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Finding Happiness and Place through Wildlife and Nature

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This piece comes to us from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). To honor Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, WCS and Nature are bringing you nine stories in the fields of nature and conservation.


Melanie and giant anteater. Wild encounters with keepers and animals provide conservation education at the Bronx Zoo. Photo credit: Julie Larsen Maher ©WCS

Even though I was raised in urban Brooklyn, my childhood was filled with animals and nature. My family spent a lot of time at the beach, at Marine Park, and the New York Aquarium, and it was at these places that I developed my love for the water, especially the ocean.

As a child, I would look for ants and spiders outside our apartment, and at the beach, I would spend hours searching for snails and crabs. We also had a lot of pets growing up, and I have memories telling my classmates how special animals are.

Melanie with Jacob sheep lamb at the Bronx Zoo. Photo credit: @WCS

As I got older, my love and appreciation of nature grew, and I knew I wanted to work with wildlife in some capacity, but wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I thought about pursuing my childhood dream of working at the NY Aquarium.

When I was 19, I came across a newspaper ad for a seasonal employee position at the Bronx Zoo’s Children’s Zoo. Although I already had two jobs at a veterinary clinic and at a dog groomer’s, I applied for the position and was very excited when I found out that I got the job!

From the start of my career at the Bronx Zoo, I was pretty lucky because I had a huge amount of support and guidance from the people who mentored me, and that encouragement continues today. It has helped me become the keeper that I am.

Melanie with Mingo, a squirrel monkey, on Squirrel Monkey Island in the Bronx Zoo’s Children’s Zoo. Photo credit: ©WCS

The Bronx Zoo was the first place where I felt I really fit in. While I was growing up, I always thought I was different than others and that no one understood my passion for animals. But when I’m working at the Bronx Zoo I’m around people who share a similar love of animals and nature. The zoo has become my second home, and I’ve now been here for 20 years.

As a keeper, you develop close bonds with amazing animals, and my relationship with them is very special.  I love being able to provide our animals with a wonderful life and I work hard to provide them with a safe, enjoyable, and stimulating place to live. My favorites are our squirrel monkeys because they are so playful and curious. I like adjusting the exhibit for their enjoyment and providing them with daily enrichment. And I love watching them figure things out.

One of my most enjoyable things to do is to create the best experiences I can for our animals while educating the public about their behavior, the threats they face, and the importance of their conservation. It’s extremely satisfying to watch our animals use what I’ve place in their habitat and to see how much the public enjoys watching the behaviors they might otherwise never encounter outside of the zoo.

Velcro, the Bronx Zoo giant anteater. Photo credit: Julie Larsen Maher ©WCS

Our exhibition staff, keepers, and curators work together as a team to create stimulating environments for our animals, and I never get tired of watching how it all comes together.  This creativity is a constant source of inspiration and renews my enthusiasm for the work I began two decades ago. Whether it is a tank we set up for one of our turtles, helping to create a new exhibit for our red-footed tortoises at the Butterfly Garden, or devising an intricate treat dispenser for Velcro, our giant anteater, there is always another challenge.

What I’ve learned over the past 20 years is that zoos are the perfect place for families to fall in love with wildlife and nature, and to excite people to want to protect them. I really love being a part of that.