Zookeeper to get certification to help penguins stay happy

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A local zookeeper is getting ready to take a trip to South Africa for a rare training with birds – almost as rare as her.

“There is a bird certification board that certifies bird trainers that do work with exotic species in zoos like I do,” says Hannah Baker the Education Animal Curator at the Little Rock Zoo.

Baker is one of hundred people in the world who is a “certified bird trainer” through the International Avian Trainer Certification Board.

“We’re lucky enough to have three on staff at Little rock Zoo – including myself,” she adds. “The Little Rock Zoo has been very supportive in continuing education for us.”

The certification allows Baker to work with some of the rarest of birds. From flying hawks to the cutest of penguins – one of her favorites.

“They [the penguins] are my coworkers and they are very cute,” Baker says.

One of the penguins, named Phoenix, was abandoned by her parents as an egg. It was Baker who stepped up and took her “under her wing” by hand feeding her and giving her around-the clock-care.

“They take multivitamins and eat restaurant-quality fish,” says Baker.

These penguins can’t be outside if it’s lower than 32 degrees, but enjoy Arkansas warm sunny days, says Baker.

“What is unique about this species of penguins is that they are warm climate penguins,” she says. “A lot of people don’t realize that not all penguins live in the snow. So African penguins live on the beach.”

When Baker isn’t busy feeding or caring for her feathered friends, She works with the Ambassador Animals and the African Penguin Exhibit.

“So I am in the Conservation and Education Department at the Little Rock Zoo,” says Baker. “I get to teach people about animals all over the world including endangered species, like the African black-footed penguin.”

Which is why Baker will be taking a trip to Africa to help penguins lead better lives.

“I get to go to South Africa in November to rehab sick and oil spilled penguins,” she says. “We get to be directly involved in conservation work and by supporting AZA-Accredited Zoos, like Little Rock Zoo, you are helping the conservation of animals all over the world.”

The trip is being funded by Arkansas Zoological Foundation. A non-profit organization that works to grow and develop the Little Rock Zoo.

“Sometimes on stressful days I have to remind myself, I get to work at the Zoo,” says Baker. “And then it all goes away.”

She has a passion for penguins, educating people and providing meaningful work to help animals all around the world.

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Aaron Nolan is a morning show co-host in Little Rock, Arkansas with Nexstar Media Group's KARK-TV. He has a passion for social media and makes it an important part of his daily routine. Click here to read Aaron's full bio.