When Amy Petersen signed up for UW–Madison Professor Stanley Temple’s “Extinction of Species” class, she didn’t expect it to change the course of her life.
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“It was an incredible experience,” she recalls. “Everyone walked away from that class wanting to do something to help the world’s endangered species.”
For Petersen, a Racine, Wisconsin native who graduated with a zoology degree from UW–Madison in 2007, that meant pursuing a career as a zookeeper. After an internship at the Kentucky Reptile Zoo and stints at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo and a zoo in Salisbury, Maryland, Petersen got the opportunity to return home to the Racine Zoo in 2012.
Today, she is the primary carnivore keeper at the 28-acre lakeside zoo that attracts more than 85,000 visitors each year.
Everyone walked away from that class wanting to do something to help the world’s endangered species.
“In Maryland, I worked with carnivores — jaguars, bears, bobcats, otters — and carnivore care came really easily to me, and I felt I could read them better,” she says.
In 2014, a lion at the Racine Zoo gave birth to three cubs, and Petersen had the chance to draw up a plan for their care and rearing. “You always have the goal of making the lives of your animals better,” she says. “We need to make sure we take their mental and physical health into consideration and do the best that we can for them.”
Petersen says the networking skills she built as part of the Undergraduate Zoology Association at UW–Madison have served her well for networking with colleagues at other zoos to solve problems.
One of her favorite roles is interacting with the public in daily “keeper chats” at the zoo.
“I like to open people’s eyes to the ways zoos help animals and [help] to conserve them in the wild,” Petersen says. “All animals have something fascinating about them. I tell people to come learn about their role in the world.”