BZ Primate Senior Keeper

As a five year old growing up in Morton Grove, Illinois, Dawn knew that being a zoo keeper was what she wanted to pursue as her future profession. During school field trips to Lincoln Park Zoo, she imaged herself taking care of the animals.  When she visited Brookfield Zoo she thought the “huge formal grounds seemed novel and exotic”.  Those early years formed the foundation from which she built a 19 year career as a Zoo Keeper at Brookfield Zoo.

Dawn with her husband at the Brookfield AAZK Longnecks for Longnecks fund raiser.
Dawn with her husband at the Brookfield AAZK Longnecks for Longnecks fund raiser.

The road to her dreams started with a solid education at Western Illinois University in Macomb, Illinois.  There she earned a Bachelor Degree in Biology.  After graduation she began her search for her dream job while working for an accounting firm, a post-graduate college of thoracic surgeons and in a dental office assisting the dentists.  She knew however that she wanted to realize her childhood goal and landed a job as seasonal keeper in 1995 in Brookfield Zoos Children’s Zoo.  After working in that position for two years she moved to Tropic World as a seasonal keeper in the Asia and Africa section.  From that seasonal position she was hired as a full time keeper in 1998 working with in the South American Section.

Throughout Dawn’s career at Brookfield Zoo she has participated in a variety of activities including: working with her department to organize a huge Ape Conference, being a departmental safety representative, and mentoring Brookfield Zoo’s Youth Scholar (high school age) volunteers and departmental interns.  She is also in a departmental “fun committee” which organizes simple, fun activities for the staff to learn about things around the zoo – or as she says, “just eat ice cream”.   Her participation also included a trip to Australia in 1997 with a group of zoo volunteers and staff.   While spending two weeks in South Australia they helped paint signs, mend fences, survey invasive plants, drill for water samples, and much more at several National Trusts (Parks), including the Brookfield Conservation Park, a 13,674 acre property north-east of Adelaide in the Riverland region of South Australia, where wild wombats can be seen.

Is being a zoo keeper everything Dawn had hoped it would be? When you speak to her about her job you will most assuredly know the answer is a resounding “yes”.  She enjoys being able to closely observe the animals in her charge and get to know their personalities.  “The story of Dr. Doolittle has stuck with me as an adult, and I love trying to understand what motivates them, what do they like or dislike, and how I can make them happy!”

Dawn’s affiliation with AAZK started back in the late 90’s when she joined the National organization, but was not affiliated with any local chapter.  Brookfield AAZK began in 1974, but the chapter status lapsed in the 1990’s. So back in 2005, Dawn and two other Brookfield Zoo keepers reinstated the Brookfield AAZK chapter.  As a member she held the position of Chapter President for a number of years and is the current Vice President, a position she has held for two years.

Why join Brookfield AAZK? Dawn explains it perfectly.  “During my day as a keeper, I get to care for the zoo animals and help to educate the public about animals and nature. I like the idea of being able to help wild animals outside of what I do at work.  This may include helping to raise funds for a good cause locally or on the other side of the world.  Or getting the chapter together for stewardship activities like out Salt Creek cleanup here at the zoo.  Our chapter also does a great job of raising funds to support chapter members who are keepers, to be able to cross train at another zoo, or attend zoo keeper conferences and workshops (which I have been lucky enough to do.  A lot of people don’t realize that zoo keepers are really educated people who often attend (national and international) conference, symposiums, and workshops to continue learning and networking.  It is an important way for us to grow.”

Does she have a favorite Brookfield AAZK event?  Well that question was easy.  She likes them all!  Each event has its own individual beneficiary, but all are geared to provide the many people that care for animals either in zoos or in the wild with the funds and knowledge necessary to make the animals lives better.

In her down time at Brookfield Zoo you might find her bird watching near Indian Lake or in almost any area of the zoo where trees are present.  Over the years she has seen some “cool stuff”: a Blue Phase of Snow Goose last year and Northern Harrier this winter and earlier this spring.  Some of the migrating birds she has seen are Canada Goose, Baltimore Oriole, Wood Duck, and Downy Woodpecker and she notes that many others will summer in and around the zoo this summer.  And birds are not the only wild animals she has had the opportunity to see in and around the zoo.  You can add deer, snapping turtles, woodchuck and even a beaver to her sightings.  Dawn says,” I think I enjoy bird watching so much because I like lists, being able to identify things in nature around me, and just being able to enjoy the outdoors!”

Outside of the zoo Dawn loves to travel throughout the United States and abroad.  Prerequisite before every trip she “drags her husband on”, is research on bird watching and establishments serving local food.  Food and preparing food is another of her passions. Her entire family (including Mom, two Sisters, Mother-In-Law, Sister-In-Law, and their families) are the lucky recipients of her various recipes.  They are “as supportive of the food I make for them as they are of my pursuit of zoo keeping”.

Dawn with Queenie & Bacon
Dawn with Queenie & Bacon

And of course there is Queenie and Bacon.  High on Dawn’s “Top 10” list, these little Boston Terrier cuties are her babies and part of her “branding”!  We would agree.