Meet two of Cape May County Zoo’s zookeepers, Jennifer (Jenn) Berg and Kevin Wilson!
As Supervising Animal Keeper of Carnivores and Primates, you’ll likely find zookeeper Jenn at some of the Cape May County Zoo’s most popular exhibits. She primarily works with the carnivores (think leopards and lions), maintaining them and ensuring they receive the best care possible. Jenn also serves as a training coordinator, training animals across the zoo.
Jenn knew working with animals was the right fit for her at an early age. “When vacationing as a kid, my family would visit different zoos and I always felt right at home,” she says. She followed her dream and earned a bachelor’s degree in zoology from Connecticut College, worked seasonally at Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange, N.J., interned at the Philadelphia Zoo, and volunteered in South Africa before landing her job at the Cape May County Zoo in 2006. Jenn relocated from North Jersey to Cape May County, and now lives here permanently with her husband after falling in love with our zoo.
As a carnivore expert, Jenn’s favorite animal at the Cape May County Zoo is the snow leopard. Her favorite animal used to be the tiger, but after managing the snow leopard breeding pairs and working with the cubs, the snow leopards stole her heart. “The snow leopards have really become a featured animal here, and I enjoy educating the public about the importance of breeding them and conservation in the wild.”
While Jenn has a special place in her heart for the snow leopards, her favorite part of the job is training all different types of animals. “We train them in things like husbandry behavior, and vet procedures like crating, adjusting their diet, injection training for vaccinations and blood draws,” Jenn explains. “This training really builds a beneficial relationship between keepers and animals.”
Kevin wears many hats at the Cape May County Zoo. As Supervising Animal Keeper/Acting General Curator, he recently began taking over various management responsibilities such as standard operating procedures, safety drills, keeper scheduling and more. However, you can often find him at the Reptile House, a job responsibility that allows him to carry out his passion of working with animals.
Although Kevin always knew he wanted to work in the animal field, he never thought he’d be a zookeeper. But in 1990, when he saw the Cape May County Zoo was hiring for seasonal positions, he thought he would give it a shot. After seeing all of the research and care that goes into the animals, he was hooked.
Kevin graduated from Glassboro State College (now Rowan University) with a bachelor’s degree in biology and a concentration in zoology. “I had a professor that really focused on animal behavior, so things sort of fell into place when it came to my career,” Kevin says. In 1995, the Cape May County Zoo hired Kevin as a full time employee, making it his first and only zoo home. He relocated from Atlantic County, and now calls Cape May County home.
Naturally, spending most of his time in the Reptile House, Kevin’s favorite animal at the Cape May County Zoo is the alligator. “I’ve worked in every area of the zoo over the years and I’ve really learned to appreciate all animals in some way,” Kevin shares, “but I really love the alligator.” Kevin finds the alligator to be an exciting, intelligent, powerful creature that is often misinterpreted. His favorite part of the job is working with animals like the alligator and making a connection. “It’s amazing to stand with this animal and realize he doesn’t just want to eat me!”
While there are many aspects of the job that Jenn and Kevin love, there is one thing they both wish they could change. “Sometimes people have negative misconceptions about zoos,” says Jenn, “but we really want to show people that we want the best for the animals.”
The zoo’s Education Department is expanding immensely, working to break those misconceptions with many new programs. One example is the Zoo Animal Encounter, which includes an educational meet-and-greet with animals and keepers behind the scenes. “It’s really about creating those defining moments that stick with people and encourage them to learn more,” Jenn explains. “There’s nothing like a little kid seeing an animal with their own eyes for the first time.” This connection with the animals is what inspires the next generation of scientists, animal lovers and conservationists.
Education is just one way the Cape May County Zoo has grown in its 40 years. Jenn shares that in her 12 years at the zoo, she’s seen entire sections redone, a deeper focus on the conservation program and a growing staff. Kevin has seen an even bigger transformation of the zoo in his 28 years there, at a point working on the grounds crew that helped clear paths to new exhibits. “It was a tiny zoo with tiny areas for the animals. But over the years, all of the exhibits have expanded and become more natural to the animals.”
Although the Cape May County Zoo has greatly expanded over the years, it still stays in touch with both the local and visitor communities. “Our medium size makes us big enough to showcase popular species, but small enough to maintain that intimate, small-zoo feel,” says Jenn. Kevin agrees, sharing that the zoo’s current size allows them to focus on making this staple in our community even better.
Be sure to say hello to Jenn and Kevin when you visit the Cape May County Zoo!