Animal Advocate

Zookeeper Jordan Veasley uses YouTube to share his love of animals with the world

YOUTUBE/COURTESY OF JORDAN VEASLEY (VIDEO); SHUTTERSTOCK.COM (VIDEO PLAYER)

ROLE MODEL: Veasley hopes his YouTube videos inspire kids to work with wildlife.

Jordan Veasley knows how many teeth an alligator can grow in its lifetime (up to 3,000) and why koalas hug tree trunks (to help keep them cool). He shares these facts and more on his YouTube channel, Jungle Jordan, which he launched in 2016. His videos give viewers an inside look at what many people consider a dream job. Veasley is a zookeeper at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Washington, where he helps tend to animals like giraffes, lions, and hippos.

Veasley grew up going to the zoo with his mom and siblings. By age 11, he’d started volunteering at Woodland Park’s petting zoo. As a teen, Veasley was stationed at the wild animal exhibits, where he helped visitors learn about the creatures there. After studying wildlife conservation in college, he became a full-time member of the zoo’s staff. Science World spoke to Veasley about his work as a zookeeper and his mission to teach people about animals.

What made you decide to become a zookeeper?

I’ve always loved animals. When I was a kid, I liked to look at bugs in our garden. We also had a pair of eagles that would nest nearby every year, and I would sit and watch them with my toy binoculars.

Being around animals also helped me emotionally. I had anger management problems when I was growing up: I would get into fights and get suspended from school. My mom noticed that when we came to the zoo, I was always happy. So she encouraged me to volunteer there. Other kids made fun of me and thought it was weird that I liked animals. But I felt that, like me, the creatures at the zoo were misunderstood, and they just needed some love. That’s when I knew I wanted to become a zookeeper.

COURTESY JORDAN VEASLEY

  • EARLY START: Veasley began working with animals at the zoo at age 11 (left).
  • A HUG: Young Veasley loved all the zoo animals, including this yellow boa constrictor (right).

What do you do in a typical day at your job?

A lot of people think we just cuddle animals all day, but that’s far from the truth. About 80 percent of my job is cleaning. Zookeepers arrive at the zoo at 7 a.m. We check on the animals and give them breakfast, and then we clean the exhibits before the animals move in for the day. Next we clean behind the scenes where the animals sleep. It’s a lot of raking, hosing, and picking up animal waste. I wheel out about 23 kilograms (51 pounds) of hippo poop every day!

Keepers also help make sure zoo animals stay healthy. Veterinarians give the animals regular checkups, but they don’t see them every day like we do. So we’re the first line of defense. We take notes on each animal’s behavior: If it changes, that could mean something’s wrong. We give the animals medications if they need them and train them to do things like open their mouths so we can check their teeth.

What do you like most about working at the zoo?

One of my favorite parts of the job is enrichment. Animals in captivity can get bored, so we provide activities that help them live a happy life. For wolves, we’ll spray different scents around the exhibit because they love anything that stimulates their sense of smell. Primates, like monkeys and apes, are really smart. So we might give them a ball with treats inside. They have to figure out how to get the snacks.

One time we strung up a cow hide for our snow leopards. They’re hunters, and the hide let them simulate attacking prey. The baby snow leopard would leap off ledges to try to reach the hide. Things like that bring out the animals’ natural instincts, which is really cool to see.

A lot of the animal species at the zoo are endangered. They’re at risk of dying out in the wild, so zoos have breeding programs to help the species survive. We witness a lot of births as zookeepers; seeing baby animals never gets old.

COURTESY JORDAN VEASLEY

SNACK TIME: Veasley feeds some rhino chow to a rhino at Woodland Park Zoo.

What inspired you to start a YouTube channel?

Growing up, I had never really seen an African American zookeeper. I didn’t have that kind of role model for myself. Many people of color still don’t see people who look like them involved with animals and conservation. I’m trying to change that by getting my voice out there. I also love talking with people and hearing their questions about animals. When a zoo visitor asks a good question, I’ll write it down and use it for a video. I love questions I don’t know the answers to. They challenge me to look up things, and I learn more that way. I want to educate people and keep it fun.

What do you want people to take away from your videos?

This is our planet—not just ours alone as humans, but ours together with animals. Unfortunately, many of those animals could be extinct soon if we don’t learn to share Earth. We don’t speak the same language as animals, but I want to give them a voice. I hope that people hear the message and it inspires them to act.

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