Photo by Jackie Ricciardi for Boston University

Keeper's Corner

We put our passion for wildlife to work at Zoo New England, and outside Zoo gates, we remain dedicated to conservation both locally and globally.

A Day in the Life of a Zookeeper at Franklin Park Zoo

Meet zookeeper, Hannah Keklak, a zookeeper in Franklin Park Zoo's Children's Zoo and Franklin Farm. From feeding, cleaning, and training, hear from Hannah what an average day on the job entails, and why she just can't stop coming back.

Video courtesy of BU Today, Boston University
View BU Today's feature on Hannah: "Life’s a Zoo for CAS Alum: Hannah Keklak cares for a host of unusual animals at Franklin Park Zoo"

Video produced by BU Today, Boston University
Producer and Editor: Jason Kimball
Production Associate: Amy Laskowski

Saving Blanding's turtles: Conservation in your own backyard

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

Invest in the Nest

Finches2You’ve heard the phrase: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” but have you seen it in action? Zoo New England staff and volunteers display their extraordinary will to protect, preserve and improve the lives of animals on a daily basis. Visit our Bird’s World exhibit for a shining example of this dedication.

Thanks to the efforts of one such volunteer, Franklin Park Zoo’s Gouldian finches, budgerigars, kiwis and pygmy falcons have all received wooden nesting boxes handcrafted for their individual needs. Boxes provide cavity-nesting birds with shelter and a private spot to reproduce or tend to their young, so it’s important that birds feel comfortable in these spaces.

Working with staff, this Bird’s World volunteer creates each nesting box to exact specifications, literally down to the nuts and bolts. Certain materials are unfavorable or even toxic to some species, but fine to use nestingbox_plansfor others. There’s research and careful planning behind every nesting box created, which is why they can take weeks to complete.  Be sure to check out our volunteer’s work, most easily seen in the Gouldian finch exhibit if you look along the left-hand wall.

Build your own nesting box

Inspired by our nesting boxes? Build your own box and become a certified “NestWatcher,” assisting NestWatch --a nationwide nest-monitoring program-- in their efforts to learn more about the impact of environmental change on bird reproduction.

In the wild, nesting boxes can provide needed shelter and brooding space, due largely to habitat loss from increased development and removal of trees. Different design features target the habits and preferences of individual bird species and design plans are available for a wide range of nesting boxes including the chickadee PVC nest tube, tree swallow, eastern bluebird, small songbirds, owls, mourning dove, and American robin. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a treasure house of information about the birdhouse network and can provide specific information on species preferences. 

FalconboxHere are the basic birdhouse guidelines and considerations:  use of natural untreated wood (pine, cedar or fir), walls at least ¾ inch thick for insulation, properly sized entrance hole and placed at the correct distance from the ground, extended sloped roof and recessed floor with drainage holes to protect against heavy rain and ventilation holes to keep the interior cool.  Also, to assist the fledglings’ exit, rough or grooved interior walls.  (Sometimes an adult bird is unable to climb its way out and will get stuck in boxes because the inside walls are too smooth.)  Caution:  no outside perches that aid predators but do secure a predator guard at the bottom.

A nesting box should be monitored for activity, and once eggs are in place viewing times should be limited to less than a minute once a week.

Just for Kids!

Learn how to become a certified NestWatcher in our Kids' Corner!


Sit. Stay. Save a cheetah.

UPDATE: December, 2016

Bartos returns to Namibia to reunite with Finn and CCF for additional trainings. Read her "Notes from the Field" here.

Fin"We took [Finn] to a location where wild cheetahs were known to frequent and on his first day he found five scat samples – four of which we would not have found without him."

Assistant curator Chris Bartos spends her free time training dogs, but one of her pooches isn’t just winning agility competitions—he’s part of a global mission to save cheetahs in the wild. Bartos’ rescued border collie, Finn, was part of the Cheetah Conservation Fund's (CCF) cheetah census team, trained to sniff out cheetah scat (poop) in order to track the cats’ movements. Bartos traveled with Finn to Namibia, where she helped CCF staff learn how to work with the dog to search for and indicate scat.

Scat location is recorded with a GPS device and then analyzed by geneticists to identify individual cats through DNA, examine diets, and track cheetahs’ range. Based on the results, CCF uses data regarding population size (which is steadily decreasing) and distribution to aid in conservation strategies.

Cheetah FinFinn is now a full-time partner at CCF in the fight to save the wild cheetah, and Bartos hopes to return to Africa to continue her important work.

Read Bartos' full account (pdf).




Tending to an 18-foot Giraffe: Chronicle Video

You might say Amanda Giardina's job is one tall order. She's the lead giraffe keeper at Franklin Park Zoo. Check out WCVB-TV Chronicle's interview with Giardina to learn more about the Zoo's giraffes and what it takes to care for them.

Watch video (Franklin Park Zoo segment begins at 3:55)