Q&A: Jessica Meurer

A senior wildlife care specialist, Meurer has worked at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance for 12 years. She works in the wildlife ambassador department, caring for 34 animals including parrots, large and small mammals, birds of prey and a snake. In addition to caring for the animals, Meurer does public and private educational wildlife presentations.



What does a typical day look like for you?

My day to day consists of doing regular husbandry/cleaning of our wildlife’s habitats, feeding, medicating, and creating enriched experiences for our wildlife, as well as hosting public and private wildlife presentations for our guests. We also do daily training of husbandry and medical behaviors that allow us to better care for our wildlife.

What impact does your role as a senior wildlife care specialist have?

I feel like the biggest impact my role has is in the connections we help form between our guests and our wildlife through our daily wildlife presentations and tours. We hope that the connection will lead to people having a bigger passion for wildlife.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

The most rewarding part of my job is forming a special relationship with each one of our wildlife. Since we do interact with them in a closer capacity, we get the amazing opportunity to form lifelong relationships with each one.

Some people struggle with the idea of keeping animals in captivity. How do you address that?

When questioned about having wildlife in facilities like the San Diego Zoo, I immediately jump to what the core mission of my position is at the San Diego Zoo, which is creating a passion for wildlife. In order to create that passion, there has to be a connection. Interacting and working with these amazing wildlife ambassadors everyday allows me and my fellow teammates to make that connection to our guests and hopefully create that connection for people to want to conserve wildlife for future generations. That's the reason why I became a wildlife care specialist. The San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance also focuses on eight conservation hubs around the world, partnering with organizations that have active programs to help conserve wildlife and native plant species.

How did your time at Cal Poly influence the role you have today?

This job requires so many different skills that Cal Poly prepared me with its Learn by Doing philosophy, such as thinking on your feet, problem-solving, hands-on skills and just overall work ethic. The professors provided me so many real-life job experiences during courses that the transition to the actual real world was much more fluid. While working in the leopard tortoise enterprise for many quarters, I not only learned how to care for these types of animals, but they also really started my fascination with the nutritional side of animal care.

Can you share one special or insightful moment you’ve had during your time in this role?

The beauty of this job is that if I am ever having a rough day, it really brings me down to earth in that I get to interact with these amazing animals every day. I will say one of the top moments was helping to raise a six-week-old, orphaned cheetah cub. She is now 7 years old and I honestly cannot imagine my career without having that relationship.

Any advice for current Cal Poly students?

The biggest advice that I always tell anyone who wants to get into my type of career is to get any experience as early as you can, whether it’s through volunteering with local animal shelters, rehab centers or applying for internships. There are so many places that need and want the help and are willing to teach anyone that is passionate in their mission. I did four internships plus volunteering and enterprises while attending Cal Poly and it really set me ahead of the game once I graduated. Utilize your professors and advisors to help guide you get the experience that you might not know you need.


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