In many ways, starting work at the Bronx Zoo was a homecoming. At three, I emigrated from the Philippines to the Allerton neighborhood of the Bronx, less than a mile away from the zoo entrance. I later attended Fordham University and found my first apartment on the corner of 187th Street and Arthur Avenue.
After living in New Jersey for 15 years, the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a move closer to my parents in New York, and I found an opportunity with the Guest Relations team at the Wildlife Conservation Society. Somehow, the Bronx Zoo was always in my backyard.
Growing up close to the WCS parks—the Bronx Zoo, Central Park Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo, Queens Zoo, and the New York Aquarium—I took for granted how accessible they were. Yearly school and camp trips to city zoos were the norm, as if being transported to another continent to see tigers, elephants, and penguins was something kids could do whenever they wanted.
As I grew into a career in the customer service industry, first working in restaurants and then in public parks, I realized the iconic places that made New York familiar to me were what made the city a must-visit destination for so many others.
Working in customer service is all about sharing my enthusiasm with others. At the 150-year-old Manhattan steakhouse I worked at in my 20s, I shared tidbits of New York history with diners. On Governors Island, I shared my excitement in witnessing the return of whales and dolphins to an ever-cleaner New York Harbor.
Now as the Assistant Manager of Guest Relations for WCS, maintaining a sense of wonder for our zoos and aquarium is an essential part of my job. My office is located at the Bronx Zoo, but I visit the other parks regularly to stay up-to-date on admissions policies and exhibit developments.
Each professional visit lets me experience the parks as a guest would. I walk pathways, read signs, interact with employees, and find a new favorite animal every time. No matter how often I visit, being at exhibits like Wild Asia Monorail, Ocean Wonders: Sharks!, or the Tisch Children’s Zoo rekindles my love of learning about animals and their environments.
People ask, “How does a job dealing with people help with animal conservation?” The answer is simple: I focus on our visitors so that they can focus on our animals. My goal is to remove any stresses associated with our guests’ visits so that they can enjoy their day with friends and family worry-free. That can come in any number of ways—from providing exhibit information to help build a guest’s itinerary, to assisting visitors with accessibility needs, to wayfinding at the Bronx Zoo.
Through WCS I’m able to make a difference not just for guests but also for my fellow employees. As co-lead of the ASIA (Asian Society for Inclusion and Action) employee resource group, I help amplify voices of my AAPI colleagues in conservation. I may not have seen many zoo employees who looked like me when I was a child, but I can help ensure that future visitors can see themselves reflected throughout our organization.
Every day at the Bronx Zoo I see children on school trips enjoying sea lion feedings or making funny faces at the residents of Congo Gorilla Forest. It reminds me of myself as a kid realizing that I could make a connection to wildlife right in the backyard of my house. I strive to help each visitor make that same connection at our parks and in their own backyards, wherever they may be.