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Maura Messerly - Cincinnati Zoo
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“I’m In Charge Of Wild Encounters At The Zoo”

Meet Maura Messerly, Manager of Wild Encounters and Fun! at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden. Maura shares her story of how she came to work at a zoo, getting started in the business, what it’s like to work in a zoo.

Maura Messerly: Fun At The Zoo

This is the story of Maura Messerly and her role at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden in Cincinnati, Ohio. Maura is the zoo’s Manager of Wild Encounters and Fun!.

The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden is country’s second-oldest zoo. It opened in 1875 and consistently ranks among the nation’s best zoos. It’s home to the oldest reptile house and sits on 75 acres in the center of the city.

The zoo is home to nearly 2,000 animals from more than five hundred species; and, it hosts more than 1.2 million visitors each year. It’s Maura’s job to bring the zoo’s visitors face-to-face with its residents.

As Manager of Wild Encounters & Fun, Maura oversees the zoo’s meet-and-greets, leading a large team as they do Flamingo Walks, Sloth Encounters, and others hands-on activities with guests at the zoo.

Reflecting on her role: “It’s touching people’s lives, who could be people who change the world. The animals are fantastic. They are icing on the cake. But, getting to impact people’s lives is so fulfilling.”

Watch the entire interview with Maura Messerly, Manager of Wild Encounters and Fun! at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden.

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Episode transcript

[00:01] A lot of people thought that if you wanted to work in a zoo, you were either a volunteer or you were a zoo keeper. I didn’t want to just volunteer for the rest of their life and I also didn’t want to be a zoo keeper so what’s the trade-off?

[00:16] Hi! I’m Maura Messerly and I am the Manager of Wild Encounters and Fun! here at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden. I have one of the best jobs in the whole zoo but I’m sure that anyone you meet here will tell you the same thing. We have a goal every day of bringing our visitors close enough to care. One of the best ways to do that is to get you face to face an animal.

[00:39] Where I come in as a program called Wild Encounters. When I first started in this program, I was doing a whole day full of meet and greets with the public so bringing animals out for different types of animal demonstrations, doing talks around the zoo. I still get to do those really fun animal encounters though it’s not for eight hours a day anymore. I do more emails and meetings and dreaming about the future of our program and what we can do. I get to work with a team of over sixty people that every day drive into the zoo and they want to make a difference in people’s lives.

[01:14] When I was in college, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. I studied environmental law and learning about that field and that career choice, I was exposed to different internship opportunities and I started at the zoo and that’s when my love for working with animals really was fostered and learning that you can have a career doing this just might take some work to get there

[01:39] The Cincinnati zoo is nonprofit and that means no one’s ever going to be a millionaire by working at the zoo. It is still definitely a great way to make a living and it’s a great thing to be proud of an organization you work for and to also be able to support yourself. You’re in this business because it’s what you care about and your passionate about what the organization does.

[02:01] Travel is hugely important to me. It’s something that I try to do as often as I can. I had the great opportunity to travel for work to Costa Rica to visit the Sloth Institute which is an organization that we work directly to help. Not only was it something I was super passionate about and got to see in action the wild, but it was just a great benefit.

[02:22] Getting your feet wet and picking up the skills that you use as a person who has a career in this field is what’s most important. The fact that I work for an organization that believes in that constant learning and that is able and willing to send me on all these great experiences whether it’s workshops or learning in other zoos or taking classes, I’m just very grateful to work for an organization that gives me the tools to be the best teacher I can be.

[02:50] If you love one zoo, it is not always going to be super likely that your dream job is going to open at that zoo so be open to traveling to other zoos and getting to experience other places and then after having the skill sets built up, feeling like you can travel to a new job that will give you a new skill set. It’s touching people’s lives who could be people who end up changing the world. The animals are fantastic. They are icing on the cake but getting to impact people’s lives is so fulfilling.