A Peculiar Passion for Primates

Zoo InternQuest is a seven-week career exploration program for San Diego County high school juniors and seniors. Students have the unique opportunity to meet professionals working for the San Diego Zoo, Safari Park, and Institute for Conservation Research, learn about jobs, and then blog about their experience online. Follow their adventures here on the Zoo’s website!
Shannon_W1bFrom traveling all over the U.S., to studying in the jungles of Papua New Guinea, and receiving a pilot’s license just for the heck of it, there are many places a person can end up. Not many people obtain their dream job, but for Kim Livingstone, the job she dreamed of led her to something else- something slightly unexpected.

Hand feeding Scrub Jays ever since she was a small child, Ms. Livingstone had an obvious passion for animals especially birds. In her later years of high school, Ms. Livingstone knew she wanted to attend a college to study wild animals, but every teacher she consulted steered her towards livestock studies and agriculture. Luckily, she knew very well that she could get to where she wanted if she worked at it. In a letter to her future self, she even predicted that 10 years after high school she would be working at the San Diego Safari Park! After discovering Moore Park College and studying to be a veterinary technician, Ms. Livingstone decided she needed to decide for herself where she belonged. In the 1980s she set out on a wild adventure- quite literally- and visited various zoos across the U.S., talking to anyone who would listen.

Over 2,655 miles and a few months later, Ms. Livingstone found herself at the Miami Metro Zoo in Florida. Still fascinated with ornithology, the study of birds, she inquired about volunteering for the bird exhibits at the zoo. Even though there had never been any volunteers before, she insisted that she could be the first, and they gladly accepted. No less than a year later, Ms. Livingstone had received a job there, and was even taking part in a conservation effort in Papua New Guinea. Deep in the heart of the jungle collecting Raggiana birds-of-paradise, she ran into researchers from none other than the San Diego Zoo! Immediately upon her return from the trip, Ms. Livingstone sent a letter to the San Diego Zoo asking if there were any possibilities of her volunteering or working there. One day, after around a year of waiting, she received the call she had been waiting for: there was a job opportunity available in the bird department at the Zoo! Although she finally reached the job of her dreams, she didn’t stay there for long due to an unexpected change at the Zoo, and a desperate need for a keeper in the primate department.

Ms. Livingstone now found herself doing something she had never expected, but it ended up being a job that she loved even more. A new keeper for the San Diego Zoo’s bonobos, a species believed to be pygmy chimps until the 1970s when they were proved to be a separate species; Ms. Livingstone certainly had her hands full. Her new role at the Zoo now came with many new tasks: research trips to study the native species of chimps in South Africa, studying the specific behaviors and lives of apes, and working hand in hand with global conservation efforts. When she isn’t feeding, cleaning, or setting up enrichment toys for the animals, Ms. Livingstone works hand in hand with conservation groups. Lola Ya Bonobo, a bonobo conservation sanctuary is one that Ms. Livingstone works closely with. This sanctuary focuses on rescuing bonobos from destroyed habitats and rehabilitating them. The team at Lola Ya Bonobo actually employs previous hunters and poachers in order to give them an education and alternative to endangering wild animals. For more information and updates on their bonobos being released into the wild, visit lolayabonobo.org!

Now one of the lead keepers of the primate department at the San Diego Zoo, Kim Livingstone loves what she does and is living her dream of dedicating her life to the care and conservation of wild animals. She loves her ape family and enjoys educating people on their lives, and is especially fascinated by their incredible level of intelligence. Did you know that apes can think into the future, considering possible outcomes and results of their actions? Or that apes place blame on other animals for hurtful actions just like people do? I sure didn’t until I met Ms. Livingstone! To her, these apes are family, and she loves every second of being able to share her family with each visitor at the San Diego Zoo.

Shannon, Careers Team
Week One, Fall 2015