Kaylee Franklin, BS ’10

Photo of Kaylee

Animal lover or people person? Kaylee Franklin happens to be both.

In fact, building relationships with animals and humans is an essential aspect of her role at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

“The zoo’s mission is ‘Empowering People. Saving Wildlife,’” she said. “Those two things cannot happen independently, and we strive to be leaders in conservation while also inspiring people to want to help protect and save species in the wild.”

As supervisor of the Wild Encounters Africa exhibit, Kaylee oversees the team that manages the Watering Hole and cheetah habitats.

Photo of Kaylee in a zoo exhibit

“This includes the daily husbandry and training of cheetahs, warthogs, spotted hyenas, aardvarks, and silvery cheeked hornbills, as well as guest engagement presentations, and behind-the-scenes tours,” she explained.

The Watering Hole—which is Kaylee’s favorite spot at the zoo—is designed to replicate a watering hole that you would find on safari in Africa.

“As you approach it, you never know what animals you might see stopping by,” she said.

Her job is filled with joyful moments, like the time she trained her favorite otter—Yang—to become a confident swimmer. “I’ve never been so proud,” she said.

But working with animals can also be an emotional strain.

“Sometimes we spend more time with the animals than we do with our families,” she said. “Illness and loss are an inevitable part of the job and the life cycle of species, but it can take a toll. But the beauty is, you are surrounded by people who understand, and you can lean on each other in those hard times.”

Kaylee’s pathway to the zoo started at Northern. While majoring in biology, she had the opportunity to intern at a big cat sanctuary. This experience cemented her desire to work with animals. She also got to interview Jack Hanna, a nationally-known zookeeper, for an ONU class.

Much to her delight, one of her first jobs at the Columbus Zoo was traveling across the country with Hanna for his theatre shows. She even got to visit ONU with Hanna and the Columbus Zoo animals for one of his shows.

“It was a beautiful, full circle moment for me,” she said.