Of Course! New course to teach zookeeping, management

Zookeeping and Management, a new course offered in Spring 2018, will prepare students for careers as zookeepers. | Courtesy image
Zookeeping and Management, a new course offered in Spring 2018, will prepare students for careers as zookeepers. | Courtesy image

A job as a zookeeper seems like a dream taking care of exotic and endangered animals. In truth, being a zookeeper is so much more than meets the eye.

Though zookeepers do take care of, train and provide medical care for animals, they also need the skills to prepare and deliver educational demonstrations to the public and be knowledgeable about accreditation requirements.

Dr. Lisa Pennisi, associate professor of practice at the School of Natural Resources, is trying to make sure students studying zoo animal care in the fisheries and wildlife program have those coveted skills. A previous gap in courses left students without the tools and skills they needed to find their dream job in the zoo field.

NRES 441, Zookeeping and Management, a capstone course, will be offered in Spring 2018 to fill those gaps. Students in this class will be taught by zookeepers from the Omaha and Lincoln zoos including: Dr. Doug Armstrong, veterinarian and director of Animal Health at The Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium; John Chapo, director of the Lincoln Children’s Zoo; Mandi Krebs, a trainer at the Omaha zoo; Aimee Johns, education director at Lincoln; and Jason Herrick, the director of reproductive science at the Omaha zoo.

In addition to learning from zookeepers, students will travel to both the Omaha and Lincoln zoos to get behind-the-scenes training. Students also will practice training animals by using rats.

Course objectives include:

  1. Learning about different species information systems and management programs;
  2. Assessing the needs of visitors;
  3. Designing an exhibit plan;
  4. Evaluating the history and evolving mission of zoos; and
  5. Demonstrating the ability to use operant conditioning to train an animal.

This new capstone course will be an exciting addition to the fisheries and wildlife program. It will be open to eligible juniors and seniors in zoo animal care and the companion animal programs. The class will meet from 2 to 5 p.m. on Tuesdays in Hardin 228. The program will be offered each spring.

Pennisi previously taught and coordinated the Cincinnati Zoo Academy – a magnet high school where students worked in most zoo departments. That experience gives her added insight into skills needed by zookeepers. She has been a professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for nearly a decade.

Amber MacInnis, Natural Resources