District Council 57

AFSCME Zookeeper Wins Award for Thinking Outside the Box

Christine Juarez with one of the animals she cares for at the zoo. (Photo courtesy of Happy Hollow Park & Zoo)

An AFSCME Local 101 member recently won an award for her creative techniques used to enrich the lives of the animals in her care at a San Jose zoo.

The American Association of Zookeepers recognized Christine Juarez, a zookeeper at Happy Hollow Park & Zoo, with the “2016 Lee Houts Excellence in Enrichment Award.” The award recognizes zookeepers who improve the well-being of zoo animals through innovative and outstanding enrichment techniques.

Juarez said receiving the award was a surprise because she was just doing her job, which is all about maintaining the health and well-being of the animals at the zoo. Every day, Juarez said, she and her coworkers do their best to show zoos in a different light.

“Giving people a happy experience is vital at the zoo,” Juarez said. “That’s why it’s important that the animals are happy just the same as the people are when they come to visit.”

According to the City of San Jose, Juarez developed and carried out new ways for animals to enjoy their zoo environment by having them foraging, digging, climbing and working through puzzle feeders at mealtimes. The skunks, for example, would dig through piles of dirt to find tasty worms, while ferrets would scurry inside plastic logs for their meal of mice.

Juarez also expanded their environments by challenging their sense of smell, the city reported. Different perfumes and spices were spread around the animals’ enclosures. The new smells piqued their interest, even to the point of rubbing the scent on themselves.

Juarez’s dedication to her job as a zookeeper is an example of how AFSCME members never quit on the public they serve. While her job involves having fun with animals, Juarez said she never forgets that her main role is to educate people and provide families with a fun, safe experience.

“We’re geared toward little kids, so we’re a smaller facility,” she said. “But Happy Hollow covers everything: we have animals, rides, puppets, camps and we are there for people. It’s kind of cool to be involved in something like that.”

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