Working with Lions a Full Time Job

by Kimberley McGee

Each week I talk to local professionals to get an inside glimpse into what they do and ask them to offer advice to teens who may be considering a job in that field. Teens homeschooling in Nevada and considering college or moving into a trade school can get to know more about the career they intend to pursue. I’ve recently spoken to an actress and writer, AV tech guru, NEAT Services and a marketing director at the YMCA who have all shared advice for kids. I also spotlight local teens each week who are entrepreneurs, leaders or influencers in the community.

This week I was lucky enough to catch Lion Habitat Ranch manager Denise Souffrant. She discussed what it takes to work with big animals, preservation, importance of volunteering in the field you plan to work in and the perks of the unusual job.


How did you get started?

When I was about three years old my parents took me to Sea World and it inspired me to want to work with animals. I made sure that after I finished grade school that I went to college in order to get my degree. All of the zookeepers and trainers I spoke with at different zoos and aquariums told me that getting a degree was very important when looking for jobs working with animals.

After graduating with my Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology in 2011 I started an internship with the Dolphin Habitat at the Mirage. Since my internship I have worked and volunteered for Roos-N-More, the Silverton Aquarium, the Navy Marine Mammal Program, the White Horse Youth Ranch, the Living Planet Aquarium, and now the Lion Habitat Ranch.

What inspires you?

Growing up I always loved animals and knew that is what I wanted to do with my career. I was lucky in that I had parents that pushed me to do what I loved. Even if I felt pressure from bullying regarding working with animals as a career, they would go out of their way to remind me what I really wanted to do as a career. It always inspires to be proud of the path I have taken and to never give up no matter how difficult things may seem.

What have you gained from your job?

As a zookeeper and trainer you wear many different hats. We clean, do dishes, make diets, perform observations on the animals on a daily basis, keep medical/training/daily log records, horticulture, take care of any maintenance needed on enclosures, and so much more. I never thought I would know how to perform maintenance on swamp cooler to keep our lions cool in the summer.

What are the top 3 skills required to do what you do?

Dedication, perseverance, and being a hard worker

What other leaders do you look up to? Why?

Ken Ramirez is an animal care professional I truly admire. He always focuses on the basics of animal husbandry and training. Many people think that training the most complex behaviors are the greatest achievements, but the simplest behaviors are the foundation for training more complex behaviors. Listening to him speak at workshops and conferences is always inspiring and thought provoking.

What advice can you give to someone who wants to enter your field?

This is not a career field to get into for the money. This field is a career that is driven by passion. There is a lot of hard work, but building relationships with the animals you care for is extremely rewarding.

What are your future focus areas?

Industry standards for animal care are always changing and adjusting to better the lives of the animals in our care. Staying up to date and informed on these standards is always my focus to ensure I am providing the best care for the animals.

What do you think is the most memorable moment in your career?

The most memorable moment in my career was when I was training a sea lion an eye drop behavior. When I was training the behavior I wanted the sea lion to tilt his head to the side when receiving eye drops on both the right and left sides. He picked up on tilting his head to the right side pretty quickly. He was having trouble understanding tilting his head to the left side after learning the right side. One night when working on this behavior I slightly tilted my body to the left side when asking for the behavior. He then tilted his to the left side. This “Ah-ha” moment was incredible to witness after creating a plan and slowly watching him put together the puzzle pieces, so to speak.

What advice would you give teens who are considering a career in your field?

Get as much hands on experience as you can. Volunteering, even at shelters and with domestic animals, goes a long way in the animal care field.You also will want to get a degree of some kind. The field is very competitive and almost always requires a degree.


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