Meet a Mom: Kim Hernandez, Zookeeper at Potter Park Zoo | Greater Lansing Area Moms

Meet a Mom Mondays are a GLAMoms favorite.  This week we are excited to share an awesome mom who is also a Zookeeper from Lansing’s own Potter Park Zoo!  At home Kim is the mom of two beautiful daughters!  At work she sometimes plays human-mom to quite an assortment of Potter Park Zoo residents.

Kim is the Hoofstock Area Lead at Potter Park Zoo.  Animals under her care include Rhinos, Elk, Bongos, Cavies, Tufted Deer, Kangaroo, Ponies, Goats, Dexter Cows, Alpaca, Guinea Hogs, Giant Chinchilla Rabbits and Anteaters.  

World Rhino Day is September 25 – perfect reason to head to Potter Park Zoo, be on the lookout for Kim and visit the Black Rhinos, Doppsee and Jaali.

Welcome to Greater Lansing Area Moms, Kim 🙂 

Please introduce yourself, where are you from, where do you reside now? 
Hi! My name is Kimberly Hernandez and I am a hard working mom of 2 girls. I grew up in Lincoln Park, Michigan, attended Michigan State University and have been living here in Lansing ever since.

What do you think is one of the best parts about being a mom? 
Experiencing new things and places with my kids. It makes my heart full watching their reactions and being a part of their first time experiences. I really enjoy taking and picking up my kids from school. Working full time has made it hard for me to be able to do simple stuff like this daily.

What piece of advice for new moms you wish you would have known when your kids were younger? 
Live in the moment and go on adventures. It’s ok to have a slightly messy house. Have fun and play with your kids, the chores will always be there, but your kids are little for only a blink of an eye.

Tell us about being a Zookeeper at Potter Park Zoo!
It is hard to believe I have been a Zookeeper for 17 years! I went to MSU and received a bachelors in Zoology and Potter Park has been my first and only zookeeping job. Although currently my primary focus is on hoofstock, I have worked with many different species of animals. I get to care for animals, build relationships with and watch them grow up or old. 

Have you ever touched a Rhino and felt just how hard or even soft in certain spots their skin is? I have! 

I get to teach people just how important their species is and help create awareness about them. As a Zookeeper I am a caregiver, a manure remover, an educator, a researcher and much more! I have had opportunities to visit other zoos through conferences and job shadows as networking is very important. 

As a Zookeeper, animal welfare is always a primary focus. Every day wanting to do better for the animals. Another thing I enjoy about being a Zookeeper is my kids get bragging rights. “My mom is a Zookeeper”. I mean how cool is that?

What animal(s) are you responsible for? 
I currently help care for our Hoofstock animals (plus a few others). Elk, Rhino, Bongos, tufted deer, everyone in the farmyard, Kangaroo, Cavy and Anteater.

What is something you love about caring for animals at Potter Park Zoo? 
I love the personal relationships I am able to build with the animals I care for as well as watching them grow and age with me. I have worked at the zoo for 17 years so I have first hand experience at seeing many young ones grow up. You learn their species specific behaviors, likes, dislikes, etc. I get to teach people how important their species survival is. 

A little secret: I am good with numbers but horrible with ages. If an animal is 15, five years later in my mind the animal is still 15. Oh where has the time gone haha!. I also really enjoy seeing how much the zoo has changed since I first started working there.

Potter Park Zoo was closed early on in the pandemic – what changes have been made since reopening? 
Potter Park Zoo has made quite a few changes since reopening. One way pathways, signs encouraging social distancing in viewing areas, masks in indoor public areas, encouraging online ticket sales by staggering arrival times to name a few. 

When we were able to open back up to the public, Potter Park made a safe place for people to feel comfortable visiting. I have seen so much positive feedback from facebook groups that I am a part of and even from my daughters’ pediatrician. 

How do you balance being both working as a Zookeeper and being a mom?  
It is definitely hard being a working mom. I thought I had a pretty good balance at this until the pandemic hit. As an essential worker, I still had to work. 

Virtual learning for my kids while I was working and then me coming home and spending another 2 hours helping my kindergartener catch up. Thankfully, I was able to have my now 15 year old help her little sister with her lives (lessons) during the day. 

Generally, when I am working, I focus on work. When I come home, I focus on my kids and family life. Not going to lie, sometimes that doesn’t work out so well. I punch a time clock, but the animals don’t – haha. Things come up, animals give birth on holidays or your days off and exceptions are made. Afterall, that is my “family” too. 

My kids love to hear stories about what is happening at the zoo. How is your pony doing or how big is the baby rhino? I think the hardest thing to balance about being a zookeeper and being a mom is when my kids want to go to the zoo (my work), but I was just there!

What is something you are looking forward to in 2022 at Potter Park Zoo? 
I am looking forward to hopefully having a new baby rhino, preferably a girl. Fingers Crossed! I also really missed our Big Zoo Lesson Rhino tours. I enjoyed watching 3rd/4th graders meeting Doppsse. Hopefully this will be possible again.

Here are a couple questions to get to know you better 🙂  

What is something you never carry in your pocket when you are near the animals? 
My license and credit/debit cards. Once in a while, I have to have it on me and it sends me into panic mode when I can’t find it in my purse. Did I drop it in an exhibit?

Strangest thing in your purse at this moment? 
The strangest thing I have in my purse are a few of my daughter’s baby teeth. The tooth fairy happened to be on her way to work!

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? 
I always wanted to be a veterinarian, do something with animals, or be a math teacher. I would say I achieved my goal!

Can’t live without skincare or makeup products? 
Probably skincare. Sunscreen and mosquito repellent is a must in the line of work I do!

Last book you read? 
As much as I love reading, I haven’t had much time lately. I know it is something I read off Amazon with my kindle app.

What does me-time look like? 
I would like to say watching a favorite show or reading a favorite book, but if I can grocery shop by myself then I will consider that me-time.

Favorite autumn tradition or activity? 
My family and I go  to a cider mill and also visit places where you can see fall colors the best. This year I would like to see the tunnel of trees up North.

Are you team Pumpkin Spice Latte or more of an Apple Cider fan? 
Definitely an Apple Cider fan. No pumpkin anything although the animals I care for may not agree!

Mind sharing a mom trick another mom will be happy to learn? 
Bring a coat. Doesn’t matter if it is 90degrees out. Someone is going to say their cold at whatever store or restaurant you go to.

Any upcoming events for family fun planned for Potter Park Zoo?
There are a couple things in the next few weeks.  Events are also found on the Potter Park Zoo events page.

  • World Rhino Day & Ingham County Free Day – September 25, 9 AM – 5 PM
  • Fall Zoo-Tacular Every Saturday and Sunday starting October 9 and ending October 24, 9 AM – 5 PM

Where are other places GLAMoms will find more information about Potter Park Zoo?
Facebook: potterparkzoo
Instagram potterparkzoo
Twitter account: potterparkzoo
LinkedIn account: potter-park-zoo 
Contact Potter Park Zoo via this contact link: potterparkzoo.org/contact/
Website: potterparkzoo

Photo credit: Kim Hernandez

Would you like to nominate someone for GLAMom’s Monday Meet a Mom feature?  Please email info@greaterlansingareamoms.com and we will take it from there!

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