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 Amanda Whitten about her experience as a TWP keeper.
How long have you worked at TWP?
On September 1st it will be a year and a half.
Which animals do you care for?
I am a swing keeper for carnivores. So I deal with small carnivores and large carnivores. So there is a primary keeper who works 5 days a week and a swing keeper comes in on their two days off and takes over for those two days. I cover large carnivores for Kate’s two days off and on Deb’s two days off I take care of the small guys. Now on my odd day I do projects and help with the small carnivores.
Who is your favorite animal in Tanganyika?
I love Todd! Todd is a Bat Eared Fox and he is amazing. I love him. When he first came here he was afraid of everybody, he didn’t like people, he wasn’t sure of us. Now, just from spending time with him and hanging out with him, he rubs his face all over me and just loves people. So he’s really enjoying himself and now he has a little girlfriend too so that’s even better.
If you could add an animal to the Tanganyika Experience what animal would you add?
That’s a hard one. Being a cat person all my favorites are already here, which is awesome. I think the only thing we don’t have, that I would love to try to work with, would be some of the smaller cats. The Golden Bay Cat, the Black Footed Cat, the Jungle Cat, a lot of the smaller ones that nobody really gets to work with and that are pretty rare in zoos. Everyone tends to forget about them, they always want to see the Tiger or the Jaguar or they all want to see the Lion... although having a Lion here would be pretty cool too. No one appreciates the smaller cats, like no one ever sees Tim the Pallas Cat that often, but he’s one of my favorites.
If you could ambassador any animal at all in Tanganyika which animal would you choose?
Anything? I keep thinking I would love to take and Anteater out on a leash. That would be pretty cool. I recently saw a photo back in the 1970s of an Anteater on a leash. I think it would be super cool, people haven’t had many chances to see him since his exhibit is so new, and he would love it. Although he’d find an ant hill and you wouldn't be going nowhere.
If you weren’t a zookeeper what would you be?
I would have probably gotten into forensics. I’m into a lot of the criminal stuff and I like watching those kind of TV shows and reading those sort of books. If I didn’t work with animals in general I probably would have ended up in forensic sciences somehow.
What is your favorite Tanganyika memory?
I’ve definitely been able to make many Tanganyika memories. Being a carnivore keeper I get to ambassador a lot of the carnivores, but I think one of my favorite memories is taking Bonnie, the Honey Badger, out on a walk. Because who get’s to say they took a Honey Badger out on a leash? That was awesome and amazing. Honey Badgers are known for their tenacity and ferocity and for not wanting to be touched or have someone in their space, but Bonnie was like, “This is cool.”
What is your favorite food they serve at the pavilion deli?
I love the pretzels, surprisingly. The pretzels with cheese, they’re really good. The pulled pork is good, don’t get me wrong, but when I’m starving and on the run a good pretzel with salt and cheese. Mmmm.
How old were you when you wanted to become a zookeeper?
Zookeeper specifically... I was probably a little bit older. I was probably in high school, but I know I wanted to work with animals at a young age. When I was a little girl everyone told me that if I was going to work with animals I was going to become a vet. Then around high school I started realizing that vets deal with a lot of animals at their worst, when they are sick or injured. Then you never work with the same animal twice, maybe you’ll see an animal once a year and that wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted to work with the same animals day in and day out. Build that connection, work with them, let them learn who I am and I'd learn who they are and understand their personalities. Then I volunteered at my local zoo and I said, “This is perfect. This is what I want.”
What is your favorite event we do at Tanganyika?
Pumpkins at the Park. As a keeper I get to do many different parts: I can be in the Creepy Crawler Room, I can be in a costume, I can be helping all over the place which is a lot of fun. The event itself is just so different. Having people go out into the park, exploring, going to candy stations. Lots of other zoos will corral you into one room and we let people just go out! I really like that aspect of it.
What animal do you feel you are the most like?
Mia the Serval. She loves to hang out and chill on her little perch and lay in the sun, but then, when people come around, wants attention and to be the life of the party, and say, "hi," and see what’s going on. She has those two sides to her and I definitely do too!
Thank you to Amanda for sparing some time to discuss life as a zoo keeper at TWP! Keep up the great work and I appreciate your level of passion for cats and your career! You are super!