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updated: 6/29/2012 6:20 PM

Moving Picture: Wheaton zookeeper living her dream

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  • Lowe holds a fox snake for kids visiting from West Chicago, to see and touch during a Discovery Station program at the zoo.

       Lowe holds a fox snake for kids visiting from West Chicago, to see and touch during a Discovery Station program at the zoo.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Caryn Lowe, zookeeper at Cosley Zoo in Wheaton, grooms Pro, a Shetland pony as she gets him ready for the day.

       Caryn Lowe, zookeeper at Cosley Zoo in Wheaton, grooms Pro, a Shetland pony as she gets him ready for the day.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Caryn Lowe likes working with all the animals at the zoo. Here, she holds one of the chickens.

       Caryn Lowe likes working with all the animals at the zoo. Here, she holds one of the chickens.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Lowe checks on a Guernsey cow, one of the newer animals to the zoo.

       Lowe checks on a Guernsey cow, one of the newer animals to the zoo.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Lowe leads the Angus beef cow out to his exhibit for the day.

       Lowe leads the Angus beef cow out to his exhibit for the day.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Zookeeper Caryn Lowe is the primary trainer for the white-tailed deer named Stella.

       Zookeeper Caryn Lowe is the primary trainer for the white-tailed deer named Stella.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Video: Moving Picture: The Zookeeper

 
 

Caryn Lowe knew she wanted to work with animals back in grade school when she made frequent trips with her mom to Chicago-area zoos.

"Animals are something I've always had a passion and respect for," the 25-year-old Naperville woman said. "My love for exotics grew as I got older and got to college and realized I wanted to pursue a career in an animal-related field."

Lowe has been a part-time zookeeper for more than a year at Cosley Zoo in Wheaton. The zoo (accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums) is relatively small, which means zookeepers get to work with more of the animals.

"We're really lucky because we get to work with every animal in our collection," Lowe said, including mammals, large domestics and even reptiles.

Lowe majored in animal science at the University of Illinois where she got hands-on experience working with large farm animals.

She also had a stint as a professional intern at Disney World in Orlando, where she did research with Western lowland gorillas and conducted an aggression study with tigers.

All of that comes in handy at Cosley, where zookeepers feed, groom and get the animals ready for display before the zoo opens to the public. They also clean out all the stalls, so they're ready at the end of the day for the animals' return.

On any given day, Lowe might prepare all the meals or work with the raptors or reptiles.

In addition, she helps train the animals to perform certain tasks that provide mental stimulation and ultimately make it easier for their keepers and veterinarians to handle and treat them.

Lowe is the primary trainer for Cosley's Shetland pony, a white-tailed deer and one of the raccoons.

She also spends a fair amount of time with humans.

"Would you guys want to meet a snake?" she asked a group of visiting children one recent day as she held out a fox snake, one of her favorite creatures.

The children quickly gathered around and took turns stroking the snake's back.

Lowe said she likes to educate kids about animals, especially reptiles.

"It's really cool to have them show interest in snakes, because most people are kind of afraid of them," she said.

"People think being a zookeeper is just playing with the animals," she said, "but it's so much more than that."

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