Tanganyika is a beautiful and interactive place, but it didn’t just become that way overnight! The people who work at Tanganyika are the ones who keep this whole place continuing on it’s path to becoming one of the best zoo experiences in America! So we want to give credit where it is due by providing some of our most talented zookeepers a chance to talk about what they do and who they are! This also gives you a chance to understand the hard work and creativity that goes into making TWP operate this well from day to day. This month I talked to Kiana Lucero about her experience as a TWP keeper.
How long have you worked at TWP?
July will be six months
Which animals do you care for?
I care for our two-toed sloth, our African crested porcupine, American albino alligator, Asian small cloud otters, and our armadillos. We have three-banded, and we have screaming hairy armadillos, and I also work with our African penguins.
What is the daily routine you go through in caring for your animals?
Generally, the first thing we do in the morning is checks on the animals, make sure nothing happened overnight. That they all have water and are all good. Then we go about cleanings, so cleaning all the enclosures and feeding them if they get a morning diet. Deep cleaning their enclosures if they need to be scrubbed. Then we do interactions if we have any of those thought out the day or do some ambassadoring, taking the animals out to meet the public. Then if we have projects, we usually do those in the afternoon. Bigger cleans that we need to do. Then we do the end of the day feedings and check on everyone at night and make sure they are good, again make sure they have plenty of water before we leave for the night and that everyone is locked up and secure and that's the end of our day!
Can you tell us a little bit about the routines you are wanting to implement going forward?
We are trying to break our routines up a little so that we have fewer animals per keeper so we can focus on the animals more and do more training and enrichment and have more time to spend with them and take out to the public to do interactions and things that way we aren’t as busy with cleaning all day long, so we try and break it up a little bit and make their routines a little smaller that way!
What is the best part of your job?
Getting to be close with all the animals and getting that bond with them. The penguins really all have their own little personalities so getting to know their personalities and bonding with them and having them reciprocate that bond back to you is a really cool thing to experience.
Who is your favorite animal in Tanganyika?
That is tricky. I do love the penguins! I also like the otters, they also have their own little personalities, they are really smart and fun to train, but Chewie is probably at the top. He is just so sweet and such a good little cuddler. He really does bond with his trainers too; he knows our smells as soon as we get close to him, I really like the relationship we have.
If you could add an animal to the Tanganyika Experience what animal would you add?
That's easy! Sea lions are my favorite! I worked with a sea lion when I was going to Zoo school, and she stole my heart. They have always been my favorite, I volunteered at a rehab that had them for a couple of years, and they are just such fun animals. They are just so smart and so trainable and love human interaction, so sea lions have always been my favorite.
If you could ambassador any animal in Tanganyika at all which animal would you choose?
Quillium is already an ambassador; he is really great and really fun to take out. He enjoys meeting people. I guess some of our primates; I think people really like primates so if we had some we could take out and ambassador people would really like that.
Where did you work before you started at TWP?
So I moved out to California to attend the Exotic Animal Training and Management program, when I graduated I thought I wanted to do studio work (Training animals for movies and Tv) so I started working for a company called Animal Actors of Hollywood. I enjoyed going on set and training the animals, but I quickly learned that wasn’t something I wanted to do for the rest of my life, so I started working at the Universal Studios Animal Show for a little while, and then I decided I wanted to change gears and get into education. So I worked for a company called WildLife Experience for five years. We went out and took animals to schools and taught people about animals, and I loved that job, but marine biology has always been a big passion of mine, so I decided to go back to school and get a marine biology degree. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to continue with my job and school because it was getting too difficult, so I started working at the University at their sustainability department and then worked there for 3 years and then decided I needed to get back into animals so that when I found this job and decided to move here!
If you weren’t a zookeeper what would you be?
I would be doing something in sustainability or conservation. I really enjoy teaching people but hate sitting at a desk cause I'm not a desk person but I enjoyed getting to teach people the things they can do to help our environment so I would probably be in conservation with animals out in the wild somewhere or something to do with sustainability issues.
What is your favorite Tanganyika memory?
Probably going to pick up Chewie! I drove over to the facility he was born at in Missouri to pick him up. He wasn’t a fan of his crate, he just cried the whole time so I picked him up and held him most of the way, and he just hung out! We got some pretty good bonding time.
What first inspired you to become a zookeeper?
My dad wanted to be a vet. He did animal science as his degree and then ended up starting a family and never went to vet school, so he always had a passion for animals that he passed on to me. We were always rescuing animals growing up and always had all kinds of pets, so I have always had that love and passion for animals and knew that I wanted to do something with them and then when I found out about animal training school that really cemented everything for me, and I knew I wanted to work with animals in the future!
What is your favorite food they serve at the pavilion deli?
The Pulled Pork sandwich!
How old were you when you wanted to become a zookeeper?
I don't know if I have an age, Probably as long as I can remember I always knew that's what I always wanted to do is work with animals!
What is your favorite event we do at Tanganyika?
Twilight Tour! I think its so cool letting people come in for the evening and getting to do some behind the scenes stuff!
What animal do you feel you are the most like?
Probably the otters cause they like to interact with each other, and they like the water, I love the water, and they sleep a lot too!
Thanks to Kiana for all your hard work at Tanganyika. You’re joy and passion for your animals is great, and we are lucky to have you as part of our team! Thank you for all you do!