Keeper Feature: Melissa Peterson
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Keeper Feature: Melissa Peterson

Melissa Peterson

Elephant Keeper

How old are you? 28

Where are you from? Memphis, born and raised.

Where were you before coming to Memphis Zoo? I interned at Riddles Elephant Sanctuary & Wildlife in Arkansas, Black Beauty Ranch in Texas and Tennessee Safari Park in Jackson.

When did you first know that you wanted to work with animals? I’ve always been drawn to animals and always admired them and respected them, but it wasn’t until I was in college that I realized I could make a job out of it.

You currently work with elephants, what other animals have you worked with? I’ve worked with 13 different species of primates as well as otters, giraffes and rhinos.

What’s your favorite part about working with elephants? I love the relationship you get to build with these animals. With Daisy and Bambi, watching them catch on to the new behaviors we’re trying to teach them and seeing it click is awesome.

What is your advice for kids that want to be zookeepers one day? Volunteer. We have a great volunteer program here. Work with as many different species as you can so you can be well rounded. You can go to memphiszoo.org/volunteer for more info.

What’s the funniest or cutest thing you’ve seen an elephant do? Bambi is very awkward when she lays down and gets up. She gets up with rear first and her head still on the ground. It still cracks me up every time I see it.

What do you like to do in your free time? In my free time, I actually run a nonprofit called Exceptional Connections International that teaches professionals and parents in other countries how to work with children with disabilities.

What makes a good zookeeper? Patience. A lot of patience.


Melissa Peterson is the president of the Memphis Zoo chapter of American Association of Zookeepers, better known as AAZK. AAZK is a national nonprofit focused on conserving wildlife, educating communities and supporting continuing education for zookeepers. Over the past 15 years, the Memphis AAZK chapter has raised more than $60,000 and has donated that money to more than 50 conservation organizations. To learn more about AAZK, go to facebook.com/MemphisAAZK.