HONOLULU (KHON2) – It’s National Zookeeper Week! This week the Honolulu Zoo wants to celebrate the people who take care of hundreds of different animals that call the Honolulu Zoo home.

Malia Davis is an animal zookeeper at the Honolulu Zoo and said she is also known as the elephant keeper. Davis said being a zookeeper is a lot of work but very rewarding. 

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“It’s really hard work physically, emotionally, mentally really and a lot of people don’t know that,” said Davis. “It’s not as glamourous as you think.”

Before Davis joined the Honolulu Zoo, she was a marine mammal trainer for the military. She came to the zoo in 1992 and has stayed ever since.

“I haven’t been to different zoos because I have always been a Hawaii girl,” said Davis. “My whole family is here, I grew up here, so I did whatever it took to be able to work with animals and live on the island.”

In zoo communities, zookeepers tend to pop around, moving from one zoo to another to another. Davis said doing that is a way zookeepers and staff can work their way up to management positions faster.  

“In the mainland there are many more opportunities for that but here we only have another zoo on the Big Island,” said Davis. “There are not a lot of openings in the two zoos in Hawaii so there isn’t a lot of jumping back and forth.”

She said when she started at the Honolulu Zoo, Vaigai was just brought to the zoo. Davis said she watched Vaigai grow up and over the years they really have created a special bond.

“I have a huge attachment to these animals. They are like my family they are like my kids actually,” said Davis “It really is like my own animals, but I know they belong to the children of Hawaii.”

Her advice to aspiring zookeepers is to never stop learning about animals, nature and the environments they live in. It’s important to pay attention to what animals say to you in their own ways. 

She also advises to have a good attitude because more often than not, as a zookeeper, you tend to pick up a lot of animal poop. 

“Picking up poo all day long, which is really heavy and raking it has its challenges but I like the physical component of the job,” said Davis. “It’s how I keep my body strong.”

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Davis said now she is teaching the younger generation of zookeepers at the Honolulu Zoo and is possibly the oldest zookeeper in the mammal department.