FRCC Career Pathways Grad’s Path to Zookeeping Goes Through Nepal

Lindy Gates

Lindy Gates was 8 years old when she decided she wanted to be a zookeeper. At age 13, she started volunteering at the Farm at Lee Martinez Park in Fort Collins, and she enjoyed the experience so much that she decided to apply to the Denver Zoo’s summer teen volunteer program, Zoo Crew. She started in summer 2008, and has been volunteering ever since—even during the school year—happily making the trek from Loveland to Denver on weekends.

Exploring Her Options

Working on the Zoo Crew has provided Lindy the opportunity to work in all kinds of areas. She has worked on the zoo’s wildlife show, as an animal handler, with the pachyderms, and most recently, as a crew leader. “The more I learned about what a zookeeper does, the more it solidified my interest,” says Lindy, who especially enjoys large mammals like rhinos and elephants. “Zookeepers get to educate the public and travel the world. Doing this has inspired me in so many ways to go for that dream.”

Expanding Her Knowledge Through FRCC Career Pathways

Lindy’s junior year at Loveland High School, the FRCC Career Pathways staff presented information about the various FRCC programs available to high school students in the Poudre and Thompson school districts. Although Lindy’s goal is to become a zookeeper, the veterinary-focused Animal Technology and Research program still appealed. She enrolled in fall 2011, her senior year. “Within the zoo, you have to take care of animals, so I thought this program would still benefit me,” she says. “There will definitely be that veterinarian part to my job, so it’s helpful for me to know how to assess animals medically.”

A Different Educational Experience

Before completing the program, Lindy had an internship at a veterinary clinic. “I saw surgeries and drew blood and gave injections,” she says. “It was a great learning experience and a great transition to college. Not only do you get to see what college is really about, you gain a different educational experience than high school can give you.” In 2012, Lindy was awarded the FRCC Secondary Program Achievement Award for Animal Technology and Research.

Youngest Zoo Crew Volunteer to go to Nepal

Lindy with rhino

Linda Gates with an orphaned rhino that was attacked by a tiger

Lindy’s Career Pathways experience was so positive she’s started her college education at FRCC, seeking an Associate of Science degree. But there’s another reason she’s staying close to home. Dave Johnson, one of the Denver Zoo zookeepers whom Lindy has gotten to know through her volunteer work these past four years, regularly travels to Nepal to study greater one-horned rhinos. He invited Lindy to join his research team in November 2012. She was the youngest on the trip and the only volunteer from the Zoo Crew.

“We studied the greater one-horned rhino as part of a conservation project,” she says. “This year, we’re trying to raise money for a veterinary hospital in Chitwan National Park. We visited the current hospital. It’s small and worn down. They need a much bigger facility.” Dave is writing children’s books to raise the funds.

During the two and a half weeks in Nepal, the group also met with the National Trust for Nature Conservation.

“I was the youngest to go, but the team was really good,” she says. “My parents also are very supportive of what I want to do.”

Looking Forward to Her Dream Job

Lindy continues to work as an intern at the Denver Zoo, working in the Toyota Elephant Passage and elsewhere. She cleans, helps prepare food, participates in enrichment activities, and talks to the public. Among the animals she interacts with are elephants, great one-horned black rhinos, Asian small clawed otters, and clouded leopards.

“I’m learning how to care for animals,” she says. “I’m learning a lot from the keepers.”

One day, Lindy hopes to be an elephant or pachyderm keeper and do conservation work around the world. “I love large mammals, but I know I’ll fall in love with any animal I work with,” she says. “In the zoo, you get to build strong relationships with animals. That’s so cool to me.” At 18, Lindy says she couldn’t imagine doing anything else with her life. “Honestly, I feel like I’m working at my dream job right now at the zoo. I’m excited to do this professionally one day.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Feeley is director of public relations at Front Range Community College.