Tanganyika is a wonderful and interactive place, but it didn’t just become that way over night! 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 giving some of our most talented zoo keepers 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 Kate Hankins about her experience as a TWP keeper.
How long have you worked at TWP?
I’ve been here just over two years as of January as a keeper. The summer before that I was an intern.
Which animals do you care for?
I’m one of our carnivore keepers. So I work with large and small carnivores, I am a swing keeper so I pretty much care for animals while their main keeper is away, but that changes a lot for instance I am currently working big cats a lot more at this point because Karen is working in the nursery taking care of the babies.
Who is your favorite animal in Tanganyika?
That is a really hard one. I really love our cheetahs. Specifically Zuri, one of our young females. She has a lot of character and we’ve really bonded. I also love Bomani, one of our other cheetahs, who... well he’s different. He’s also got a lot of personality and he’s fun to be around. He’s very sweet. I could list every single animal I work with and it wouldn’t be a lie.
If you could add an animal to the Tanganyika Experience what animal would you add?
African Painted Dogs. Well, I’ve always wanted to work with them. They are some of my favorite animals, they are just so unique and amazing. I would also settle for maned wolves, or any species of wolf, or large canine. I love canines, wolves were the first animals I worked with and I really miss that. I love Todd and Tillie, our bat eared foxes, but I would like bigger ones.
If you could ambassador any animal at all in Tanganyika which animal would you choose?
I would love to do the cheetahs... although that would be illegal in Kansas. I think there are a couple who would love it and would be really easy to introduce people to. Either them or Stian the red panda, just because she is older, and doesn’t go out much, and stays inside so people can’t see her. I would love to find her a little pedestal or something we could carry her around on. She could just lounge, and look, and enjoy the sun, then people would get to see her.
If you weren’t a zookeeper what would you be?
I’d probably do wildlife research of some sort. I did a lot of research in college with a couple of labs. One with sea turtle and one with butterflies. They were the labs where I liked the staff and the professors, I got along well with them, and they were doing really cool research. I always wanted to do wildlife tracking and study wild populations of bears or wolves or something like that. On the other extreme I also wanted to be a writer and write children’s stories. One of those two. I always said I would do both. I would live in a cabin in the woods in the middle of nowhere and do research by day and write stories by night.
What is your favorite Tanganyika memory?
This is not going to be a distinct memory. I really enjoy our animal ambassadors, specifically our cats. I know when we got Freya the caracal the first time we got her out on her harness and were walking her around and she was like, “What’s that! What’s that! What’s that!” She was so excited and happy and fun to be around! That was a really cool moment. I enjoy introducing her to people too, but it’s fun, sometimes, to just walk the cats around and let them enjoy a walk.
What is your favorite food they serve at the pavilion deli?
I like the ICEEs. Especially during the summer. There’s a blue raspberry one that I really like.
How old were you when you wanted to become a zookeeper?
Specifically a zoo keeper, I was probably high school or college aged. I always knew I wanted to work with animals I just wasn’t sure how. I thought about being a vet for a while, then I went through the whole wildlife researcher phase. I did internships, experienced a lot of different things, and fell in love with actually working with the animals day by day and getting that relationship with them.
What is your favorite event we do at Tanganyika?
I love Pumpkins at the Park. Fall and Halloween have always been really fun times of year for me! I love all the lights and the costumes. The couple times I’ve been here during Pumpkins at the Park I’ve always had a night where I can walk around as a guest, that’s a lot of fun, the kids have a great time. I don’t do the scary maze, but the 3D maze that was really cool to walk through. We did one of the escape rooms and those were really cool as well!
What animal do you feel you are the most like?
Definitely some form of cat. I would say... our clouded leopards. They can be very lazy and chill. You can come across them just slouched over a log or a hay bale just enjoying the sun and looking absolutely at ease. But then they also have this playful and crazy side! You just never know what you’re going to get. So I feel like that’s my range of personality. Relaxing is definitely something I’m good at.
Thank you Kate for being a really fun and calming presence at TWP. You care for and love your animals so deeply. You behave more like a person raising and caring for their children rather then a person doing a job. Thank you for the level of kindness you bring to your animal's lives and to TWP in general. Keep up the truly great work you do!