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Behind the Scenes at the Henry Doorly Zoo

Exploring the inner workings of an Omaha icon

Zookeeper+Natalie+Wertz+teaches+visitors+about+snakes++along+with+Sheldon%2C+a+cobra.
Zookeeper Natalie Wertz teaches visitors about snakes  along with Sheldon, a cobra.

Zookeeper Natalie Wertz teaches visitors about snakes along with Sheldon, a cobra.

Photo by Natalie Pearson

Photo by Natalie Pearson

Zookeeper Natalie Wertz teaches visitors about snakes along with Sheldon, a cobra.

Natalie Pearson, Staff Reporter

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The Henry Doorly Zoo is as much a part of Omaha as the people, and many locals can recall fond memories of walking through all the exhibits the zoo has to offer. Classified as a world-class zoo by TripAdvisor in 2014, its quality and security is exemplary.

But, like any attraction, there are many, many aspects that visitors don’t see—things privy only to zookeepers and volunteers, all of whom keep the zoo open and operational.

Natalie Wertz, Senior Keeper of the Adventure Trails Department, shared a few of the Desert Dome’s secrets. “You really only see about half the building,” said Wertz. “There’s a back holding area where the animals go at night, and that’s where we enter from. It’s mostly made to be functional and comfortable for the animal, not pretty,” Wertz explained. “We also have zookeeper kitchen areas in every exhibit for diet prep and nutrition for the animals.”  

Photo by Natalie Pearson
If you peek out over the edge of the rock faces in the Desert Dome, you can see cages hidden by foliage.

“The [Desert Dome] is kind of a maze,” commented Sarah Stoltenberg, Senior Keeper of the Wild Kingdom Pavilion. “There’s trick doors, things hidden within the walls. The basement below is also a lot bigger than you think.”

Wertz and Stoltenberg are veterans at Henry Doorly, with Wertz working in zoos since she was thirteen and Stoltenberg having been employed at the zoo for about five years. Both of them love their job and the benefits that come with it.

“The relationship you get to have with animals is especially rewarding, especially because we’re more hands-on,” said Stoltenberg. “You get to have closer relationships with these animals, but the awe on kids’ faces as they see or touch an animal for the first time is amazing.”

Skutt Catholic sophomore Megan Snow also works at the zoo, but not quite in the way one might expect. She’s part of the Zoo Crew—Henry Doorly’s volunteer program for high schoolers. As a Zoo Crew member, she teaches the public about daily ‘biofact(s)’ and helps out with the younger volunteer groups XYZ and Junior Crew.

“I do get to help out with small things behind the scenes,” said Snow. “I’ve sent in an application to an ‘Animal Area,’ which is basically the same as an unpaid internship in an area of the zoo of your choice. My two picks were Bird Crew and Diet Kitchen, which is a group of people who get to the zoo at 5:30 a.m. and prepare the food for every single animal in the entire zoo.

“Although I’d love to talk about all the behind-the-scenes at the zoo, I’m not allowed to share any details. What I can say, though, is that the zoo is changing. By 2020 it’ll be unrecognizable with all the changes that are occurring,” Snow continued.

Big changes are indeed coming for Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo. The Durham Bear Canyon, Cat Complex, and Red Barn Park are all being torn down and renovated. There is also quite a few large-scale projects in the works, with the African Grasslands exhibit being completed and Asian Highlands the next to open. A project titled Andean Foothills will also be released in due time.

The Henry Doorly Zoo is and always will be an iconic part of Omaha life. It’s a well-oiled machine, raking in thousands of visitors per day. It’s no wonder many call it a world-class zoo—and it’s all because of the efforts of zookeepers and volunteers hard at work behind-the-scenes.

Natalie Pearson

Natalie became a member of the Flightline in August of 2017. She is a junior this year, involved in band. Outside of school, she enjoys watching movies and playing video games. You can email her at [email protected]

1 Comment

One Response to “Behind the Scenes at the Henry Doorly Zoo”

  1. M❄️ on April 10th, 2018 11:11 am

    I love it! Good job, Natalie!!!

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a gravatar.




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