By Marko Salopek
Since its inception in 1995, the Zookeeping Technology program at PPCC has remained a small program housed in room A173B at the end of an obscure hallway on the Centennial campus. However, it has grown significantly in recent years, going from a mere 23 students in 2012 to 115 students in 2017.
Most of the other Zoology major programs offered at the 58 colleges and universities focus on the research and study of animals, but PPCC’s Zookeeping Technologies program centers on animal care, conservation, and public awareness.
Our Zookeeping program is one of just six in the entire country, and the only one in Colorado. The next closest institution providing a similar course of study is over 900 miles away in California.
Prospective students from across the U.S. and around the globe often discover this program through the American Association of Zookeepers, and the industry affiliations that PPCC maintains. Zookeeping Department Chair Kris Gates said one of her students came all the way from Italy just for our program.
“We get students that look up the other zoo schools and choose to come here because we have a quality program,” Gates said
With the formation of the Zoo and Aquarium Colleges Association, all of the Zookeeping programs meet yearly to determine how best to meet the needs of the students and the needs of the industry. Additionally, the faculty at PPCC strive to maintain an exceptionally high standard. With 10 required classes and a minimum passing score of 70 percent, they ensure PPCC’s graduates are of the highest caliber.
As Gates put it, “Would you want anyone taking care of your animal that got a D in the class?”
As part of their efforts to offer a premium educational experience, the faculty in the Zookeeping Department attempt to personalize the experience for each student.
Through working relationships with local zoos and sanctuaries the program has access to a broad range of internship opportunities. Students are informed of and guided toward internships that are most in-line with their future goals.
“We try to meet with every single student that comes into the program and try to find out what is their dream job,” Gates said.
Apart from an interest in caring for animals, many of the students in the Zookeeping program, like Karen Santiago and Joshua Peters, are motivated by a desire to educate the public and bring awareness to the impotance of conservation.
“I want my kids to love animals as much as I do,” Santiago said. “I want to keep people interested in saving the planet.”
Students in the program receive public outreach training and have the opportunity to participate in PPCC’s outreach program Wild Things and conservation fairs.
In Wild Things, students go to schools, libraries and career fairs to introduce kids to animals through programs like Colorado Natives, So You Want To Be a Zookeeper?, and Why Don’t Snakes Have Fur?
“I like going out and talking to kids and seeing them get excited,” Peters said. “It gives me hope that there is hope for wildlife. We need ambassadors for nature.”
The future is bright for the Zoo Keeping program, with multiple opportunities to grow the program on the horizon.
“Our long-range plan is to get an apiary here on campus and have bees,” Gates said.
She also hopes to partner with the Culinary Arts program to build a greenhouse and collaborate on some aqua-ponics projects.
For more information on PPCC’s Zoo Keeping Technologies program, contact Kris.Gates@ppcc.edu