Three Ohio Wesleyan alumnae are working at their dream jobs with the likes of cheetahs Bibi and Zemba, surrounded by hundreds of animal species residing at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Powell, Ohio. The alumnae, Whitney Snow Marker ’07, Emily Teach Yunker ’09, and Samantha Abrams ’10 work in the Animal Programs department. They are responsible for caring for and training the animals and taking selected zoo “ambassadors” out to meet the public, often with zoo director emeritus, Jack Hanna. Those road trips may be close to home, to schools and various events and organizations, or as far away as New York to appear on Late Night with David Letterman and Good Morning America shows. OWU’s Travel-Learning class on the “Biology of East Africa” with Professor John Gatz was a recent destination de jour, as his three former students, accompanied by the two cheetahs, paid a visit. His former students stayed on for the start of his Vertebrates and Anatomy class, and a discussion about adaptations for running.
“It was great to be back at Ohio Wesleyan to share what we are doing with people like Dr. Gatz, who helped us get to where we are,” says Marker, a zoology major and sociology/anthropology minor at OWU. “It also helps students see [career] possibilities after college.” Also important, say all three alumnae, is to get as much experience prior to graduation. That experience can come in the forms of Theory-to Practice Grants, Travel-Learning courses, a variety of internships on and off campus, and off-campus employment.
“I was hired seasonally to work at the Columbus Zoo’s bird show, and have been at the zoo ever since,” says Yunker, also a zoology major at Ohio Wesleyan. She chuckles about road trips with her cadre of animals—from cheetahs to penguins—and the many sleepless nights in hotel rooms with them. “The cats are nocturnal and they want to play and make noise through the night,” says Yunker, who was preparing to take 10 animals to South Carolina for the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition with Hanna. A penguin, bearcat, cheetah, owl, lemur, and armadillo were to be part of the caravan. These ongoing efforts to familiarize people with the zoo’s many animal species is taking yet another step forward as the new Africa exhibit opens later in the spring. African lions, zebra, giraffes, flamingos, warthogs, cheetahs, and aardvarks will be part of this exhibit.
“As we rotate animals in and out of the watering hole similar to what you would see in Africa, visitors will never know which animals will be there,” says Abrams, a pre-professional zoology major while at OWU. “Africa will be located north of the North America region of the zoo.” All three alumnae share excitement about the new exhibit and their work days, summed up best by Marker.
“We have amazing jobs. The work is hard, but every day brings something different, and we love what we do.”