Dad & Daughter are Zoo Fans

Alissa Gottfried

Alissa Gottfreid in front of the Zoo’s gorilla exhibit.

They like primates, zoology and Zoo Pride. Father and daughter Justin and Alissa Gottfreid have taken their common interests into the world of volunteering. Alissa was the first to join Zoo Pride, the Zoological Society of Milwaukee’s (ZSM’s) volunteer auxiliary. In 1999, she was pursuing a bachelor’s degree in environmental conservation from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in hopes of becoming a zookeeper. Volunteering at the Milwaukee County Zoo supplemented an internship at the Racine Zoo. She brought her father, Justin, to a Zoo Pride picnic in 2004. Soon, he joined Zoo Pride as well. “This is something I could do with Dad,” says Alissa. Adds Justin: “We have a lot of discussions about animals.”

Alissa works as a zookeeper at the Racine Zoo, where she cares for giraffes, rhinos and zebras. “I always knew that I wanted to be a zookeeper,” she says. “I like taking care of these incredible animals.” Alissa also serves as the Racine Zoo’s registrar, keeping animal records and archives. Like his daughter, Justin has a science background, a B.S. in zoology, although his career was in business. Now retired, he was a business manager for the city of Milwaukee. Both he and Alissa completed extra training and passed an exam to move up to the level of Zoo Pride docent. “As a volunteer, I learn a lot about animals at this Zoo, and Alissa knows a lot about animals in Racine,” Justin says.

Justin Gottfried

Justin Gottfried at the Zoo

Primates are their specialty. As members of Zoo Pride’s primate committee, they answer visitor questions near the Zoo’s three great-ape exhibits -- bonobos, gorillas, orangutans -- and at the siamang and sometimes the mandrill and spider monkey exhibits. (The committee is active May 1 to Oct. 31.)  Alissa has been fascinated since childhood by gorillas after reading about gorilla conservationist Dian Fossey. Justin likes telling zoogoers “insider” facts about animals, such as the nicknames and ages (as of 2010) of his favorite gorillas, Hodari, 14, and Maji Maji, 18, facts that aren’t always on the signs. He also gives outreach talks to Milwaukee-area schools and nursing homes as part of Zoo Pride’s Speakers Bureau.

For Alissa, the volunteer group is a good resource. She gets to hear experts who give talks to Zoo Pride volunteers, she has access to the Zoo’s library for animal research, and she can socialize with fellow animal-lovers. As a child she learned about animals from her father during family trips to the Zoo. Today, father and daughter help teach each other.

Meet other volunteers here.