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 exciting 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.
Reptile (Herpetological) Group
The Reptile Group (Herpetological – the study of reptiles), work with reptiles of all sorts. They conduct the daily Giant Snake Show performed at 2:15 PM, and will sometimes work off-grounds showcasing some of our animal friends.
Small Mammals Group
The Small Mammal Group works primarily with smaller mammals and birds (Ornithology – the study of birds). They conduct the Creature Feature show daily and will also occasionally work off-grounds showcasing some of our animal friends.
Left to Right, Front to Back: Jeff Harwell, Daniel Nichols, Nina Riordan, Michael Riordan, Webb Moody, Anthony Franklin, Brittney Olson, Addam Krauch, Prayeri Harrison, Debra Kennedy, Brian McEvilly, Kaitlin Richard, Brandon Jackson, Dean Harrison.
Jeff Harwell 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 experience 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 and 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.”
Daniel Nichols started at Out of Africa Wildlife Park as a volunteer in the Herp, Chirp & Fur department in 2010. He was promoted to assistant manager in 2017. 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.
Nina Attenberger interned and worked part-time at Out of Africa while obtaining her Bachelor’s in Biology and Wildlife Management at Northern Arizona University. She joined the Core group full time in 2015. She fell in love with the facility and all of the incredible animals. Working hands-on with large carnivores was always her dream, and she could not have been luckier to have found such a great place so close to home. She has built many relationships while raising cubs and working alongside the adult carnivores daily. She has many responsibilities when it comes to caring for the animals, and could not imagine leaving them anytime soon.
“These animals are my passion; every one of them has a piece of my heart! It is an amazing experience to be able to work so closely with them and to enrich their lives as they act as ambassadors for conservation.”
Brandon Jackson started working with animals when he turned 18 and graduated from Cat Tales Zoological Training Facility a few years after having his first real experience with big cats. He volunteered his time to the park in the spring of 2016 and was hired into the Core Group by the beginning of the next year.
“Joining Out of Africa is a dream I continue to enjoy to this day. Building the kind of relationships with the animals that allows for free contact is what drew me here, and I also believe that is what makes our park so beautiful. The happiest cats in the world live here, followed closely by the most fortunate humans.”
Kaitlin Richard is a graduate of Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio, and has been at Out of Africa Wildlife Park since 2018. She started her career working and interning in many different positions, interning at a wildlife rehabilitation facility, working at a humane society, and working at three different zoos before coming to Out of Africa. She always wanted to be as close to the animals as possible, and when she discovered Out of Africa, she knew this was the place for her. Being able to interact so hands-on allows her to speak more passionately about the job she does. “Close enough to care” really resonates at this facility. She can help educate the guests and bring joy to them by assisting them to get up-close encounters.
“I love that this park helps guests get so close to help spark that emotion that I always had going to parks and zoos. It helps raise awareness for their wild counterparts and inspires the next generation to care!”
Brian McEvilly joined the Core Department at Out Of Africa in December of 2017 after moving from San Diego, where he worked at Sea World for seven years. His journey into the animal field started back in April of 2001 when he volunteered at a Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Southern California, taking care of and raising local native wildlife to be re-released back into the wild. He knew right away that the bond and relationships that evolve between animals and humans are something that he would be exploring for many many years to come. His travels brought him fantastic opportunities to work with an enormous variety of different animals, but he always knew that his heart was with Large Carnivores. With a background in stand up comedy and never-ending love for animals, he is grateful for the opportunity to interact and entertain the thousands of people that come to the park every year.
“Working at Out of Africa has, single-handedly, been one of the greatest opportunities and best experiences of my life. My coworkers have become my family overnight, and I can’t wait to see what this park has in store for everyone in the upcoming years.”
Anthony Franklin never thought his dream of working with wild animals would ever become a reality. In February of 2013, when Anthony started working at Out of Africa, his responsibilities included cleaning, stocking cooler, preparing diets for bears, tigers, lions, and so on. His big-hearted love for the animals, along with his hard work ethic and desire to learn, have proved beneficial, not just to the park but his aspirations. Now Anthony assists with habitat building and maintenance, helping with cub rearing, educating guests on animal behavior, interacting with tigers at the Tiger Splash® show, and more. His big heart and love for the animals is the main reason for working at the wildlife park, but he also loves the staff and considers them family.
Brittney Olson is a graduate of Moorpark College’s Exotic Animal Training and Management program. After volunteering and working for some other zoos in the US, Brittney landed a job here working with the tigers and other large carnivores, a goal she set for herself at the age of 13! “I love my job, every last dirty part of it. From jumping in the pool with the Tigers to cleaning up their poop! One of my favorite parts of my job is watching the excitement on the faces of kids as I help them feed a tiger. Being a zookeeper lets me share my love for animals with people every day and inspire kids to care for the natural world through their connections with the animals. That’s what being a keeper is all about for me!”
Debra Kennedy 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 beautiful 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 been lifelong friends, and both share an 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.
Addam Krauch (not shown in picture) is the newest member of the Core Department at Out of Africa, joining August 2018. Originally from the Chicago area, he got his degree in Zoology from Ball State University in 2016. Before joining the team, he interned at Panther Ridge Conservation Center in Florida for six months, where he learned to work with exotic cats. Addam got his start working with reptiles, from helping researchers capture iguanas in the Bahamas to rescuing nuisance alligators in southeast Texas. He also became a qualified South African field guide in 2017, spending a total of three months learning about African wildlife around the Kruger National Park area. Through all of his experiences, he gained an appreciation for animal behavior, and how reading those behaviors can build relationships between humans and animals. Working with large carnivores was Addam’s dream job, and by becoming a member of the Core Department, he is fulfilling that dream.
“I have a lot to learn, and every day brings new experiences. I’m looking forward to building relationships with these animals and my team. Everyone has been so welcoming and had a wealth of knowledge. Getting the chance to work at Out of Africa is truly a dream come true, and I am excited to begin my journey as a member of the Core Department.”
Serengeti Safari Group
Left to Right, Front to Back: Samantha Wells, Jessica Lowthorp, Mirelle Goetz, Luke Rankin, Courtney Harwell, Lauren Nichols, Corey Petersen.
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 had a special bond with Kibo, one of the reticulated giraffes, which often surprised 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 crucial component of making 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.”
Luke is a hoofstock (ungulate) keeper at Out of Africa, specifically, the Serengeti department. Luke always loved animals, so he focused his education and much of his work experience in learning and taking care of them. “I feel that working as a horse caretaker and an intern for large exotic cats prepared me for the hard, but rewarding work of a keeper. Luke received a B.S. in Biology from Eastern New Mexico and an M.S. in zoology from Texas Tech University. “I love having the opportunity to provide the best life I possibly can for the animals that I take care of, and I encounter that love every day at work.”
Corey keeps a vigilant watch over the hoofstock animals. He takes care of a large number of ungulates like giraffes, zebras, antelope, and a gigantic southern white rhino! He received a B.S in Animal Ecology from Iowa State University. Corey’s passion for exotic animals started at an early age, and that passion was solidified when he began working with large animals at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska. “I love working at Out of Africa Wildlife Park because of the close connections with the animals, which, in turn, make the animals happier too.”
Samantha started at Out of Africa as a Unimog (now SuperMog) tour driver for the Serengeti department. She also rotated over to the carnivores (Core Dept.), helping wherever she was needed. Now Samantha works exclusively in the Serengeti department with a variety of responsibilities. Having graduated from Texas State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Biology, she began her animal career working with wolves as an intern. “Working with all the hoofstock animals has led me to fall in love with the giraffe Kibo, and the watusi Bwana! I greatly enjoy getting to know all the different animal personalities and am completely honored to work with the animals I do. I’m always excited to grow as an animal keeper and share my passion with the visitors at the park!”
Mirelle graduated from the University of Wisconsin – Madison with a Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Ecology and a certificate in Environmental Studies from the Nelson Institute of Environmental Studies. She joined the Out of Africa zookeeper staff in February 2018 and is also a SuperMog Adventure Tour Driver. Before this position, she gained diverse wildlife experiences such as caring for rescued black bears, educating the public about black bear behavior, rehabilitating small mammals, tracking urban foxes and coyotes using radio telemetry, and promoting peaceful coexistence between humans and canids in urban settings. Since a young age, Mirelle has thought critically about the ways humans interact with and impact wildlife. She has always wanted to pursue a career caring for animals while promoting positive relationships between humans and wildlife. As the SuperMog Adventure Tour Driver, she provides memorable opportunities for members of the public to establish connections with animals to inspire empathetic and caring attitudes for wildlife conservation.
Jessica (J Lo) is the Senior Keeper in the Serengeti Department and works with all of the large ungulates, including rhino, giraffe, zebra, antelope, and camel. She graduated with a B.S. in Wildlife Management, Fisheries, and Biology from the University of Wyoming in 2014. Before Out of Africa, Jessica has gained experience working in veterinarian hospitals, horse corrals, humane societies, and zoos, and sanctuaries abroad. Since her earliest memories, she has always desired a career surrounded by animals; however, it was her trip to Thailand in 2008, where she cared for an elephant at a sanctuary for the summer that solidified her passion for exotics. Besides surrounding herself with the animals under her care, Jessica loves the opportunity to educate the general public through the safari tours that her department runs. She believes that teaching all generations about everyday conservation is the key to saving our wildlife. As the late, great Steve Irwin used to say, “If we can teach people about wildlife, they will be touched. Share my wildlife with me. Because humans want to save things that they love.”
Left to Right: Rachel Mears, Zachary Ala, Liz Comeau, Jay Walsh
Rachel is the newest member of the Reptile Department. Growing up in Northern Virginia, she spent most of her time around the Blue Ridge Mountains in search of snakes and salamanders, taking in rescues and new exotics. “Just one more!” became a familiar refrain to her parents. This pattern continued even as she went off to Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida. Rachel graduated in 2019 with a B.A in Environmental Studies and Biology, which helped flame her passion for animal care and research even more. After interning at ZooTampa and gaining valuable experience, she accepted a position at Out of Africa with the Reptile Department. With all of her pets packed, Rachel made the long trek to Arizona. Being a zookeeper has been her dream job since she can remember, and she loves nothing more than spending every day building relationships with all the animals at the Park.
“I love animals of all kinds, but have a special place in my heart for the less loved ones like reptiles, and I’ve dedicated my life to their care and conservation. This job allows me to interact with them daily, and I learn something new every day. I enjoy speaking with and educating the public on what wonderful creatures they are! I am living my dream, and love every bit of my job!”
Zac is the current reptile department manager. He has a lifetime of experience working with reptiles. He acquired his first reptile at the age of five – a box turtle named Sammy – who he still has today. Before Out of Africa, Zac worked at reptile specialty stores, volunteered at reptile rescues, snake removals, and he even had a reptile show for seniors and birthday parties. Zac donated Apollo – a reticulated python – to Out of Africa Wildlife Park. He stayed in contact with the staff and later volunteered. After demonstrating his passion for reptile and his hard-working ethic, he was offered a position. Zac is passionate about working with the animals and sharing his exhaustive knowledge of the reptiles.
Liz started as an intern for the Small Mammals Department during her summer breaks from Eckerd College. After graduating in 2018 with a B.A. in Biology and a B.A. in Environmental Studies, she accepted a position with the Reptile Group. Liz grew up in a home with a wide variety of animals – not always with her parent’s knowledge. Her love for these animals has given her a great deal of respect for all wildlife.
“Our world is vast, and I love being reminded of that through my job as I learn a bit more every day! I love speaking with the public, entertaining, and educating, along with living a childhood dream of being a zookeeper. I know the 8-year-old me would be proud!”
Small Mammal Group
Left to Right: Stacey Shand Goon, Sarah Fredrickson, Allie Graszi, Moira (Mo) Bellamy.
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 five 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, ringtail cats, and more. Stacey has always loved animals of all different shapes and sizes. She loves working with the variety of species at the Out of Africa Wildlife Park.
Sarah is the assistant manager of the Small Mammals Department. She started at Out of Africa as an intern while still attending college. Shortly after graduating, she came on board as a full-time keeper at the Park. Her passion for animals started long before Out of Africa. Sarah also interned at the Philadelphia Zoo in Pennsylvania and volunteered at Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey. Originally from New Jersey, Sarah studied Wildlife Conservation at Juniata College in Huntingdon, PA. Small carnivores are her favorite – especially otters – but rodents are a close second!