Meeting Jonah Zeichner, one is easily captivated by his easy confidence, good looks, and strong enthusiasm for his work at the zoo. During one childhood visit to the Woodland Park Zoo, the orangutans were, as usual, doing their own thing, ignoring the visitors – until Jonah walked up and put his face to the glass. The apes immediately came over and interacted with him from their side of the glass. Now, as a ZooCorps member, Jonah interacts with keepers, animals, and visitors to the zoo.
Why did you get involved in Woodland Park Zoo’s ZooCorps?
“It’s my dream job!” Jonah, who is 18 years old and has Down syndrome, has always wanted to be a zookeeper. He explains “ZooCorps is an internship you can get for your dream job. The program is all about the zoo.” Jonah needed an internship to fulfill community service requirements for high school graduation. When his parents asked the zoo about Jonah becoming part of ZooCorps, they responded with an overwhelming yes! And it’s been a rewarding partnership for everyone involved.
What is your work as a ZooCorps member?
“I have a station by the grizzly bears. I tell visitors about bio fact of bears and wolves and caribou.” Jonah’s job includes educating visitors about the animals he loves using skulls and skins and learning facts to share. “I also work at stations in Banyan Wilds, African Savannah, Raptors, and TRF” – The Rain Forest. Learning information about so many animals seems challenging, but “I just get it in my mind” he says. Apparently, Jonah has a knack for memorizing facts – even obscure ones like every movie Joe Pesci has ever been in!
Jonah’s ZooCorps work includes a project of interviewing zookeepers. So far, he has interviewed keepers for penguins, gorillas, and birds. He records the interviews on his phone and transcribes it afterwards. His parents agree he gets great information from the keepers and they have fun listening to the interviews. One key piece of information for Jonah’s dream job he has gleaned from the interviews: to become a zookeeper, you need a biology degree.
Because of Jonah’s relationship with these keepers, visits to the zoo with Jonah have yielded some privileged animal encounters for his friends – some of Jonah’s friends recently got to meet a Hornbill named Blueberry when the keeper recognized Jonah. On another occasion, they got up close and personal with a penguin!
What is your favorite zoo experience?
“My favorite – interviewing the penguin keeper, I helped him feed the penguins!” And because of his great relationship and work with this keeper, Jonah even helped with the baby penguins’ first swim! That’s an amazing amount of trust in Jonah and his ability to work with animals!
What is your favorite animal?
If you haven’t guessed it already, the answer is “penguins!” Why? “They are cute and swim and eat fish and sardines.” With a fisherman as an uncle, Jonah likes to eat “shrimp, salmon, and black cod.” Growing up, he could eat so many shrimp, they called him the shrimp vacuum!
Jonah is great with names and has been learning the names of the penguins. His favorite is “Solomon.” There’s also “Diego, Kujo, TJ, Maximilek…” In fact, he’s learning their names because he has taken on a school project for which he must collect data on the penguins at the zoo. Recognizing the individual penguins by name helps him record the data faster. As a senior in high school this year and with his Woodland Park Zoo zoocorps work, Jonah is well on his way to achieving a life goal of becoming a zookeeper!
Click HERE to learn more about Woodland Park Zoo Zoocorps.