National Zoo Keeper Week 2016

Daily Keeper Feature!

Name and position:  Jamie Cantoni, Seasonal Penguin and Tortoise Keeper

How long have you been working at Beardsley Zoo? Tell us about your journey to where you are today. -This is my second season working at the Zoo! But before I began my adventures here, I was a volunteer at Mystic Aquarium for 4 years while I was attending CCSU. In that time, I studied abroad in Australia, where the majority of my free time was spent volunteering in the reptile house at the local Zoo as well as my university’s research aquarium—I made sure I got as involved with the zoological field as possible! Volunteering my time at the Zoo had a huge impact on me, and when I came back, there’s no shame in admitting I spent some time bothering (…harassing?) a couple of supervisors (shout out to Rob and Don!) here at Beardsley! But while I was anxiously champing at the bit for a spot to open up, I worked for a State research facility in the mosquito lab and in forestry and horticulture. Then in Summer 2015 I finally got my break! I snagged a position taking care of the Zoo’s seasonal collection of Spur-thigh tortoises! And I fell in love with Zoo life all over again. But alas, that season came and went, and I made my way back down unda’ to do research on box jellyfish. While I was away, I was extremely fortunate to have been offered another seasonal position here at the Zoo, and I started within just a couple of weeks after I came back!! And despite all that poop scooping and fish shoveling, I can honestly say it certainly is good to be home once again.

What is your favorite part of the job? -Each day I look forward to interacting with and reestablishing the bond I have with the critters in my care, so much so that I am pretty much a master of penguin calls! And I think they often confuse me for one of their own haha 😉 The animals make such a positive difference in my day and I like to think that I am making a difference in theirs too. Connecting with the public and talking to them about anything and everything related to biology and the natural world is another favorite! (Pssst getting my morning coffee and hearing people exclaim “She works at Beardsley Zoo!” after seeing my work attire is pretty dang cool as well!) 

If you could choose any place in the world to go work or volunteer for conservation, where would it be? -Flippers down Australia! In the 3 times I’ve been there, I’ve seen a significant increase in habitat loss and depletion occurring on the Great Barrier Reef and surrounding ecosystems and rainforests. People don’t realize that we are puncturing the lungs of the Earth with rainforest and reef degradation, and I’d love to be part of the force that puts an end to such destruction.

The zoo animals have very specific dietary needs. Just for fun, what’s your diet? -ALL THE FOODS! Haha but you’ll never hear me ask “Where’s the beef?”! I’m mostly vegetarian with the occasional shellfish thrown in the mix. And if grocery stores suddenly ran out of everything except soup or stuff with which to make soup, I’d still be the happiest clam ever. 😀

What is the most valuable piece of advice you can give to young people interested in the zoo field? -To study hard, volunteer, intern, study abroad, and to take risks, even if that means moving someplace new. NEVER turn down chances to build experiences and confidence in a variety of life-skills and opportunities that will come in handy and suit someone well for the field of animal care, biology, and keeper life. I say go where your passion is, even if it means you’re not be rollin’ in the dough, you know you’ll be happy doing what you truly love.