My Outlook: Melinda Lay

Melinda feeding an OkapiHow did you get started in zookeeping?

I’ve always loved animals and was involved in 4-H and FFA growing up. I have completed many internships at zoos, and it’s through those that I grew a love for zoo keeping. I’ve been a keeper for more than 4 years now.

You work in the hoofstock section of the zoo, what animals does that encompass?

We have 60 plus animals in hoofstock! We work with giraffe, okapi, red river hogs, zebra, ostrich , gazelle, guinea fowl, Egyptian geese, white tailed deer, sika deer, tufted deer, goral, hog deer, Pere David’s deer, bat-eared fox, hyena, cheetah, African painted dogs, maned wolf, hornbill, African spurred tortoise, and crowned cranes.

Do you have a favorite animal to work with?

It’s so hard to choose! All of our animals have different traits and behaviors that make them unique. But I do have a special place in my heart for our okapi, especially our male, Kidomo.

Melinda Lay

Do you have a favorite season of events at the OKC Zoo?

It’s always really exciting when the zoo has newborns. Not only are they really cute but they are going to grow up to represent their species and to help educate the public.

What is a typical day like?

Being at the zoo, there is no typical day. We always have something different going on. But everyday we have to clean habitats, feed animals, and give out enrichment.  Enrichment is fun, unusual and different activities for the animals that enhance their natural behaviors. Like, the red river hogs enjoy painting. Wallowing in the paint, making art and then receiving yummy treats when they’re done! There are also scheduled Keeper Chats that happen throughout the zoo on weekends. This gives us the best opportunity to interact with our guests and teach them about our animals.

What has been your best experience with the animals?

I think getting to know each animal and their personality is really the most rewarding. The better we know them, we can offer a higher quality of life. This is really the best part about being a zookeeper.

If you could trade places with any of the animals, which would it be and why?

I would trade places with a giraffe. It would be really cool to see the world from that high up.

Melinda with an OkapiDo the animals have different personalities? What are they like?

All of our animals have very different personalities even if they’re the same species. For example, in the giraffe family, Bogy is a dominant male and ruler of the roost. He can be kind of pushy. Ellie is pretty fearless when it comes to new things especially if it comes with a food reward. Our older females, Ursula and Noel, are pretty shy and can be pretty stubborn at times.

Is there anything else you would like us to know about your job?

There are so many animals threatened by population growth that it’s important we all do our part to keep this planet healthy for us and our animals.

Would any of your animals make a good pet?

None of our animals would make good pets! Some people buy African spurred tortoises when they are little. Not only do they grow to be over 100lbs but can live more than 100 years! I recommend coming to the zoo to visit exotic animals.

What are some tips for viewing the hoofstock animals?

If you can come to the zoo on a cooler day a lot of our animals are most active then. They are also active during the first parts of the morning and closer to the end of the day. Just take time to really look, they may be camouflaged or hiding!

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