Growing up at a rehabilitation wildlife shelter in the Aussie bush surrounded by kangaroos, koalas and wombats, I was destined to work with animals. But never did I think I would end up across the globe on a keeper exchange with the world-renowned San Diego Zoo!
After many years in various zoo keeping positions at Zoos Victoria’s three properties (Melbourne Zoo, Werribee Open Range Zoo, and Healesville Sanctuary), I wanted to experience a different zoo in another country and chose the San Diego Zoo to be that place. After much planning it was finally happening and I soon found myself in the beautiful sunny San Diego not at all missing Melbourne’s miserable winter.
I have worked with many different species from reptiles to rhinos, but for the past six years it’s been the feisty Tasmanian devils that have stolen my heart. I work on the breeding program at Healesville Sanctuary, but it was time for a change and I was drawn to San Diego Zoo’s high reputation for animal care.
As I came to the end of my three-month visit, I found myself wishing the clock would start over. It was an amazing and humbling experience, and I have developed new skills and learned so much about new (to me) species. My time was spent on the mammal team, helping to care for maned wolves, takin, peccaries and warty pigs, and many kinds of hoofed animal (my favourites being kudu, gerenuk, and bontebok). I was lucky enough to witness the birth of numerous kids to gerenuk, Speke’s gazelle, and lesser kudu, as well as watch the baby takin Tsi Tsi (pictured above) grow and continue with her bold and playful personality.
Outside of my daily duties, I was welcomed to other areas of the Zoo where I observed training sessions of so many species; elephants, polar bears, gorillas, sea lions, binturong, various birds, and so much more. Even a panda getting an acupuncture treatment!
With my background in threatened species breeding, a tour of the California Condor breeding program and the Rhino Recovery Center at the Safari Park were absolute highlights for me. These places in particular truly showcase the importance of zoos and the critical role we play in conservation.
Whilst I’m looking forward to getting back to my devils, I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at San Diego Zoo working with amazing people and making life long friends!
Monika Zabinskas is a keeper at Zoos Victoria.