Hundreds of Employees Work to Make OKC Zoo a Magical Place

Every year, more than 1 million visitors come to the Oklahoma City Zoo, and in the summer, the zoo becomes even more popular.

Running a zoo is like running a small city, according to Candice Rennels, the zoo’s public relations manager. From the housekeeping to maintenance to the people who work directly with animals, a small army is needed to make Oklahoma City Zoo one of the best in the nation.

Here is a peek at just a few who make the OKC Zoo a special place.

Larry Ritchie 

Guest Services Supervisor

Larry started working at the zoo 12 years ago but has served as guest services supervisor for the last three years. His job is to guide the employees who take care of the guests.

“The first job I had here was driving the tram. A lot of people who are in guest services start out driving the tram,” he says.

Larry says his favorite part about working at the zoo is interacting with the staff and the guests.

“It’s just a really neat place to be, and you get to help people connect with wildlife and wild places and help them learn about conservation. It’s an important job for me, and it’s a lot of fun at the same time,” he says.

Larry especially likes interacting with children at the zoo and seeing “that light come on in their eyes when they learn something or make a connection with an animal.”

“You can change a child’s whole perception of things with one interaction here at the zoo,” he says. 

Erica Buckwalter

Family and Interpretive Programs Manager

Erica was one of those children whose lives was changed. She can pinpoint the exact moment in first grade when she wanted to work at the zoo.

“Zookeeper Joe came to my school, and he needed somebody to hold his snake for him, and that was me,” she says. “From that moment on, I wanted to work with animals.”

Erica started her career at the zoo as a full-time teacher, which meant going out into the community to spread the message of conservation.

“Over the years, I’ve been promoted up, recently to the manager position, so it’s now my job to teach the teachers,” Erica says. “I get teach staff about our programming, I teach them how to interact with our guests, and then I send them out into the world, and they spread our messaging. It’s wonderful to see future conservationists get out there and do what I was doing.”

Erica also helps to train the workers at the zoo’s summer camp programs. She said those summer camps make a difference in children’s lives and conservation.

“I did a camp call Wildlife Warriors, which was about conservation and how kids can help,” she says. “I talked to the kids about palm oil and how it’s threatening orangutans in Borneo and Sumatra. I told them about an app that you can use that will scan a barcode and tell you if it has palm oil in it and if it’s sustainable or not.”

Two years later, a Wildlife Warrior student came back and told Erica that she still makes her mother scan all of the products they buy to check for sustainable palm oil.

“That was one of my favorite moments that I’ve had. It’s very rewarding,” she says.

Heaven Clark

Guest Services Assistant

Heaven could be described as a “Girl Friday” at the Oklahoma City Zoo. She helps at the front desk and guest services, works as a team leader and can be seen helping out on the grounds of the zoo as well.

She had worked at the Science Museum Oklahoma and considered a second job at the zoo.

“On the first day, I fell in love, so I’ve been here ever since,” she says.

Heaven’s favorite job is being able to connect with guests and coworkers. In the summer, she also helps with tours, answers the phones and helps guests have positive experiences.

“I got a witness a proposal once. It was so beautiful, and we were all in tears,” she says.

“Every day is different. There could be an animal interaction that we have to take care of or a guest interaction that is different. We get a lot of fascinating phone calls that you wouldn’t get at a typical job. We want to be a resource.”

Candice says the zoo is always hiring and that everyone from teens working their first job to retired persons can find a job that suits them.

For more information, visit OKCZoo.org.