Lehigh Valley Zoo Conservation Education Department – My name is Michaela Rubenstein and I’m from the Washington state. According to my parents I wanted to “swim with Shamu” ever since I was five years old and went to Sea World for the first time. After that, I was obsessed with zoos and aquariums and always insisted that we visit them when traveling to a new city. After a brief stint as a Pre-Med/Pre-Vet major in college, I changed majors to Ecology and began volunteering at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. After that, I did a few research projects at the zoo, an internship at the Seattle Aquarium, and worked in Conservation Education in both Costa Rica and here in the US at Wildlife Safari in Oregon.
My favorite animal to work with hands down was Bandit the Badger from Wildlife Safari in Winston, OR. He had such a fabulous personality and always brightened my day. He was curious, surly, loveable, and cunning all at the same time and that always kept me on my toes! Ever since beginning here at the Lehigh Valley Zoo, I have truly enjoyed working with our African Crowned Crane, African Gray Parrot, and Groundhog.
The most rewarding part of being a zookeeper/Conservation Educator is when I get to change a little kid’s mind about an animal. A lot of little kids are scared of the snakes, the cockroaches, and the tarantulas, but when I get to show them these animals up close and see their faces change from fear to curiosity…those are the moments I LOVE!
The most challenging part is when I spend hours remodeling or changing an enclosure to make it better, or researching to make a great enrichment item for them, and they completely ignore it! It’s such a bummer and always makes me feel like I didn’t try hard enough. But that’s part of the job and only allows me to do better the next time around.
To a future zookeeper I’d say get as diverse an experience as you can. Work with as many animals as you possibly can and travel around. Things are done differently in different parts of the country and in different parts of the world and the more knowledge you have, the more you will be able to apply your knowledge to any situation or animals, new or old. Don’t think you’re going to be the tiger keeper or lion keeper and only stick to that. You’ll never know if it’s actually the frogs and toads that you really like to work with!
Written by Michaela Rubenstein
Conservation Educator & Ambassador Animal Keeper
Lehigh Valley Zoo | Schnecksville, PA