Celebrating National Zoo Keeper Week

In honor of National Zoo Keeper Week, we're highlighting some of the amazing work our keepers do, within our Zoos, here in New England, and across the globe. Their dedication to wildlife conservation is palpable, and we couldn't be more proud to recognize them during National Zoo Keeper Week.

Chris Bartos and Courtney Hamm help the fastest land animal outpace extinction


Zookeeper Courtney Hamm

Zookeeper Courtney Hamm traveled to Namibia in June 2017, thanks to funding from the Jonathan Gilmour Memorial Scholarship Fund. Hamm has always had an interest in cheetahs and chose the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) in Namibia as her destination because of the important work that they do on behalf of these incredible big cats. While at CCF, she was able to see how orphaned cheetahs are prepared to be reintroduced to the wild. She learned more about the organization's genetics lab and how CCF demonstrates sustainable farming practices and encourages the community to work together to protect predators.


Assistant Curator Chris Bartos’ rescued border collie, Finn, is the first ever scat detection dog at CCF. Finn is trained to sniff out cheetah scat (poop) in order to track the cats’ movements. Data collected is ultimately used to inform cheetah conservation strategies. Several years ago, Bartos traveled with Finn to Africa, where she helped CCF staff learn how to work with the dog to search for and indicate scat.


Chris Bartos and her dog, Finn

Thanks to funding from the Jonathan Gilmour Memorial Scholarship Fund, Bartos traveled to Namibia in December 2016 to check in on Finn, work on training plans for CCF's new dogs, and work with staff. While at CCF, Bartos conducted two training classes for the interns – one focused on the scat dog program, and the other focused on clicker training. Read Bartos' field notes from her recent trip.

Keepers give marbled salamanders a new start in the wild

Marbledsalamanderrelease BoxThanks to the work of Zoo New England and Grassroots Wildlife Conservation, including Assistant Curator Pete Costello, Senior Zookeeper Dayle Sullivan-Taylor,  and Zookeeper Courtney Hamm, the future is looking brighter for marbled salamanders.

Middlesex Fells, a large tract of natural habitat five miles from Boston, was once a home and safe haven for these tiny amphibians. However, salamander numbers have steadily and dramatically declined in this region due to habitat fragmentation and loss. In fact, the last recorded sighting in Middlesex Fells was in 1932.

Today, though the forest and vernal pools at Middlesex Fells have reestablished themselves, salamanders still stand little chance of crossing highways surrounding the area. Through a head-start program in partnership with Grassroots Wildlife Conservation and Medford High School, Zoo New England raises marbled salamanders at Stone Zoo until they metamorphose into terrestrial juveniles. Once they’re old enough to survive in the wild, the salamanders will be released directly into Middlesex Fells.

Follow along on our salamanders' journey from aquatic larvae to terrestrial juveniles! More

Lead Zookeeper Amanda Giardina and dedicated Zoo staff restore giraffe calf to health

Amari, Franklin Park Zoo's Masai giraffe calf, continues to thrive thanks to the dedicated staff who have cared for her since she was born on July 24. Due to medical issues at birth, it was determined that the calf’s best chance of survival would require hand-rearing. Caring for the calf required around the clock dedicated attention, coordination and teamwork by the Zoo’s skilled animal management and veterinary teams. Zookeepers arrived at the giraffe barn daily at 6:00 a.m. to prepare Amari’s bottles, which she was hand-fed three times a day. Staff continued to bottle feed Amari for another eight months until she was weaned.

Today, as a result of these tireless efforts, Amari is a thriving 790-pound, 11.5-foot tall ambassador for her species. Learn more about Amari's journey in our News section and in our video interview with Lead Zookeeper Amanda Giardina.


Senior Zookeeper John Berkholtz saves turtles in a backyard near you

Here at Zoo New England, we’re committed to conservation both globally and locally. In the case of Blanding’s turtles, you can find Senior Zookeeper John Berkholtz fighting for species survival literally in your own backyard.

Classified as a threatened species in Massachusetts, the Blanding’s turtle population has dwindled by more than half since 1971. Road mortality, predation, and habitat destruction are all threats to their survival. Zoo New England collaborates with the non-profit Grassroots Wildlife Conservation (GWC) to grow this timid, semi-aquatic reptile’s numbers.


Senior Zookeeper John Berkholtz

Unbeknown to many homeowners, Blanding’s turtles often build their fragile nests in residential yards. As a result, GWC works to educate and actively involve neighbors in nest protection. Since 2007, Berkholtz has cared for a group of turtle hatchlings at Stone Zoo, providing them with a safe environment in which to grow until their release into their native habitat nine months later. Giving turtles this “head-start” makes them less vulnerable to predation in the wild and able to withstand environmental changes. Zoo New England has contributed funds for the purchase of radio transmitters, receivers, and antennae, all of which allow GWC to monitor turtle movements, growth rate, and ultimately, survival.

Our efforts are paying off: recently, two turtles previously head-started at Stone Zoo were spotted in the wild, both appearing large and very healthy. One of the "alumni" was raised at the Zoo in 2008-2009 and the other in 2009-2010.

These critical efforts continue to evolve. Zoo New England and GWC are now head-starting marbled salamanders, which face an equally grim chance of survival without our intervention. Stone Zoo is currently home to nine salamander larvae, which are slowly but surely growing, strengthening, and bringing eventual hope of survival to their species.

Learn more about Berkholtz's work with Blanding's turtles.

The American Association of Zoo Keepers bowl for rhinos


2017 marked another successful fundraising year for rhino conservation! ZNE's American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK) chapter raised approximately $3,000 to help prevent the extinction of the world's five remaining species of rhinos. To date, the AAZK organization has raised more than six million dollars through annual bowling events across the nation. It's with this dedication that we work together to strike out the extinction of these amazing species.

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