Archive for the ‘Employee Spotlight’ Category

Michelle Jeffries: Zoological Manager Extraordinaire

by | September 23rd, 2011

For the most part, when you think of the term “manager” the words funny, energetic, and caring are not necessarily the first which come to mind. More often it may be along the lines of hard-working, diligent, and organized. Luckily for the Oakland Zoo, our newest Zoological Manager, Michelle Jeffries, encompasses all of these attributes. As lead keeper Amy Phelps points out, “Michelle is an inspirational team leader and one of the most positive people I have ever had the pleasure of working with.  She brings an upbeat attitude to every situation and never misses an opportunity to positively reinforce her staff!”

Michelle leading one of the zoo's camels into the night quarters.

With a degree in Zoology and Marine Science, Michelle has spent around thirty years accumulating an extensive and impressive background in marine mammal research and behavioral studies.  Michelle has worked across the U.S. for such renowned institutions as the Long Marine Lab at U.C. Santa Cruz where under Ron Schusterman she says, “the best thing I learned was that you train to a certain point and then you stop and see what the animal is capable of.”

From UCSC Michelle moved to the Brookfield Zoo’s Seven Seas in Chicago, then the Mote Marine Lab in Florida and finally back to California where she spent eleven years at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. There, Michelle held positions as Senior Sea Otter Aquarist and then Associate Curator of Mammals. (For a fun and educational video of Michelle showing a “Day in the Life of a Scientist” at the otter exhibit visit: http://Pbskids.org/dragonflytv/scientists/scientist10.html). At Monterey Bay, Michelle was able to take part in an innovative program in which orphaned otter pups were brought to the aquarium to be raised by exhibit females. These pups were later re-released back into the wild where they were able to breed successfully.  This experience holds a special place in Michelle’s heart. “When I look back at my career, I’m proud of a lot of things I was able to do, but the thing I’m most proud being a part of was the reintroduction program at the aquarium.”

Her human coworkers aren't the only ones who appreciate her!

 

So just how does someone with such extensive marine mammal experience end up in the very terrestrial world of the Oakland Zoo? Ready for a change, Michelle applied, in her own words “at the last minute of the last day” for the Zoological Manager position – and it was lucky for us she did! Michelle was hired in January of 2011 and definitely had her work cut out for her. Michelle has had to take over a section of the zoo which features some of our most senior keepers, a broad range of species, and over 180 individual animals! In addition, Michelle has the office aspect of the job to contend with, overseeing a variety of programs and initiatives. Her hard work is greatly appreciated by her colleagues. As fellow Zoological Manager Victor Alm points out, “I like Michelle because she is easy to work with and will always offer assistance on projects or staffing if needed.”

It’s not only her helpful attitude that her colleagues appreciate. Curator Colleen Kinzley credits Michelle as being  “wonderful to work with because she is consistently positive and optimistic, no matter what the obstacle her response always starts out with something like ‘That’s ok we’ll just . . .’” This sentiment is backed up by the keepers she oversees. Lead keeper and Oakland Zoo titan Erica Calcagno notes, “Michelle is quick to compliment someone for a job well done, is attentive to her staff’s needs, and has a great sense of humor.”

As much as we all appreciate Michelle, she attributes much of the success and enjoyment of her new position to the keepers she oversees.  With seven keepers totaling a combined 60 plus years of experience between them, Michelle recognizes “I’ve got great keepers who really know their animals.

In Michelle can be found the respect and professionalism required to make a wonderful leader, and the caring and compassion to make an exceptional boss and an amazing animal caregiver. Michelle’s enthusiasm and overall wonderful personality have made her a fantastic attribute to the Oakland Zoo. With all of the amazing people who work in the Animal Management Department, Michelle has definitely been a welcome addition here.

It's not all office work!

 

So if you see our wonderful Manager Extraordinaire Michelle Jeffries around the zoo, please tell her to keep up the good work!

Keeper of the Little Critters

by | April 28th, 2011

 

Chris in her Element

There’s a part of the zoo you’ve probably never seen, and most likely have never even heard of. Tucked away behind the Education Center, it’s known simply as the Animal Room. That’s a pretty ordinary name for part of a zoo, but it’s got a unique function. It’s where all the Education Department animals live—the ones used for programs such as Zoo Camp, Zoomobile, Wildlife Theater, scout programs and birthday parties. These animals don’t simply hang out at the Zoo, waiting for visitors to come by. They go out and do the visiting themselves, traveling throughout the Bay Area. And for the last six years, these special animals have been looked after by a special keeper named Chris.

Preparing animal diets

It’s Chris’ job to see that these animals are taken care of and ready for their important job as ambassadors for the Zoo. There’s a lot of coming and going in the Animal Room, so it takes a good system to keep everything running smoothly. Her day begins before 8 o’clock, when she does a preliminary visual check of all her animals (which total nearly three dozen.) Here, she looks for things that indicate their well-being, such as how much food was consumed overnight and if enrichment items were used– also noting their appearance and behavior. Later, during the daily business of feeding and cleaning, Chris has ample opportunity to get a more in-depth look at her animals. She makes sure to handle each one at least once a day to keep them well acclimated to being touched.

Animal Room Tags

Communication with Zoo staff is crucial. Since she’s routinely in and out of the room during the course of her day, Chris needs to make sure that all the pertinent information about the animals is passed on to those who’ll be handling them. With the Animal Availability Board, she posts such things as who’s just been fed, who’s currently under medical observation and which snakes are “in shed” (shedding their skin.)  As a back-up, Chris uses a series of color-coded tags attached to the cages which further indicate issues with particular animals. This way, animals that need to be left alone for a while are not accidentally taken out on a program and handled. In return, the Education staff uses another series of tags to indicate to Chris the specific location of each animal that’s currently out in the field. This way, she won’t think that a hedgehog hopped out and took a walk around the Zoo if she noticed that its cage was empty.

Tagged Cage

 

What types of animals does Chris take care of? She’s got snakes, parrots, turtles, frogs, hedgehogs, and even giant African millipedes. And where do they go? In the ZooMobile program, they go to schools, senior centers and private birthday parties at homes throughout the greater East Bay– as far away as Livermore, Newark and Sunol. But before they can take these animals off Zoo grounds or even handle them here on the premises, the Education staff needs to go through a 3-part training and certification process for each individual species, which Chris oversees.

 

Training Staff about Owls

Chris also trains other staff in animal handling, including docents, interns, apprentices, and Twigs (teen volunteers.) She also sends out weekly emails to the Education staff in the form of Animal Room Updates. And in her spare time, she does research on possible new animals for her collection. But despite her heavy workload and numerous responsibilities, Chris finds her job very rewarding. So the next time you enjoy one of the Oakland Zoo’s many animal programs, think of Chris, the person who

Saying Good Morning!

helped make it possible!

A Snack for a Parrot