Animal attraction

14 Sep

Anthony Nielsen moved from rural Iowa to the city of Chicago to work on a farm.

But not just any farm: The farm at the Lincoln Park Zoo.

That was 12 years ago.

Today Anthony (’97) is the lead keeper of the Kovler Lion House and Seal Pool at Lincoln Park, a 49-acre oasis in the middle of Chicago.

Anthony’s parents took him to Sea World when he was five years old, and he still remembers how excited he was to be there. He was an outdoor kid, growing up in rural Oxford, Iowa, and being around animals.

“I couldn’t see myself working inside behind a desk,” Anthony says.

So he came to Iowa State to major in fisheries and wildlife biology with the idea of working in a zoo or aquarium.

Lincoln Park Zoo is a perfect fit.

“I love walking around the zoo, hearing people talking about the animals,” he says. “I love the hard work that goes into it. I enjoy coming to work every morning and seeing my animals.”

The animals respond to him, too. Walking past the outdoor lion yard early one morning, Anthony calls to Myra, the 16-year-old female lion. She looks up at him expectantly. She knows his voice.

Anthony tends to the needs of each of the big cats in the 100-year-old Kovler Lion House – the African lions and Amur tigers, the regal jaguar, lynx, snow leopard, and puma, the tiny servals and hissy Pallas’ cats, and even a too-cute-to-be-real red panda – as well as the sole dweller of the seal pool, Della the gray seal. He feeds them, monitors their health, and sets up enrichment activities for them.

Between his position with the Farm-in-the-Zoo — where he worked with goats, chickens, cows, rabbits, and sheep — and his current position, Anthony worked at the Lincoln Park Zoo’s McCormick Bird House and Regenstein African Journey exhibit, which includes giraffes, wild dogs, rhinos, and more.

He jokes that his wife, Erin, can tell which animals he’s been working with on a given day by the way he smells when he comes home.

Anthony is content with his life in Chicago — where he bikes to work on a daily basis — and with his job at the Lincoln Park Zoo.

“I don’t plan on ever leaving this zoo,” he says. “I just really like the small atmosphere. It’s like working in a small town.”

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