Meet the Keepers
As one of the original zookeepers, Jimmy Pichner has served over 33 years at the Minnesota Zoo. After a childhood background surrounded by nature and earning a degree in wildlife management from the University of Minnesota, Jimmy started out in 1978 as a keeper for the Tropics Trail before focusing specifically on birds. He has been an integral part of several successful bird conservation projects including the reintroduction of trumpeter swans in Minnesota. "Releasing swans is always a highlight," he says.
"My favorite animal is what I'm working with at the time, even if they may seem uninteresting. For example, a tree shrew may seem ordinary, but they are actually cool with very unique features. It's fun to learn about the ecology of animals, their reproductive strategy and behavior," says Pichner. "Since I'm working the most with penguins right now, they're my current favorite." He is looking forward to the opening of the 3M Penguins of the African Coast Exhibit this summer, "both for Zoo guests to enjoy and for successful bird breeding."
Cale NordmeyerCale Nordmeyer has been at the Minnesota Zoo intermittently since 2006, starting as an intern in the seasonal Butterfly Exhibit. He has an extensive history working with insects and other creatures while earning his degree from the Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon. Moving from one winged animal to the next, Cale is now a full-time bird keeper at the Minnesota Zoo and looking forward to working with the new penguins.
"I had only intended my Minnesota Zoo internship to get me more experience working with insects. However, I found myself inspired by the Zoo's commitment to connecting people with nature." says Nordmeyer. When asked what his favorite part of working as a bird keeper, he responded, "…the best part about my job is being able to exhibit these birds to our guests and interpret the birds' life histories and behaviors. Our new African penguin exhibit will be a wonderful opportunity to teach our guests about an environment and adaptations unique among our animal collection."
Becky Heller began working at her hometown zoo at age sixteen. From then until now (aside from earning her degree in Biology from Hiram College in Ohio) she has compiled an impressive resume working with animals, including over fifteen years as a zookeeper at the Buffalo Zoo, St Catherine’s Island in Georgia, the Bronx Zoo in New York City and here at our Minnesota Zoo. From elephants to tortoises to parrots to her favorite, the two-toed sloth, Becky has considerable and broad experience in the field of zoo keeping. Asked about her favorite part of the job, Heller responded, “The opportunity to work so closely with the animals is an incredible privilege. I enjoy getting to know each individually and try my best to ensure all of their needs are met on a daily basis. I’ve never stopped learning. It is the best job!”