Working with animals is no casual affair. Besides possessing particular backgrounds and skill sets related to life science — such as biology, zoology, or behavioral sciences — animal keepers prepare diets, feed, and provide for the general care and welfare of mammals, reptiles, and birds while ensuring a safe environment for all the animals, park guests, and themselves.
They are passionate about educating and entertaining visitors at the park, while dedicating the time necessary to build relationships and foster bonds with each of the animals. All of these ingredients combine to make Out of Africa Wildlife Park a uniquely personal and memorable experience.
The animal groups at Out of Africa Wildlife Park are broken down into three separate departments by animal type:
The Core Group works primarily with carnivores, omnivores, and interacts with the large predators in the thrilling Tiger Splash™ and Wonders of Wildlife shows. They also direct the Predator Feed tour, where up to 800 pounds of raw meat is fed to the meat-eaters.
The Serengeti Group works with the herbivores (plant-based eaters). Leading exhilarating safari tours throughout the day, they are responsible for the free-roaming African animals in the Serengeti and Masai Mara preserves and other herbivores located about the park.
Herp, Chirp & Fur Group
The Herp (Herpetological – the study of reptiles), Chirp (Ornithology – the study of birds), and Fur Group works with reptiles, birds and smaller mammals. They conduct the Creature Feature show and Giant Snake Show performed daily, and will sometimes work off-grounds showcasing some of our animal friends.
Left to Right, Front to Back: Meg Ruff, Scott Williams, Daniel Nichols, Tony Franklin, Debra Kennedy, Jeff Harwell, Daniel Hall, Nina Attenberger. Also featuring Liberty, the Tiger.
Meg is one of two department Managers of the Core Group. She is a graduate of Cat Tales Zoological Training School in Mead, WA.
She was a veterinarian assistant for three years in Cincinnati, Ohio. In 2005, while on Easter vacation, she visited Out of Africa Wildlife Park at its current Camp Verde location, which was under construction at the time. Park founders, Dean and Prayeri Harrison, gave Meg a private tour, and they were both impressed by her credentials and love for animals. She was offered a job and has worked with the big exotics ever since, including participating in Tiger Splash™. She dedicates her days to enriching the lives of all the animals she works with.
Jeff is a graduate of Cat Tales Zoological Training School in Mead, WA, and has been with Out of Africa Wildlife Park since 2006. He also is a manager of the Core group.
His high energy and athleticism provide the perfect ingredients for playing and interacting with the tigers at the daily Tiger Splash™ show, bringing joy, knowledge and entertainment to thousands of visitors each year.
Jeff has always been eager to share his broad knowledge of the animal kingdom with park guests.
His love for the animals translates into providing the best care possible for our residents, one that enriches their lives, protects and preserves their kind while fostering trust through building key relationships.
“What brought me here was that I saw how happy the animals are, and how large their habitats are. This is such a wonderful place for the animals as well as the caretakers and guests.”
Scott began his career at Out of Africa Wildlife Park as a volunteer while working part time at Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary in Prescott, AZ. He joined the Core Group in February 2012. Scott worked over time to build key relationships with the predator animals that allow him to interact with them today. Those relationships are put to good use in shows like Tiger Splash™ and Wonders of Wildlife. Scott knew from his early college days that his calling was to work with animals, although he never imagined his academic goals would land him at a wildlife park where hands-on interaction was the norm.
Daniel started at Out of Africa Wildlife Park as a volunteer in the Herp, Chirp & Fur department in 2010. Daniel commuted from Phoenix. where he was also working in retail, as well as performing rattlesnake removal through the Arizona Department of Fish and Game. He later started volunteering for the Core Group because he was impressed by the relationships the staff demonstrated with the animals and how much they were dedicated to enriching their lives. If you ask Daniel to pick his favorite animal, he’ll insist that he loves them all for many different reasons. As Daniel says, “Each animal brings something different, but equally special to the table.” Well said.
Debra joined Out of Africa Wildlife Park in 1991 as a volunteer when it was located in Fountain Hills, AZ. At that time she worked in the gift shop one day a week. She also worked as a groundskeeper and took care of snakes, birds, and iguanas. In time she became the gift shop manager and helped the Core Group whenever they needed her. Eventually Debra joined the Core Group as a permanent staff member. She learned from the other members of the group as she worked with them, but says most of her training came from the animals themselves.
She loves all the wonderful animals at the park, but her favorite is Jamaica, a black leopard. Debra has known Jamaica since the cat was born in 1992. They have literally been lifelong friends, and both share affection for the other that cannot be described in words. “Jamaica loves me, and that touches my heart!” Debbie’s love and passion for the animals at the park are displayed through the bonds and relationships she has built with all of them.
Serengeti Safari Group
Left to Right: Kris Dorst, Lauren Nichols, Matt Corrie, Jessica Miller, Courtney Palmer. Also featuring Chili Pepper, the Ostrich.
Courtney,the Serengeti Department Manager, acquired a B.S. from Northern Arizona University, with a double major in political science and animal behavior. She joined Out of Africa Wildlife Park in 2007 and applies her knowledge conducting safari tours and leading the Serengeti staff each day. Courtney interned at the Hersheypark zoo in Hershey, PA, where she received hands-on training with a variety of animals.
Courtney believes that wildlife parks are great platforms for conservation and biological education. She strives to give visitors an enjoyable experience with the hoofed animals while also encouraging them to do their part in helping with species preservation worldwide. At the park, you can find Courtney doing what she loves most, sharing her passion for wildlife with visitors and providing care for a diverse collection of over 85 animals. She has a special bond with Kibo, one of the reticulated giraffes, who often surprises visitors by inviting himself inside her Safari tour vehicle for a treat.
Lauren, the Assistant Manager of the Serengeti Group, has been with Out of Africa Wildlife Park since 2007. With a graduate degree from Northern Arizona University in zoology, she is a tremendous asset to the park. Her prior knowledge of animal behavior and care came from 10 years of working with horses.
Some of her activities include feeding the animals, providing care, and cleaning. Hard work, for sure, but her joy for the animals becomes most apparent when she leads a guided safari tour. Her depth of knowledge is a key component of making each and every tour experience memorable, entertaining and inspiring.
“I enjoy working here because it’s one of the only places I’ve been where the founders and caretakers are motivated out of love for the animals, not just salary. We all truly care about these animals. If the guests leave knowing these animals have personalities, feelings, and emotions, and their experience helps to preserve them…then I have done my job.”
Kris came to Out of Africa Wildlife Park in July 2010 with a B.S. in animal science from the University of Arizona. She also had 3 previous years of experience in a veterinary hospital. Her love of animals goes back as far as she can remember and shaped her life and education. She spent every summer as a child at San Diego Zoo’s Zoo School. When her family moved to the Texas Hill Country, she became an avid equestrian and apprenticed with the area’s top horse trainer. Her love of animals and background with “difficult” horses made here a great addition to the Serengeti hoofed stock group. “I love every animal we work with, but I have a special place in my heart for Pilgrim, the giraffe.”
Matt has a B.S. in zoology with a minor in environmental studies. He received hands-on training at his internship at Miller Park Zoo in Bloomington, IL. He started at Out of Africa Wildlife Park in July 2011 in the Serengeti department. During the day he loves spending time with all the animals, which includes leading tours into the Serengeti preserve. He says he has no single favorite animal, because in his opinion all the animals are uniquely special in their own way. Matt’s enthusiasm for the animals is on full display if you’re lucky enough to catch his tour.
Jessica, a native of the Midwest, received her education in animal ecology from Iowa State University. She first joined Out of Africa Wildlife Park as a volunteer, interning during the summer of 2009. She was eventually hired in the Serengeti department and has enjoyed giving safari tours and taking care of the giraffes, zebras, ostriches and many other free-roaming animals. Her passion for working with the animals is unequivocal.
“Out of Africa Wildlife Park is a unique place that allows animals to be themselves, and that quality is what brought me here. I have found a family and a home away from home through the relationships I’ve formed with the staff and animals that I care for.”
Herp, Chirp & Fur Group
Left to Right: Stacey Shand, Jessica Cho, Jennifer Stamness, Audrey Henning, Meggie McMullen.
Jennifer started with Out of Africa Wildlife Park in March 2012 as the Department Manager over the Herp, Chirp, & Fur department. She came with an extensive animal background. It began in 1995 working with big cats and bears. Jennifer started out as a volunteer in a non-profit Big Cat Rescue facility in Mead, WA, called Cat Tales Zoological Park. The park housed several different species of predators such as lions, tigers, leopards, lynx, cougars, bobcats, servals…even black bears and grizzly bears. As the Cat Tales Park grew and evolved, it became a zoological school as well, and Jennifer eventually became the park manager and school instructor.
Jennifer has raised many cubs over the years. She even worked with exotic animals on several movies shot in various locations around the world. That work included commercials and documentaries for Animal Planet and the Discovery Channel. In 2005 she became the Senior Tiger Trainer for Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, NJ, working with seven tigers and performing multiple award-winning educational and entertainment tiger shows.
When that program ended, Jennifer contacted the owners of Out of Africa Wildlife Park, Dean and Prayeri Harrison, whom she had met and kept in contact with for over 12 years. As it turned out, there was an opening in the Herp, Chirp & Fur department, and Jennifer’s managerial and animal credentials were just the right ticket. Now working with over 50 new species of animals and a great department team, she is happy to finally be home at the park after 12 years of wishing.
Audrey serves as the Assistant Manager over the Herp, Chirp, & Fur Group. Audrey always knew she wanted to work with animals, so she got a B.S. in zoology from the University of California Santa Barbara. She volunteered at zoos, rescues, and wildlife parks for over 3 years before settling in at the Out of Africa Wildlife Park in 2011. Having volunteered previously at the park, Audrey had already demonstrated her skill set for outstanding animal care.
Audrey loves working with the reptiles, birds, and smaller mammals, especially Kalihari, a 22-year old African serval cat she is particularly fond of. What’s her advice to hopeful future keepers? “Get as much hands-on experience as possible, and don’t be afraid to get dirty.” Audrey’s attention to detail and her passion for the animals in her care perfectly represent the caliber of individual that makes up the dedicated staff at the park.
Jessica, a.k.a. “Jesse,” graduated from Penn State with a B.S. in recreation, park and tourism management, majoring in outdoor/wildlife recreation. While at Penn State she spent most of her time at Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center teaching children and doing animal husbandry with birds of prey. Jessica has always been drawn to animals. As a young girl, her favorite places to visit were zoos and any place with animals. Growing up near Washington D.C., Jessica was fond of the National Zoo and the Natural Museum of History, frequenting them at least once a week. Jessica worked in the healthcare industry, until her calling to work with animals eventually drove her back to school to pursue her dreams of being an animal keeper.
Stacey graduated from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, AZ before joining the ranks at Out of Africa Wildlife Park. She received her degrees in biology with an emphasis in animal behavior and psychology. After graduating from NAU, Stacey interned in Hawaii at Dolphin Quest for 5 months. During that time in Hawaii she experienced a volcanic eruption, a tsunami, and the birth of a baby dolphin. How many people can say that?
Stacey also worked at Bearizona Wildlife Park in Williams, AZ, where she was able to work with several species including bears, lynx, bobcats, fox, skunks, ring tail cats, and more. Stacey has always loved animals of all different shapes and sizes. Needless to say, she loves working with the variety of species at the Out of Africa Wildlife Park.
Meggie was raised in California and, like her fellow caretakers, she grew up with a passion for working with animals. Even from the age of 12 she was caring for horses, cows, sheep — all at the ripe old age of twelve! Her dream of caring for animals brought her to Paso Robles, CA, where she interned at Zoo to You Wildlife Education.
In due time, Meggie moved to Arizona where she first visited Out of Africa Wildlife Park. She immediately fell in love with the park and began volunteering until an opportunity to join the staff became available. Her passion, enthusiasm, and devotion have made her a wonderful addition to the Out of Africa family. “I love this park so much and feel very privileged to be here. I am learning so much from the animals, while advancing my education in animal science. There is a definite love that surrounds this park and you feel it, in the animals, and in the keepers.”