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BEHIND THE SCENSE

Heather Purdeu talks about Scovill Zoo wolves in April 2018. 

Name: Heather Purdeu

Occupation: Zookeeper/Zoo registrar

City of residence: Decatur

1. What got you interested in working at a zoo, and what sort of education/training did you need?

I started working here the summer before my senior year at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1997. I always had an interest in animals and had already taken animal-related courses. I started working at Scovill Zoo as a part-time employee, until I graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology. After graduation, I was hired as a full-time zoo employee in 1998.

2. What is the rarest animal you've been around? What is the most interesting animal at Scovill now?

During a workshop I was attending at the Cincinnati Zoo, I was given the opportunity to pet a Sumatran rhino. There are no longer any Sumatran rhinos in the United States, after the last one was sent to Indonesia in 2015.

All of the animals I care for have interesting traits, but I enjoy watching the Southern black howler monkey family interacting with one another. The young monkeys are always fun to watch.

3. What's the grossest thing about your job?

Like animals and dessert? Check out Scovill Zoo's ice cream social

I bet most people would guess animal poo, but it really doesn't bother me. There is a lot of things we can determine about an animal's health by observing their feces, for example, if they are sick, eating well, dehydrated, etc. I always tell kids: If you can't handle poo, then this isn't the job for you.

4. Have any animals tried to escape? If not, what's been the most chaotic thing to have happened? 

Most animals seem to be content living in their exhibit environments. We do have routine animal escape drills which are usually the most chaotic. The drills are important for keepers to safely formulate a plan on returning an animal to its exhibit. We never know when zoo director, Ken Frye, will be running around the zoo acting as an escaped wallaby.

5. What is the most rewarding thing about your job?

The most rewarding thing about being a zookeeper is providing the best quality of care that we can for our animal ambassadors. Interacting with the public and passing on conservation messages gives us hope that we are making a difference in the world. All of the zookeepers I have met are dedicated and passionate, and it is great to be recognized during National Zookeeper Week.

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Contact Kennedy Nolen at (217) 421-6985. Follow her on Twitter: @KNolenWrites

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