August 20, 2019
By Olivia DeMeio, Seasonal Animal Interpreter
Interpreter: a person who translates what someone (or in my case, some animal) is communicating from one language to another.
Every animal has a story to tell, and as an Education Interpreter at the Akron Zoo, my job is to tell that story. My name is Olivia, and I started at the zoo in 2007 as a volunteer in the Junior Interpreter program at the age of 15. At 18, I was hired as a seasonal interpreter. I have been at the zoo every summer since, making this my twelfth summer at the zoo. Every day as an interpreter is a little different.
The first thing interpreters do every day is create signs for daily rentals, schedule animal ambassadors for birthday party animal encounters and open Frontier Town for the day. Once 10:00 hits, our job is to educate and help guests make connections with our animals. Interpreters can be found all over the park throughout the day, and we rotate to different parts of the zoo every forty minutes.
Today I started in Legends of the Wild to talk about some of my favorite animals, the Andean condors. The condors have some of the grossest facts to talk about, like how they’re a great cleanup crew because they eat dead animals, they urinate down their legs to cool themselves off and they vomit to ward off predators. Guests always enjoy how disgusting, yet awesome these birds really are.
After 40 minutes I walked up to the new Pride of Africa experience to help guests learn about our African lions, Tamarr and Mandisa, as well as the partnership the zoo has with a lion conservation organization, Rebuilding the Pride. Our lions tend to be right up next to the glass, which makes this an awesome opportunity to help kids create a positive relationship with these animals.
Next shift I’m back down the hill to help run the learning lab where guests can touch different aquatic or terrestrial animals. Today is an aquatic day with chocolate chip sea stars and sea urchins. This is one of the few times guests can touch the animals, making it an extra special experience.
After learning lab, I get to do my favorite task of the day, the grizzly bear training wall talk. During the training the bears come into a training area where the keepers are able to check the health of the animal from behind a fence. While the keepers are doing the training, I get to interpret what is happening for our visitors. Guests can see this training happening and the positive relationships that are created between our animals and our keepers. No matter how many times I have done this talk in the past six years, I am always still amazed by how well the animals are trained to be a part of their own health check. Everything done during the training is voluntary and behaviors are positively reinforced with some sweet fruits. Keepers can check the bears teeth, claws, belly, and hips during this training without ever touching the bears. When guests watch this training, they are able to recognize just how much our keepers care about our animals. During this time the bears also get enrichment, or toys to play with and guests can see how much fun the bears have at the zoo.
From here, I go get one of our education animals to take out for a meet and greet. I chose Reggie our ball python; she is one of my favorites. We go out into the park near Komodo Kingdom so guests can get an up-close look. Reggie is one of our calmest snakes and is a great ambassador for teaching people why snakes are necessary in the ecosystem. We can’t always win everyone’s heart, but we try really hard.
Throughout the rest of the day I bounce from animal habitat to animal habitat, giving different facts and answering questions until the zoo is ready to close. My last responsibility of the day is to close Frontier Town.
Being an interpreter at the zoo has been such a rewarding experience. Personally, I have learned so much about our animals over the past 12 summers and I enjoy sharing my knowledge with our guests. Our guests are awesome about asking questions and trying to understand what the zoo is really here to do and being able to relay that information makes for a very fun and satisfying job. Every summer I get to work in a place with wonderful coworkers, great guests, and fantastic animals. It doesn’t get much better than that!