Here at the Hattiesburg Zoo, we like to provide opportunities for our guests to get to know the animals they are viewing, both on a species level and as an individual. From Keeper Chats to Animal Encounters, we love to brag about the great animal ambassadors we get to work with and have entertaining stories for the majority of them! They each have their own personalities and back stories. Much like the animals here at the zoo, the Keepers that care for them also come from a variety of backgrounds and have their own unique personalities. So, I’d like to take the time to tell you a little bit about each of our main collection keepers!
Nancy Clevelend grew up in Madison Parish, Louisiana roaming the local woods and canoeing the Tensas River. Her father was a Forestry Conservationist who taught her to love and respect all types of flora and fauna. She later studied music with an emphasis in piano accompanying and spent over 20 years as a professional piano accompanist in New Orleans. After deciding to take a short sabbatical from music after relocating to Hattiesburg in 2005, she began working at the Hattiesburg Zoo in Spring of 2006. Seven years later, she is still loving the zoo and learning something new every day. She finds discovering what the zoo animal collection would naturally eat in the wild and trying to reproduce that diet in the Animal Care kitchen to be the most interesting part of her job here at the zoo. Her favorite zoo animals are the Jaguar, Tiger and Servals (a devout cat lover!), but she loves getting to know the personalities of all of the animals!
Samantha Nowicki received her Bachelor of Science degree in Marine Science with a Minor in Psychology from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida. In the summers between her college years, she worked in a variety of places including the Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores, Alabama, a local wildlife rehabilitation facility in Moselle, Mississippi, and most importantly the Hattiesburg Zoo! After college, she worked at a pet store here in Hattiesburg while also volunteering at the zoo and was offered the opportunity to become a full time keeper in 2011. With her artistic eye and creativity, Sam has taken charge of exhibit aesthetics and helps make the exhibits here at the zoo dynamic and exciting for our animals, as well as visually pleasing to our guests! Sam enjoys working with all of the animals, but particularly enjoys the birds of prey, especially the Red-tailed Hawk “Scout”, which led to her becoming his primary trainer.
Jessica Downs got her start working with a variety of animals at a very young age. She grew up on a ranch in California that handled exotics and also focused on education as well as rehabilitation of the local wildlife. She has lived in Mississippi for 15 years, working at a local veterinary clinic for 10 years and a no-kill animal shelter for about 5 years. She has been with the Hattiesburg Zoo for a year and a half now. She is in charge of the medical department here at the zoo, working alongside with the veterinarians who help keep our animals healthy. Jessica's favorite animals to work with are the hoofstock, especially the zebras!
Chelsea Weaver has dreamed of working with animals since she was a child. She was born and raised in Pennsylvania, but attended The Ohio State University for college and received a Bachelor of Science degree in Zoology. She was recently accepted into a program to receive her Master of Arts degree in Zoology as well. While living in Ohio, she was an Animal Care Specialist Intern at The Center of Science and Industry, a Zoo Keeper Intern at The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, and also volunteered at the Ohio Wildlife Center’s hospital facility. While interning at The Columbus Zoo in the African Forest region, Chelsea fell in love with being a keeper and directed all of her attention to making it her career. Since becoming a part of the Hattiesburg Zoo team in December 2011, she has taken on the role of Enrichment Coordinator and is also the primary trainer for the Debrazza’s Monkey. Chelsea loves primates, especially gorillas and orangutans, but tigers have always been a favorite of hers. Tigger and Celebrate (the Black and White Ruffed Lemur) are her favorite animals at the Hattiesburg Zoo.
Stephen Taylor has always had some sort of pet growing up, from goats and cows to dogs and guinea pigs. He developed a passion for all animal life due to having great experiences with animals throughout his childhood, which led to the desire to work with animals for a living. After high school, he attended William Carey University where he received his Bachelor of Science degree in Biology. Just before graduating, he was given the great opportunity to join the keeper staff at the Hattiesburg Zoo. He recently became the Training Coordinator here at the zoo and is currently the primary trainer for the Lion-Tailed Macaques and the one and only Tigger the tiger! Stephen finds working at the zoo to be a wonderful experience and he enjoys learning new things every day!
Jenn Trevis became a keeper at the Hattiesburg Zoo in October. Although only having worked here for a short time, she finds the job to be awesome! Born and raised in Ohio, she graduated from The Ohio State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Zoology. Back in Ohio, she was a volunteer at a wildlife rehab center, an intern at The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, and an intern at The Center of Science and Industry (where Chelsea and her met!). Growing up, she always knew she wanted to work with animals and is now living her dream at the Hattiesburg Zoo. An avid animal lover, she has three pets of her own: two large dogs and a cat. Wolves are her favorite animals, but at the Hattiesburg Zoo, her favorites are the Tapir and Servals!
Stephanie Buckley is the newest member to the zoo crew. She is finishing up her Bachelor’s degree at USM this spring with a major in Zoology and a physics/chemistry minor. Stephanie was born in Hattiesburg and has been a nature and animal lover all her life. She has been involved in both basketball pep band and the marching band in High School and at USM. She volunteers every summer at Abbie Rogers Civitan Camp. Stephanie has three younger brothers that she enjoys spending time with, as well as reading, video games, most music, and spending time with her friends. Although she can't whistle, she was captain of both the math and science teams in high school. At Southern, she's a member of the Lucky Day Scholars and of the honors college. Her favorite animals are wolves and reptiles, but at the zoo she is particularly fond of the Jaguar "Sampson" and Rafi the Tunis Sheep in the Petting Zoo.
Becoming an Animal Keeper is an increasingly difficult career to obtain. Many zoos today are requiring their keepers to have college degrees in an animal related field as well as a lot of experience. Although we spend a lot of the day simply cleaning up after the animals, there is so much more to being an animal keeper. Working as a team is extremely important when it comes to working in a zoo, and although we may all be different, we tend to have one common goal: to provide the best possible lives for captive animals while promoting their conservation and educating guests.
Feel free to ask us any questions you may have about the animals here at the zoo as well as what it takes to become a keeper!