Zookeepers headed for an African safari
How would you feel if your boss surprised you with an all-expenses-paid trip to Africa?
Eight Miami Metrozoo animal keepers received just that, courtesy of an anonymous donor and the zoo communications director.
BY YUDY PINEIROypineiro@MiamiHerald.com
To rhythmic congo beats, against a backdrop of African hand-carved statues and photographs of wild animals, Miami Metrozoo’s Ron Magill gave eight zookeepers beyond blissful news Tuesday: They are invited on a nine-day, fully-paid trip to Africa.
Gleeful, stunned tears and gasps erupted across Magill’s living room as the reality of it sank in. Many of the keepers live paycheck to paycheck, and rounding up thousands of dollars to travel to the animal-lovers’ paradise seemed a far-fetched dream.
That’s no longer so.
Magill received $50,000 from an anonymous donor during the Ball of the Wild zoo fundraiser to spend on the trip. He could have taken friends or family, but chose instead to take these eight zookeepers as a token of his appreciation for their hard work and to coax them into sticking around.
”I’m a lucky guy. I’m the kid who is living my dreams — traveling all over the world — and there’s a tremendous excitement with that and a tremendous guilt,” he said. ‘People come to me and say `He’s the zoo guy,’ but you guys are the ones doing all the work.”
The only condition to go on the trip, Magill told the group: Their word that they will stay on at the zoo at least another year, through the opening of Tropical America, a $35 million exhibit showcasing animals of the rain forest.
Magill said a lot of people have left the zoo because they felt unappreciated, underpaid and frustrated. But he wanted to give as many as he could an incentive to stay.
”I want to be able to look at this and say I’m investing in the future of the zoo,” Magill said, adding that he hopes this serves as a model for other employers.
The zookeepers thought they were coming to Magill’s house for a casual dinner and brainstorming session on work. They were surprised with the once-in-a-lifetime travel opportunity — and most sat speechless and humbled after the announcement.
Chico Vazquez, lions’ keeper, sat in a daze with a boyish smile. Andrea Obregon, special events manager, felt unworthy and shook her head as if to say she could not go.
Fanny Navarro, a wild animal keeper who just started a few months ago, could not wait to tell her family and stepped outside to call her mother and husband. They approved.
Crystal LeMaster, primate keeper, said she just knew Magill was plotting something, but never expected this.
”This certainly makes us feel appreciated,” she said.
Pam Monseur, bird keeper, who has been to jungles in Mexico, but never Africa, said she was looking forward to seeing everything.
”You work with these animals at the zoo, but when you see them out in the wild it’s totally different,” she said. “In Africa, anything will be amazing.”
No longer will any of them merely dream of watching the black-maned lions, zebras and rhinos freely traverse Ngorongoro Crater, an extinct volcano in Tanzania.
The first four leave May 17. When they return on May 26, the next four will leave. The itinerary includes a stay at a coffee plantation, overlooking the snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro, safaris through the jungles of East Africa and other wild adventures.
Magill, who has been there countless times, will guide them through wildlife nirvana.
For the cats,
Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue
an Educational Sanctuary home
to more than 100 big cats
12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL 33625
813.493.4564 fax 885.4457
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