Local News

Ask Anything: 10 questions with N.C. Zoo rep Tom Gillespie

N.C. Zoo rep Tom Gillespie answers your questions about the best time to see animals, becoming a zookeeper and much more.

Posted Updated
N.C. Zoo representative Tom Gillespie
Are you planning on introducing any new species to your exhibits in the near future? – Tray Epperly, Fuquay-Varina

We’re going to introduce a new antelope species, the bongo, in August of this year and lemurs in the spring of 2010.

My family went to the zoo this past weekend and many of the animals were not moving because of the heat or in their sleeping quarters because it was cooler. When is the best time to visit the zoo to see the most animals moving? – M Medlin, Four Oaks

Try to get to the zoo as early as possible in the morning. We open at 9 a.m. Nine to 11 a.m. is best; it’s usually cooler then and animals are more active.

What do you do with the animals in the outdoor habitats when there is severe weather like ice storms or hurricanes? – Crystal Burriss, Raleigh

There are off-exhibit areas and shelters/barns into which the animals can go. We keep the animals in their off-exhibit holding areas when we are expecting severe weather such as hurricanes or ice storms. During these times, the zoo will likely be closed anyway. Some animals aren’t exhibited when temperatures become too severe for them.

I know the budget is tight right now, but is there a long term plan to add an Asia continent to the zoo? We'd love to see tigers at the zoo someday (and pandas!) – Laura Fraioli, Durham

There is a plan to do that, but it will likely be about five to 10 years down the road due to budget restraints.

I visited the zoo back in May and had a great time. I did notice that there are many exhibits, such as the polar bear exhibit, that only has one animal. Is there any chance that these animals will get a companion? It is sad to think that these animals are in an enclosed area with no one to play with or interact with. Thank you for your time. – Will, Cary

Although many of our species are social, others are naturally solitary. Adult polar bears, for example, seldom are seen in pairs in the wild, usually only with cubs. We try to match the animals with their social structure that would exist in the wild, but sometimes budget restraints and exhibit size limits this.

I went to the zoo on July 10, and I was pleased to see that your new giraffe exhibit was open to the public where people get to feed the giraffes. Are there plans in the future that will allow the public to get more up close and personal with the animals at the zoo? – Jamie Dickens, Raleigh

We’ve had a wonderful response to the giraffe encounter station and want to create more of those situations for visitors. But at the zoo, expansion is almost always dictated by budget.

On our trip to the zoo there were many signs posted saying "no backpacks allowed." We had ours ready with jackets, hand wipes, etc. but left it in the car to follow the rules. Once inside we quickly saw MOST guests had backpacks! What gives? – Wade Rosbach, Raleigh

Some backpacks are allowed, particularly those for camera equipment and medical and other special needs. Check at the entrance to see if items in your pack are allowed items.

Why are there no emergency call stations/boxes at exhibits and on the trails? We took my 7-year-old niece and 77-year-old mother to the zoo on July 4. We started at the Africa exhibit, but only managed to see half due to pushing my mother in a wheel chair. At the monkey exhibit, my 65-year-old husband could not push her back up the uphill trail. Seeing no way to contact anyone, I walked past the orange barricade at the end of the walkway and flagged down a tram who contacted a bus to pick up my mom and park staff with a golf cart for us (to take us to meet my mom). Why are there no emergency call stations at the exhibits and trails? – Donna Haynes, Wake Forest

Again, budget restraints are the primary prohibitor. However, we have Rangers and EMTs throughout the park, and visitors are encouraged to ask any zoo employee for help at any time. Also, trams allow guests to get back to entrances and other areas for special help.

I'd first like to start off by saying how wonderful the N.C. Zoo is! For anyone that's never had the opportunity to go, you're truly missing out on a wonderful experience! I'd like to know if you do anything special for the animals on holidays. Do you decorate the zoo in any way? – Bridget Allen, Timberlake

We have scheduled special events each year at Halloween and Easter and throughout the year, and particularly in the summer months, we have events that allow visitors to meet and talk to keepers. We also routinely have special entertainment, “birthday” parties for particular animals, cool treats for the animals in hot weather and many events geared for kids.

What qualifications do you look for in someone interested in becoming a zoo keeper at the N.C. Zoo? What kind of degree and experience do you look for? – Renee Westich, Apex

Typically, our keepers and staff members have A.A or A.S. degrees – although a B.A. or B.S. is usually preferred – in areas such as zoo technology, biology or animal science. Experience from other animal facilities is best. Interested individuals can also look into internships and volunteer opportunities at both the zoo and Wildlife Center here on zoo grounds. There are also occasional zoo-staff openings in areas such as horticulture, education, human resources, marketing and public affairs, finance, IT, maintenance, design, gift shops, park rangers, food services and general administration.

Read more Ask Anything interviews!


More On This


Copyright 2024 by Capitol Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.