Zookeepers devote lives to animals they love

Photo courtesy of Deanna Moore

Photo courtesy of Deanna Moore

When people go to the zoo, most of the time they’re just going to pass the time. What they don’t know is, just like us, every animal there has its own story.

We can learn a lot from animals and we can all help make the Earth a better place for them. Zoos save these animals’ lives.

When Nicholas Slaughter, a sophomore atmospheric science major, got out of the army, he thought working for The Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo here in Monroe would be a great opportunity.

“I grew up on a farm so I loved working with animals,” Slaughter said.

He needed a job, so he got  one as a small mammals zookeeper. 

Slaughter’s favorite part about working at the zoo was the education outreaches and conservation efforts.

He said in Small Mammals Department they would receive animals that Wildlife and Fisheries had to seize from someone who would try to keep them as pets.

“Providing those animals a proper home so they could be happy and healthy was my favorite part of the job,” Slaughter said. 

Kimberly Dooley, Education Curator for The Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo, has worked there for almost 12 years. She started in 2005 and she still loves her job.

“Oh I get aggravated from time to time but, like I tell the students, I have the best job in the world because I get to work with children and animals…two of my most favorite things,” Dooley said.

After 18 years of teaching in a classroom, Dooley said she needed a change.

She grew up with everything from horses to pigs and dogs, and when she found out the zoo had an opening for an Education Curator she jumped at the chance to take it.

“It required a degree in education and a love for animals and I had both,” Dooley said.

Working in the Education Department means she gets a lot of hands on interaction with their education animals which is her favorite part of her job.

“I’ll be here until God sets me on a different path. I love my co-workers, my animals, working with children, and I still get to teach,” Dooley said.

Deanna Moore, a senior at West Monroe High School, has grown up at the Monroe Zoo her entire life.

“My grandmother and several of my aunts have worked there in the past. I started off just coming up to the zoo with my grandma and during zoo camp. I loved it,” Moore said.

The animals fascinated her so, she started to volunteer. When she turned 16, she was finally able to get an actual job as a Zoo Camp Assistant Counselor.

“I love the kids. I love seeing their smiles when they see the animals. It reminds me of when I was little,” Moore said.

Moore plans to attend ULM in the fall as a photography major. She wants to be a wildlife photographer when she grows up.

“I want to capture once-in-a- lifetime shots of animals in their natural habitats, living their everyday lives,” Moore said.

All three of these individuals have their own stories about how they ended up at the zoo, but they all have something in common: their love for the animals and that they have learned something from working with them.

“I learned a lot about all different kinds of animals that I would never have found out about any other way,” Slaughter said.

“The zoo was a great place to work and improve my skill sets,” he said.

Slaughter is currently on the zoo’s board and volunteers occasionally.

He said anyone can make the world a better place for animals just by getting involved in community clean up efforts.

Dooley said animals can teach us so much if we just watch and listen to them.

“I have so many different species housed within our department. They co-exist without any problems. Prey and predator have been housed in adjoining exhibits. I’ve held a reptile beside a rodent, or a raptor beside a flying squirrel. They accept each other. They respect each other. Perhaps we as humans should act like animals,” Dooley said.

Moore said a lot of their animals are rehab animals and wouldn’t be able to live in the wild if it weren’t for the zoo.

“Some are missing teeth, missing claws or have medical problems or simply never have been in the wild. When you tell people about one of the animals, it changes their perspective of the zoo,” Moore said.

All three of them love their jobs.

Moore said working at the zoo is hard, stressful and sometimes heartbreaking, but most of all, its rewarding.

“Most people can’t wake up and say they’ve been able to touch a lion or hug a reindeer or kiss a kangaroo,” she said.