The Merriam brothers or Mr. Webster never had the opportunity to spend time with the zookeepers at Dickerson Park Zoo. If they had, the definition of zookeeper would be more accurate.

Fortunately, as part of my training as PR & Marketing Director, Zoo Director Mike Crocker arranged for me to spend three days working with the zookeepers.

Day one I spent with Swing Keeper Sheila Samek. As a swing keeper, Sheila is trained in all areas except venomous snakes. Currently, Sheila is focused on breeding the cheetahs, an endangered species.

Dickerson Park Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and works with AZA and AZA accredited zoos on global wildlife conservation. Education and understanding is essential to a successful breeding program and conservation.

“I spent three days in Florida learning more about breeding cheetahs,” Sheila said. “The more I learn the more I realize there is so much to know.”

Sheila’s mornings start by watching and listening to the cheetahs. “You don’t want the male or female face to face until the male starts to chirp and bark,” she explained.

She listens to see which male is most vocal and if the female is rolling on the ground or demonstrating out of the ordinary behavior.

After working with the cheetahs, we were off to help clean the flamingo exhibit, haul and spread mulch, check on various animals, discuss a new drain and upgrade to the flamingo pool, coordinate care with Dr. Rodney Schnellbacher and prepare evening meals.

Lesson #1: Zookeepers are always on the go.

Day two began with Sarah Dunham working in South America. It was storming and pouring rain, but the animals in her care wanted breakfast. From the macaws to the squirrel monkeys, we distributed carefully calculated and monitored meals. Sarah is incredibly patient and caring (traits I noticed in all the keepers) as she moves from animal to animal with meals and an observant eye.

Lesson #2: Zookeepers are amazingly attentive to the animals in their care, noticing subtle differences in behavior or diet, and they communicate continuously with each other and Dr. Rodney to make sure all the animals are healthy.

The rest of the day was spent at the veterinary hospital. Dickerson Park Zoo’s wildlife rehabilitation program brings many native animals to the hospital for medical care. The goal is to provide the necessary care so the animals may be released. This is often a long process and requires a lot of attention until fully recovered.

Lesson #3: Zookeepers and the veterinary staff have great respect and concern for all the animals. From the tiniest reptile to the largest mammal, conservation and protection are extremely important to these professionals.

Day three was my final day working with the keepers and it was quite an experience. KOLR 10 was doing a live broadcast for the morning show; so I was in my normal attire from 5:30 to 8:30 a.m. After changing I had the pleasure of working with Lauren Sweet and Matt Corrie in Africa. Lauren cleaned the pool while I shoveled lion poop (a definite first for me). Then, we joined Matt and worked on giraffe training.

Lesson #4: Zookeepers days are long, demanding, grimy, smelly, interesting, fascinating, challenging and extremely rewarding.

My brief time working alongside just a few of the amazing keepers at Dickerson Park Zoo was an incredible experience. I gained a whole new perspective of what it means to be a zookeeper. My brief experience was not “being a zookeeper for a day.” The keepers have way too much knowledge, expertise and training to think that shoveling a few piles of lion poop and cleaning an exhibit makes me a keeper, even for a day.

What my experience did do was make me even more excited in my new role at Dickerson Park Zoo. This is an amazing place with amazing animals and people. I can’t wait to discover and share their stories.


Senior keeper Sheila Samek, Intern Kellyn Sweeley, vet student at University of Georgia, Dr. Rodney Schnellbacher, Intern Ashley Cowan, pre vet student at Mizzou and Animal Health Technician April Marler take a quick break after discussing care procedures.




Our shining stars: volunteer spotlights

Our shining stars: DPZoo volunteer spotlights
November 2015 

Ben Rankin, ZOOTeen since 2011
zoo volunteer BenIn his own words: “I chose to volunteer at the Dickerson Park Zoo because I’ve always been very interested in conservation and ecology. I figured that it would give me a good opportunity to do some educational work about issues important to me while helping my community as well… I think that everything that I did as a ZOOTeen helped me prepare for my educational and professional future. I got experience in a work environment, got to help establish and follow a best protocol for animal care, and also got lots of experience with public speaking on my educational programs. There was also a high degree of responsibility involved that will definitely help prepare me for the future.”

“Ben’s passion for conservation and his zoological knowledge is inspiring to other ZOOTeens and a true asset to the volunteer program,” say Emily Lansche, education specialist and ZOOTeen coordinator.

Tracy Cramer, Zoo Ambassador since 1997

zoo volunteer Tracy

In her own words: “I volunteer for the zoo because these creatures are here for our education, entertainment & benefit, so I feel we have a very deep obligation to care for them. Also to educate others to feel that same responsibility. Of course I would encourage everyone with a sense of responsibility for these creatures to volunteer. Some of the interactions with the public can be challenging, but it’s all worth it to preserve and protect these fabulous creatures.”

“Tracy’s smile and positive attitude are contagious to those around her. She instantly creates a fun environment!” says Erin Hitsman, event and Zoo Ambassador program coordinator.

Shelley Hannig, Docent since 2014
zoo volunteer ShelleyIn her own words: “I love all animals and enjoy talking to people. So, getting to work with both is perfect. I think wildlife conservation is so important, and zoos are a great way to educate the public. A teacher at a school who was afraid of snakes asked if she could touch one when our program was over. Not only did she touch it, she actually held the tail and found that it wasn’t scary at all. I love reptiles and enjoy helping people see that they aren’t all bad.”

“Shelley has become one of our most dedicated, knowledgeable docents,” says Pam Price, conservation education director and Docent program coordinator. “Her positive personality and willingness to share conservation messages are invaluable.”

Julie Garoutte, Venture Crew since 2014
zoo volunteer JulieIn her own words: “I chose to volunteer at the zoo because I wanted to work with animals and learn more about them. I want to learn how to be a zookeeper… I will have a lot of experience in animal care and health and how different species behave.” When you volunteer around zoo animals, you can have some unusual experiences. For Julie, one of her most memorable experiences was being “christened” when one of the elephants sprayed her.

“Julie is a very personable member of the crew,” says April Marler, animal health technician and Zoo Venture Crew adviser. “She is eager to contribute her ideas, time and efforts to almost any situation or challenge. Julie has demonstrated a willingness to work hard with minimal supervision.”

“Shining stars” volunteer spotlights are published in the zoo’s quarterly magazine “WildTimes,” mailed to our Friends of the Zoo members.

Endangered Species “Vanished” at Dickerson Park Zoo
“Vanishing” animals are part of a national effort to highlight the growing extinction crisis.

Springfield, Mo. (May 16, 2015) – Dickerson Park Zoo recognized the 10th anniversary of Endangered Species Day by highlighting the growing importance of working to save endangered species from extinction.

Today, the zoo’s cheetahs and Asian elephants “vanished” from their yards behind short curtains. “The curtains represented a possible future if cheetahs and Asian elephants were extinct,” explains zoo spokesperson Melinda Arnold. “Today’s adults can see them, but our children may not see them in the future if we don’t act now to protect these and other endangered species.”

This activity is part of a larger, national effort organized by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, of which Dickerson Park Zoo is an accredited member. Specifically, the 229-accredited members of the AZA are coming together in a variety of ways to help the public consider what it would be like to not be able to see, learn from, or connect with these incredible animals again. This is to raise awareness of the efforts to save animals from extinction and to help launch AZA SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE).

For decades, AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums have been leaders in species survival and are already working to restore more than 30 species to healthy wild populations, including the American bison, the California condor and a variety of aquatic species.

Through SAFE, AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums will convene scientists and stakeholders globally to identify the factors threatening species, develop Conservation Action Plans, collect new resources, and engage the public.

In 2015, SAFE will focus on 10 species and then add an additional 10 species each year for the next 10 years. The inaugural 10 species include African penguins, Asian elephants, Black rhinoceros, cheetahs, gorillas, sea turtles, vaquitas, sharks and rays, Western pond turtles and Whooping cranes.

“AZA aquarium and zoo conservationists have identified more than 100 species facing the greatest threats and where accredited zoos and aquariums have unique conservation and science knowledge to contribute,” said Jim Maddy, AZA President and CEO.  “Today, we’re demonstrating just how profound the loss would be if we don’t take action now to protect wildlife. More importantly, we are also explaining to the public just what AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums are doing to save animals from extinction.”

Public Asked to Help Save Animals from Extinction
One of the easiest conservation actions the public can take is to visit Dickerson Park Zoo. Doing so directly supports the collaborative efforts of hundreds of researchers, field conservationists and scientists from AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums working to save animals from extinction.

Follow the online conversation for AZA SAFE with the hashtag #savingspecies.

# # #

Melinda Arnold, Public Relations/Marketing Director
Office: 417-833-1570417-833-1570  x104

Dickerson Park Zoo is a division of the Springfield-Greene County Park Board and is accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums. With its more than 200 accredited members, AZA is a leader in global wildlife conservation and your link to helping animals in their native habitats.

AZA SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction combines the power of zoo & aquarium visitors with the resources and collective expertise of zoos and aquariums accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums and partners to save animals from extinction. Together we are working on saving the most vulnerable wildlife species from extinction and protecting them for future generations. To learn more, visit


Dickerson Park Zoo, Missouri State University
Unveil “Bear Country”
Half-price admission available Sept. 27 for anyone wearing Missouri State clothing

Missouri State University contact:
Brent Dunn, Vice President for University Advancement

Dickerson Park Zoo contact:
Melinda Arnold, FOZ Public Relations/Marketing Director

SPRINGFIELD, MO. – Missouri State University “Bear Country,” the new name for Dickerson Park Zoo’s black bear yard, will be unveiled at a Missouri State Family Day at Dickerson Park Zoo on Sept. 27.

During an 11:30 a.m. ceremony, university President Clifton M. Smart III and Student Government Association President Jordan McGee, among others, will be present to dedicate “Bear Country.” The ceremony marks the official launch of a five-year partnership between Dickerson Park Zoo/Friends of the Zoo and the Missouri State University Foundation, Alumni Association and Student Government Association to support bear conservation.

The bear exhibit was originally built through the generosity of James and Marietta Mellers, early benefactors of the zoo. It opened in 1989.

In celebration of “Bear Country,” Dickerson Park Zoo will offer half-priced admission all day to Missouri State University students, faculty and staff, alumni and community supporters wearing any Missouri State clothing.

Dickerson Park Zoo is in the process of identifying a field conservation project for bears among its conservation partners to which it will direct funds contributed to the zoo by the university organizations.

“Bear Country” is the gateway for Dickerson Park Zoo’s Missouri Habitats region and home to two male black bears, both of whom were wild orphans. Six-year-old “Gus” was found on a farm in Howell County. Five-year-old “Yona” came to Dickerson Park Zoo from the Tulsa Zoo. (Yona is pronounced O-nah and is the Cherokee word for bear.)


About Missouri State University
Missouri State University is a public, comprehensive metropolitan system with a statewide mission in public affairs, whose purpose is to develop educated persons. The university’s identity is distinguished by its public affairs mission, which entails a campus-wide commitment to foster expertise and responsibility in ethical leadership, cultural competence and community engagement.

About Dickerson Park Zoo
Dickerson Park Zoo, home to more than 600 animals representing 160 species, is a division of the Springfield-Greene County Park Board and accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Conservation is a core goal of the zoo’s mission to connection children and adults with wildlife.

Art Goes WILD At Dickerson Park Zoo

Celebrating 10 Years of Hands-on Art Fun

Springfield, Mo. – Let your child’s creative side run WILD at the 10th annual Art Gone WILD! from 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Saturday, June 22, at Dickerson Park Zoo.

Dickerson Park Zoo and Friends of the Zoo partner with Springfield Regional Arts Council to offer four hands-on art stations for children ages 12 and younger:

* Plastic cup sun catchers
* Egg carton flowers
* CD fish
* Paper plate parrots

And, children can contribute to a bottle cap mural designed by SRAC.

In addition to hands-on art activities, children will see close-up magic performed by The Fishin’ Magician. Krispy Kreme will also be giving away doughnuts. Members of the Ozarks Chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers will have animal paintings displayed for sale.

Dickerson Park Zoo, 1401 W. Norton Rd., is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission fees are $9 for adults and teenagers, $6 for seniors age 60 and older, $6 for children ages 3-12 and free for children age 2 and younger. Friends of the Zoo members are admitted free; FOZ memberships are $75 for an annual pass. For information about zoo events, visit or call 417-864-1800.

# # #

Media Contact:
Melinda Arnold, Public Relations Director
417-833-1570 (office)

Dickerson Park Zoo is a division of the Springfield-Greene County Park Board and is accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA).With its more than 200 accredited members, AZA is a leader in global wildlife conservation and your link to helping animals in their native habitats.

Pancakes in the Park

Feast with the Beasts at Pancakes in the Park!

August 19, 2011 4:36:44 pm

“Feast with the Beasts” at the Annual Pancakes in the Park
Celebrate Henry the Hippo’s 30th birthday

August 19, 2011

Melinda Arnold, Public Relations Director
417-833-1570 (office)
marnold [at]

Springfield, Mo. – Dickerson Park Zoo, Village Inn Restaurants, Star 92.9FM and Friends of the Zoo invite guests to “feast with the beasts” and join in celebrating Henry the Hippo’s 30th birthday during Pancakes in the Park on Saturday, Aug. 27.

From 7-10 a.m. at the zoo’s Bush Country Café, Village Inn will prepare pancakes and sausage and serve a choice of coffee, juice or milk to zoo guests. The cost for breakfast is $5 for adults and teenagers and $4 for children ages 3-12; Friends of the Zoo members receive a $1 discount per person. Proceeds from Pancakes in the Park benefit Friends of the Zoo activities at Dickerson Park Zoo.

Following breakfast, guests are invited to join Dickerson Park Zoo’s staff in celebrating Henry the Hippo’s 30th birthday from 11 a.m. to noon. The zoo will serve slices of chilled watermelon to zoo guests; children can play in an inflatable bounce house. Zookeepers will feed watermelon to Henry at 11 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and noon.

Henry the Hippo is one of the zoo’s most popular animals. He was born Aug. 29, 1981, at the San Francisco Zoo and arrived at Dickerson Park Zoo on March 20, 1982.

Zoo admission will be charged beginning at 7 a.m. “Early-bird” discounted admission will be offered from 7-9 a.m. ($5 for adults and teens; $3 for children ages 3-12). Regular zoo admission fees will be charged beginning at 9 a.m.

Dickerson Park Zoo is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission fees are $8 for adults and teenagers, $5 for seniors age 60 and older, $5 for children ages 3-12 and free for children age 2 and younger. Friends of the Zoo members are admitted free; FOZ memberships are $65 for an annual pass. For information about zoo events, visit Dickerson Park Zoo’s website or call 417-864-1800.

# # #
Dickerson Park Zoo is a division of the Springfield-Greene County Park Board and is accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums(AZA).With its more than 200 accredited members, AZA is a leader in global wildlife conservation and your link to helping animals in their native habitats.