New zoo educator

“Rosebud,” an opossum, gets up close and personal with the help of the new zoo educator Taylor Burley-Galaviz Friday at Ellen Trout Zoo.

Ellen Trout Zoo has adopted a new zoo educator — Taylor Burley-Galaviz.

The life of a zoo educator is pretty similar to the life of a zookeeper.

As a zoo educator, she is responsible for caring for the ambassador animals in addition to teaching and organizing programming. Animal care involves diet prep, enrichment, cleaning, training and more.

She also works with Whitney Heckler, director of educational services, to create programming for kids and classes like the the Feeding Labs twice a year, the Princess and the Frog Tea Party in February or the Raiders of the Lost Zoo in March.

Burley-Galaviz has been working in zoology for five years. She majored in marine biology and wanted to work with dolphins.

“Then I took a class on conservation biology, and I was like, ‘That’s what I want to do,’” she said. “I want to be involved in the field doing conservation.”

She took an internship at the Houston zoo working with their conservation and education departments, and that led her to the Attwater’s Prairie Chickens, an endangered species of grouse (a medium to large game bird with a plump body and feathered legs) native to the Houston area that have been pushed out as a result of development.

“When I learned about them, the Houston Zoo has a seasonal keeper position just to strictly take care of the Attwater’s Prairie Chickens,” she said. “My job started from the instant they hatched. We hand-raised them for eight weeks and released them onto the Attwater’s Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge.”

She did that for eight months and realized she loved being a keeper. She eventually started at Ellen Trout Zoo in May 2016 as a zookeeper in Mammal South with the tapirs, waterfowl, deer, wallabies and more.

“I think my favorite part about being a zookeeper is doing enrichment or training and just seeing that light bulb moment where an animal really interacts with you and you understand them and what they want and what makes their day better,” she said.

“Being able to give them what they need and what they want is really my favorite part.”

When the zoo educator position came open, Burley-Galaviz jumped at it for many of the same reasons.

“It’s kind of the same thing — that light bulb moment when you can talk to someone or explain to someone, being able to give them an answer or tell them something they don’t know,” she said. “I can’t wait to see someone say, ‘I’m so interested in this, and I want to learn more, and I want to go home, and I want to save this animal in the wild and protect wild spaces and places.’”

Grace Juarez’s email address is grace.juarez@lufkindailynews.com.

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