National Zookeeper Week

      Every year for one week we celebrate the amazing people that are zookeepers.  A zookeeper is defined as someone who takes care of animals in a zoo setting. This is the person who interacts with the animals daily.  This person does the daily cleaning and feeding but also does so much more than what most people realize.

      These people are the nutritionists that help create a balanced diet for the animal. They are the veterinary assistants monitoring and helping in any type of procedure or exam. A zookeeper is the artist that designs, and constructs exhibits to look as natural as possible for the animals that live in them. This person is a behavioralist checking on the animals throughout the day to ensure they are exhibiting their normal behaviors and not anything that could be harmful to themselves or another animal.  A zookeeper is a trainer, teaching the animals different behaviors to help make their lives better. An example would be standing on a scale, voluntary ultrasound, even a spin behavior so the keeper can see a full view of the animal. They are the people spreading conservation messages to help save animals from extinction. A zookeeper is the person who spends more time with the animals at the zoo than they do with their own family. For a zookeeper, the animals in their care are their family.    

      For this year, we as zookeepers would like to thank all those who support and help us to do the job that we love. This week doesn’t just belong to us, it belongs to those who help us. We would like to thank all the educators who spread the message of conservation to everyone who walks into the zoo. We would like to thank the financial department and upper management who keep the zoo running so that we are able to live out our dreams as keepers. Today, the world revolves around money and without them figuring out the budgets for feeding, enrichment, tools, and any materials we need, we would not be able to do our job. Without the marketing and sales team, no one would know our little zoo exists. Guests would not be able to walk around with their favorite animal as a stuffed toy or represent the zoo by purchasing a t-shirt with our logo.  Without the Guest Service staff, guest would not be able to enjoy their time at the zoo without a clean environment. They would not be able to purchase food or drinks during their day.

      This is a true symbiotic relationship. Without these amazing people, I wouldn’t be able to do my job. I wouldn’t be able to care for the health and well-being of so many animals. Because of these people I am able to live out my passion and my life’s work.

Written by Jessica Fronckwicz
Animal Keeper
Lehigh Valley Zoo | Schnecksville, PA

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Don’t Be a Stickler, Join Us for World Porcupine Day!

Photo of Gavin, the North American porcupine     Welcome to World Porcupine Day where we celebrate one of North America’s largest rodents, second only to the beaver. With two sharp front teeth, the porcupine can chew at the twigs and leafy plants found in the trees of Canada and Western North America. You may notice Gavin, the Lehigh Valley Zoo’s resident porcupine, chewing on items other than his diet. He is looking for items that might have salt residue on them as the North American porcupine has a particular interest in salt! When people hear the word porcupine, they may automatically think of the cartoons where quills shoot off their body. However, porcupines can’t shoot the quills off, but rather detach them when something threatening touches them.


     Our porcupine, Gavin, was born on April 17th of 2013. He may be one of our smaller animals at the zoo, but he might be the smelliest! As a solitary species, the North American Porcupine will urinate in different areas to mark their territory. Unfortunately for one of our keepers, Gavin peed on her and it took nearly four days to get the smell out of her hair.


Photo of Gavin, the North American porcupine     Like myself, Gavin is very food motivated and particularly enjoys his apples and bananas. Discovering an animal’s favorite food is helpful because it can help with training. Animal training is popular at the Lehigh Valley Zoo because it can provide mental stimulation and help with cooperative care. Gavin knows several behaviors, one of which is how to step on to a scale and wait for keepers to take his weight. Once he does this and the keepers have a number, Gavin gets a piece of food; hopefully it is a banana or apple! Although I think he would be okay with anything. 


     In his habitat Gavin receives plenty of enrichment to interact with. Enrichment could be an item, scent, sound, or visual that is added to the environment that “switches it up” and encourages natural behaviors. Keepers may provide boxes and paper bags with Gavin’s diet inside, a tire to explore, and probably one of his favorites, being misted. When it is warm outside our keepers will set up a sprinkler to help him cool down; he particularly likes when it sprays his belly!


     Porcupines are considered natural developers and are important in ecosystem health. As they forage for fruits, nuts, and berries, these items often fall to the forest floor which provides food for ground dwelling animals. Additionally, when porcupines pull at twigs and branches, these items may fall off which thins out that area allowing for sunlight to poke through giving plants this resource to grow. A way that we can help porcupines is by following “Leave No Trace.” This initiative means that when leaving an outdoor area, it should look the same as when you entered. It is as if you were never there.


Written by Cassidy Amerman
Education Specialist
Lehigh Valley Zoo | Schnecksville, PA

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