07:00 AM

Hersheypark Celebrates Retirement of Reindeer Caretaker

Reindeer Caretaker, Denise Snyder, Retires After 26 Years

Hershey Entertainment & Resorts (HE&R) is proud to recognize and celebrate the retirement of Reindeer Keeper, Denise Snyder, after a 26-year career with ZooAmerica. For more than 25 years, visiting the reindeer at Santa's Stables has become a tradition for many families visiting Hersheypark Christmas Candylane, and the tireless work and passion of Denise Snyder has impacted guests of the Stables

Most of Denise's life has revolved around ZooAmerica, alongside her husband and Zoo Curator, Dale Snyder. Denise attributes her animal knowledge to both Dale and her mentor, Raleigh Hughes - the zookeeper of the original Hershey Zoo. After the Hershey Zoo closed, Hughes came out of retirement to be a consultant for the Hershey Animal Gardens, and Denise was trained on the job by Hughes for several years as a teenager.

Denise has supported almost every area of the Zoo since its opening in 1978. During the year, Denise would lead the Zoo Admissions team, working with groups and helping school teachers create the best field trip experience possible for their students. In November, she would switch hats and prepare for the arrival of Santa’s nine reindeer at Hersheypark. Denise attributes her success to her unique position of working “both sides of the fence” and genuinely wants to make guests happy and care about our resident animal ambassadors. Making visitors feel comfortable and at home among our animals was just one of Denise’s many talents. 

As a child, Denise was fascinated by reindeer and loved to draw them. Denise’s interest and drive made her a clear choice to take ownership of the reindeer herd every holiday season since 1997. She conducted research and spoke with reindeer ranchers to learn everything about reindeer to best share their fascinating natural history with visitors to Hersheypark Christmas Candylane. Denise fondly remembers the moment she saw the reindeer for the first time - she laughed as she thought they looked like cartoon characters!

After speaking with Denise, guests to the Reindeer Stables would often become enamored by these beautiful animals. Denise remembers meeting a little girl named Jackie in the early 2000s:  Jackie would visit the reindeer stables several times a night and asked Denise to become pen pals. Jackie was also determined to win Denise a stuffed reindeer from a game in Hersheypark, playing until she won and presenting her gift to her favorite Reindeer Keeper. That little girl is now grown, and Denise still writes to her parents.

Denise’s legacy is also felt through every team member who has had the pleasure of working with her at HE&R. She is described as compassionate, perceptive, innovative, loyal, and kind and is lovingly referred to as a “Reindeer Aficionado and Guest Experience Guru." Denise's cheerful presence and energy at the Zoo will be missed immensely, and we wish her the best in her well-deserved retirement! 


As Denise’s passion was teaching people to appreciate the creatures of the world, we will leave you with one of her favorite reindeer facts.

REINDEER FACT: Reindeer stay hydrated in the winter because of their noses! As they breathe in cold air, the many blood vessels and hairs in their nose create condensation that runs down their throat to keep them hydrated.