Up Close: Profile of the General Curator at ZooAmerica
“The quality of their life depends on the quality of our care.”
ZooAmerica is celebrating 40 years of creating smiles for our guests, providing homes to rescued animals and educating children. Dale Snyder, General Curator at ZooAmerica is also celebrating the ruby anniversary, as he has been with the Zoo since day one. His knowledge and passion for the animals in the Zoo is unparalleled. He’s a team player in every sense of the word and will always put others before himself. This selfless attitude and willingness to help is just one of the many reasons he’s looked up to by the younger staff and so well respected by his peers. Between providing TLC to the animals and their many feedings we had the chance to talk to Dale about his time before ZooAmerica, what his favorite animal is and more.
Q) Tell us about your career. Where did you go to school? What was your career path prior to joining Hershey?
A) I grew up on a farm and went to Cedar Crest High School. Then, I attended Millersville University where I received a Bachelor of Science degree in Social Studies with a Geography Emphasis.
Q) Walk us through your career so far at Hershey.
A) In 1972 I was hired as a ride operator in Hersheypark where I worked in the Fun House and Cuddle–Up ride. At that time it was located on the hill near where Hershey Triple Tower are located today. The summer of 1973 I worked on the utility crew that washed down the park. We worked from 10 at night until 10 the following morning. My third summer I worked in the Hersheypark Animal Garden – a petting zoo with baby animals located where Trail Blazer Catering is today, and eventually became the Animal Gardens supervisor. I was so fortunate to work with Raleigh Hughes who ran the Hershey Zoo until it closed in 1980. He was my mentor and a great role model for not just being an animal caretaker but he was also an excellent life coach. I worked at the Animal Garden until 1978 when I was hired at ZooAmerica. It was also while working there that I met my wife Denise.
Q) Why did you choose to work for ZooAmerica?
A) During the off season I was substitute teaching – searching for a full-time position with little success, and working at the Park in the summers. When the decision was made to open ZooAmerica in 1978 I interviewed and was blessed to get one of three full-time animal care positions. I was responsible for all the exhibits located outside of the two buildings. I was given the opportunity to attend zoo school, an animal management program run by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association which was staffed by zoo employees from around the country. Through the years I advanced to the Supervisor of Animal Services position and was eventually named General Curator.
Q) What's your biggest accomplishment since joining the ZooAmerica team?
A) That’s hard. Most of the accomplishments of the Zoo are shared among a very dedicated and talented team. I am proud of helping work on many of the early education programs, designing the after-hours tour and helping to provide homes for many orphaned and injured animals that needed some care and a place they could safely live out their lives.
Q) What's your favorite animal at the Zoo?
A) When the Zoo first opened, my favorites were the raccoons because I find them extremely mischievous. They were always finding new ways to cause trouble. My current favorites are Rainier the orphaned mountain lion cub that the Zoo hand raised from a few pounds to the 120 pound beautiful cat that he is today, and all the bears.
Q) What's the most rewarding aspect of your job?
A) It is rewarding to know that we are able to help children learn about nature and hopefully give them the spark that allows them to become the next generation that will care for the natural world. I have been able to travel the country attending conferences and visiting zoos and nature centers that have allowed me to learn from some of the most fascinating naturalists alive today. I feel blessed to have been given the opportunity to work around all these beautiful and fascinating creatures for 40 years. The animals have truly enriched my life.
Q) What advice would you give someone interested in a career in zoos?
A) Learn all you can about nature. Read, study, visit zoos and natural areas and get out in nature. Do not be discouraged. There are very few jobs in zoos nationwide so you may need to think creatively to find your career. I always thought I was going to be a school teacher, but a higher power sometimes leads you in a different direction to an even more rewarding career, so be open to all possibilities. A summer job for me grew into a rewarding career, so always do your best no matter what that job might be.
Q) What's the best perk of your job?
A) Whenever things get me down I just need to leave the office and walk the Zoo. Before you know it, watching the animals in the collection puts you right back in a good place.
Q) What does a typical day consist of?
A) One thing you can say is there is nothing routine about a zoo day. You may have your whole day planned out but an unexpected illness or injury, or birth can change all that. The job revolves around the needs of the animals as they always come first. One of my favorite zoo sayings I found states, “The quality of their life depends on the quality of our care,” so making sure we are all providing the best care possible has to be my first priority. Record keeping, meetings, payroll, seminars, schedules – while all important, must take a back seat to giving each animal the best care we can possibly provide.
Q) Tell us something folks might not know about you.
A) I love to read and my favorite way to relax is by doing yard work. I also love to travel, and my goal is to visit every state capital and every president’s home.