Whose Who in the Zoo?
4th April 2016
Each month, Featherdale receives an abundance of employment and volunteer position applications from prospective zookeepers that are looking to take their passion for animals to the next level! Zookeeping isn't for everyone and caring for captive animals can be a very tough gig, however the rewards are ten-fold if you have a keen interest in caring for Australia's furriest, scaliest and feathery-est inhabitants!
Today, we asked a long-term Featherdale employee Louie Vassallo, the tough questions to find out what it's like to be a professional zoo keeper!
Name (or Nickname if you’ve got one!):
But I have had plenty of nicknames in my time. Louie the Fly, Vuitton (I like that one), Viper and Chicken Wings to name a few!
Your favourite animal at Featherdale:
I have a real thing for carnivorous marsupials-Quolls and Devils, sorry Captain Feathersword! (Tawny Frogmouth). The highlight of my tenure so far is definitely spending some time with Harry the Black Eastern Quoll, although my wife wouldn’t agree. The holes in the built in furniture are still there! He was quite adventurous throughout the house and had a taste for cabinets!
How long have you worked at Featherdale?
I am now into my third year. I progressed from a Volunteer during my TAFE studies, to Team Leader, Small Mammal’s keeper and Education Coordinator. In that order.
How did you begin working at Featherdale or in the Zoo industry?
I lead for most of my adult life a professional career as a store manager (Woolworths) and field sales manager (Cadbury, Schwarzkopf, Schweppes, Bulla). Unfortunately, managing people became a computer game and lacked the people skills required to get the best out of an individual. On a particularly bad day, my lovely wife gave me the option to leave and become a zoo keeper. After a discussion with an old colleague who works at Featherdale, the rest is history!
What are some of your daily duties?
- I begin by welcoming and saying hello to the animals and team members then follow up on enquiries and plan the day through my diary.
- I cover lessons with school, university and overseas student groups with varied and wonderful topics such as animal ecology, conservation, the roles of zoos, living and non living things etc. I always liaise with teaching staff to ensure the lesson revolves around the curriculum, that way the lesson is relevant and interesting to the students.
- To date we have had some excellent feedback so from that perspective the role is extremely rewarding.
- I also cover incursions (sad word for a visit but anyhow!) where I go to schools to talk about our fascinating environment and the organisms that live in it. I also do guided tours and presentations to community groups.
- I had an occasion to visit Girraween Public School to judge an enclosure competition initiated by the students after a park visit, and to see the excitement absolutely made my day. The cultural mix was amazing, there must have been at least ten cultural groups on the day and all had a real interest in animals and conservation. There were plenty of parents and extended family members to witness the judging and all were proud of their children’s work. That’s what makes this job worthwhile.
- The biggest reward I get however is escorting and showing the park to make a wish or special needs visitors and watching their faces when they come in close contact with a Koala, Quokka, Lizard or Python. That look cannot be replicated anywhere and it’s why I do what I do.
Do you have any advice for future zoo keepers?
Work hard and be good to your Mum!
You know what, as an old fart all I’ll say is stick with your dream and if you have enough drive you will get there. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought while standing in a supermarket discussing budgets and KPI’s, that in 2016 I would be presenting the effects of bushfires on Australian wildlife to a group of thirty Year Ten students!
Editors note: If you have been lucky enough to go on an excursion to Featherdale with a school or community group, you will have no doubt experienced a compelling educational lesson with Louie and his small team of furry, feathery and scaley companions! If you would like to book a lesson, please contact us on (02) 9622-1644 or email firstname.lastname@example.org