene Thomas and we talked about her job here at Tanganyika Wildlife Park!
How long have you worked at Tanganyika? Six years in May.
What animals do you care for? I primarily care for the penguins and sloths but I’ve worked with just about everything. I started out as customer service for about two or three months then I transferred over to keepers.
Who is your favorite animal here? I can’t pick one over the other. I love Valentino (gibbon), and then there’s Willis (colobus monkey), and there’s Jordan the armadillo, and all the penguins. Basically when I’m working with an animal that one’s my favorite!
If you could add an animal to Tanganyika’s line up? Grizzly bears. I love bears. The only animal I could see myself working with other than the penguins is, maybe, a polar bear or grizzly bear. I love the penguins though. I love these guys.
If you weren’t a zoo keeper what would you be? I’d run my own restaurant. When I was in high school I wanted to be an animal conservationist. As I grew up I had a couple of chances to work with animals but either life got in the way or it wasn’t a good time. I was able to be a restaurant manager for twenty-five years and I helped friends of mine open up their own place and get it running. So I thought about being a restaurant consultant for a while. But I wasn’t really being taken seriously in that industry and I started praying for a coma or something so I wouldn’t have to go in that day. That’s when I decided life’s too short, the kids are grown, I’m going to try to find something I really want to do. So here I am!
What is your favorite Tanganyika memory? When I was swimming with the penguins, not the first time, because the first time none of them would get in the water with me but Ryan. It was better when they started including me. Which was great but not great, because when they accept you they’ll play tag with you but the way they play tag is by nipping at you. My favorite memory is swimming with all of them and we’re all in sync. All of my best memories have been with these guys.
Favorite meal served at the pavilion deli? Candy. The pulled pork sandwich is real good, but the candy is cheaper.
What is your favorite Tanganyika event? Twilight. Pumpkins at the Park is fun for several nights, but I’m going to go with Twilight Tour.
How old were you when you knew you wanted to become a zoo keeper? I’d say mid-twenties. I knew I always wanted to work around animals since I grew up about a whole bunch of them.
Which animal are you most like? Some would say a grizzly bear, but everyone keeps saying I’m more like the penguins. Everyone sees me as the penguin lady and they associate me with penguins and as I’ve got to know the penguins my personality is more suited for them. Not an emperor or king penguin because they’re sweet all the time, these guys are alright most of the time but if you cross a certain line then snap!
A special thanks to Janiene for all the care and attention she puts into the animals and humans of Tanganyika Wildlife Park. Thank you for being one of the spunkiest people I know and for keeping everyone in line! You’re the best!