Cool Jobs: Zoo keeper loves animals, science

Wednesday - 7/14/2010, 1:40pm EDT

Kristen Clark, Animal Keeper for Great Cats and Bears at the National Zoo

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By Rachel Stevens
Federal News Radio

Many people work with someone who can occasionally be difficult. But Kristen Clark's coworkers are truly beastly.

Clark is an Animal Keeper for Great Cats and Bears at the National Zoo.

Her interesting work experience is why Clark is featured as a part of Federal News Radio's week-long special series, Cool Jobs in Government.

When you work with animals, Clark says, things are never boring.

"There is no typical day, something always crops up that makes it a little bit exciting."

But Clark also says it's not the life of circuses and showmanship that some people expect.

"One of the common misperceptions about zookeeping is either it's glamorous or it's completely custodial, and it's actually a combination of both. A lot of it is not glamorous. There are some dirty aspects to the job, but that's part of what makes it fun."

She says everything she does is to maximize the welfare of the animal. The National Zoo does not train its animals to do tricks or put on shows.

"We try to minimize stress levels on the animals as much as possible," Clark says.

One of the challenges to this is the fact that the keepers are never physically in the same room as the big cats. So Clark and the other employees have had to develop methods for checking every part of the animals' bodies and administering shots and medications by using the animals' natural behaviors.

This involves "a lot of research and science," she says. But it's also based on "a relationship of trust with the animal" that she has built.

One of Clark's tasks has been finding a way to make three unrelated lions behave like a pride.

It seems to have worked. Clark says the zoo's male lion has mated with both female lions, so they are currently "on pregnancy watch."

While she says it is too early to know for sure, she is optimistic that the zoo may have cubs this fall.

Stay tuned all week for the latest in Federal News Radio's Cool Jobs in Government series. Read about all of the featured jobs by clicking here.

See the entire Cool Jobs Photo Gallery by clicking here.

Rachel Stevens is an intern with Federal News Radio.