Damai’s personality is somewhere in between. She is neither as shy as Nikita nor as laid-back as Metis. She’s been at the Zoo for almost 11 years, so she knows all the routines and expectations. However, she is feisty when it comes to food. If she’s hungry, she’s going to let you know about it.
There are fewer than 500 Amur tigers left in the wild. That’s why my job is so important. Caring for tigers here at the Zoo ensures this species has a future. Wild tigers’ habitat and prey numbers are declining. Conservationists are working to protect tiger habitat, find safe and healthy ways for tigers and humans to co-exist, ban and police tiger poaching, and monitor wild tiger populations and trends. But these problems can’t be solved overnight. Until we find concrete solutions, zoos provide a safe place to preserve tiger population numbers, study their biology and ensure their species survives.
A lot of people see TV shows with tigers and think I just cuddle with them all day. But I don’t. Tigers are wild animals. When people ask me about being a tiger keeper, I like to remind them it’s important to remember your boundaries when you take care of animals in a zoo setting. You’re feeding them and training them, but they’re not pets, and you can help protect tigers as a species by treating them with the respect a wild animal deserves. Don’t participate in any tourism activity that lets you take a selfie with a tiger or hold a baby tiger, because most of those kinds of experiences involve irresponsible breeding of tigers, as well as allowing tigers to fall into the hands of people who don’t have the best of the species at heart, like people who want to use them as status symbols.
I have been a keeper for more than two decades. I love my job because I get to care for these animals and get to know them as individuals. They’re here, at the Zoo, as a reminder of what we as humans might not have one day if we don’t protect them and the environment.
Give a roar for tigers this Lunar New Year and February! Meet Metis, Nikita or Damai when you plan your visit today.
Hunting for more stories from our keepers? Check out a variety of stories from all over Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute here.