Women of the Zoo: Meet Tanisha
“I told my mom, ‘I cannot do this. It smells like fish, my hair was getting wet, the humidity was crazy, and I am miserable – I am out!’ but she told me to stick it out – don’t give up and see this through…and here I am today.”
In 1989, Tanisha joined a high school program with three choices: sweep floors at the Coliseum, clean dishes at a restaurant, or assist at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo. The Zoo was her very last choice. Though cutting fish and helping screaming children on the Zoo rides wasn’t her dream job, it was soon the people she met and the friendships she gained that made the Zoo feel like home.
In 1990, as a new high school grad, Tanisha was offered the opportunity to stay at the Zoo. “I wanted to work for one more year before leaving… just one more year. Once I agreed to stay, I began to learn the animal routes in Central: I worked with the bob cats, snow leopards, prairie dogs, squirrel monkeys, fed the birds, flamingoes — but the very best one was sea lions. And once I started working with the aquatic animals, that’s when I knew I made it.”
In 1999, after nine years of getting to know the animals on her route, improving her training skills, and seeing the Zoo change, she was ready for more. “Next thing I knew, a position opened up in the Indonesian Rainforest to work with the tigers. I had snow leopard experience and I decided to apply.” She was the woman for the job and the tigers gained a new keeper. “I remember when I started the new position being asked ‘What animal would you like to work with the most?’ I said the orangutans would be fun and intriguing! And I was told I would never work with them.”
In 2022, Tanisha has been the Section Supervisor for the Indonesian Rainforest for 20 years and oversees all of the animals in that area, including the orangutans. From washing dishes and preparing animal meals to overseeing an entire rainforest, Tanisha has seen (and smelled) it all in her 31 years at the Zoo.
“I have never asked one of my employees to do something I haven’t done myself. I’ve been here longer than any other employee at the Zoo, so I’ve worked with a lot of different people, and a lot of different animals, and everyone is treated fairly with me. I hear people out and treat them the way I would like to be treated because it all comes back to benefit the animal. And even though there were times that were tough, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”