Careers In Curiosity: Saving the World — One Animal (and Habitat) at a Time!


Melissa, the Museum’s Coordinator of Animal Training and Programming for the Discovery Zoo, offers children a chance to get hands on with our Education animals during Free Night.

This week, we are continuing our exploration of curious careers! When you think about a typical Museum you may think of priceless art hanging on the walls, huge dinosaur skeletons, and display cases with artifacts that are thousands of years old. The difference between most Museums and the Boonshoft Museum is that we are also an accredited Zoo, with over 100 live animals – from mischievous Meerkats to Egyptian fruit bats.

Having so many animals to care for requires a lot of time and effort, so we have a Live Animals Department that keeps our animals happy and healthy! Each of our Live Animals staff members have different educational backgrounds, from Natural Resources to Zoology and Biological Sciences—but they all have one thing in common, they love animals!

Melissa Proffitt, the Coordinator of Animal Training and Programming for our Discovery Zoo, took a minute to blog about her awesome experiences with our Live Animals, the importance of conservation, and fills us in on how she ended up working with some of the cutest critters in the world! Read her guest blog below!

Nice To Meet You
Melissa and Aussie

Aussie and I are ready for Harry Potter Camps!

My name is Melissa Proffitt, and I am the Coordinator of Animal Training and Programming for the Discovery Zoo at the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery. Being able to go to work and interact with amazing animals every day is a true joy, and should not really even be called work! From feeding North American river otters and training a Linne’s two-toed sloth, to teaching children about nocturnal flying bats, my days are always filled with something meaningful and exciting!

How I Got Here

Since childhood, I have had a passion for wildlife and conservation of our natural world. Being able to have a successful career where I can pursue that passion is very rewarding. I find that working in the zoological field is a unique way to combine what we have learned through experience and science with public outreach and education. To gain these skills, I earned my Bachelor’s degree in Zoology and my Master’s degree in Biology, both from Miami University, and coupled my education with real world experience working with various accredited zoos, as well as U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Kenya Wildlife Service, and local nature centers.

Helping Patience, our two-toed sloth, relax on her FIRST time out in the Museum!

Making Friends With Animals (Yes, Poop Is Part Of It!)

There are many avenues for people who desire to work in the biological sciences and with wildlife. For me, getting to work hands on and develop positive relationships with the animals under my care is exactly what I want to be doing! While my father still teases me that I earned a Master’s degree to clean animal poo (which yes, is part of the job!) there are so many aspects to a career caring for animals and educating the public. As an animal trainer, I experience firsthand the enormous benefits that developing trust between handler and animal creates. The animals are the real teachers, and I learn from them every day. Together we inspire the next generation of wildlife conservationists by forging personal connections.

Patience is one of my favorite animal friends!

Conservation is Key!

Wildlife encounters at zoos have the important advantage of reaching a large audience, some of whom will never have the opportunity to see certain species in a wild setting. Seeing live animal programs provides a personal experience for people, giving motivation to care about conservation of those animals in the wild. Research suggests that interactive experiences enhance visitor learning and retention which can be the spark that causes the person to take that small conservation step at home. Many modern zoos use live animal encounters, and encourage training animals to display natural behaviors.

People of all age love animals, which is why we bring educational animals out for special adult events in addition to children’s events. This bat is particularly adorable and important to his ecosystem!

Never Too Young To Start!

My work at the Boonshoft Museum directly supports and develops these types of experiences in the zoo and aquarium community at the highest standards, while also allowing me to mentor incoming professionals in the field by working with volunteers and interns. Providing unique educational opportunities for youth is an important part of my job as well. From Summer Camps to Jr. Zookeeper Experiences, we have programs designed to immerse children into the role of being a Zoo Keeper and gain hands on animal experience. The joy on the kids’ faces when they hold a three-banded armadillo for the first time is priceless and is definitely one of the reasons I love my job so much!


Having a blast with some cool kiddos during a Jr. Zookeeping program!

To learn more about the Museum’s Discovery Zoo please click here.


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