A Day in the Life of a Cat Ambassador Trainer at the Cincinnati Zoo

Posted December 3, 2021 by Emily Myers

Happy International Cheetah Day! Have you ever wondered what it’s like to work in the Cat Ambassador Program? Let’s take a look at what a typical day is like for us and our animals during the Kroger Cheetah Encounter season!

Every morning, we get in at 7:30am. It’s early, but the animals are ready to eat! Cheetahs are obligate carnivores, meaning that they only eat meat, so their diet consists of ground beef made specifically for cheetahs in human care to ensure they get all of their nutrients. One of our trainers also heads down to the cheetah habitat by the Base Camp Cafe to take care of our retired runners, Redd and Tom.

After the animals have eaten, it’s time to trade out the yards. One of the cheetahs will have had the large yard overnight, so we will swap and give someone else their turn. We even have a fancy chart that we fill in to make sure everyone has equal opportunities for training, enrichments, programs, farm time, and specific yards. Once our animals have full bellies and are set up somewhere fun, we clean their houses.

During the encounter season, we generally set up our lure system about an hour or so before the program time, just to make sure it’s working for our cats. As we talk about in the encounter, we place the bumpers throughout the yard to create a pattern for the cheetahs to run and then hook the system up to the power source, which is actually a boat battery. Once the system and props are set up, we can load the animals and get ready for the encounter!

Remember the fancy chart I talked about? We have another one to make sure all of the cheetahs get equal chances to run during encounters. During the summer encounter season, we have 4 cheetah runs a day (2 per encounter), so we always try to be strategic about who we pick for each one. This ensures that the cheetahs both get time to run (which they love!) and time to rest and relax.

After both programs, all of our animals get lunch. Sometimes, the cheetahs that run get some or all of their lunch during the program, but we give them the rest (and some treats). After we make sure all of our animals have eaten, we take our human lunch.

After lunch, our time can be different every single day! This is one of my favorite parts of my job. We get to do training sessions with our animals, create special enrichment, play lunge ball (basically a giant cat toy, but for cheetahs), or even play soccer with Nia, one of our cheetahs who is a superb athlete. Our afternoon is usually devoted to creating special experiences for our animals. Next time you see us out in one of our yards, stop by and say hi!

At the end of the day, we feed everyone their dinner. While everyone is eating, we check the temperature and weather overnight to make sure that we set up the doors and everything correctly to ensure that our animals stay comfortable and toasty warm. Just like in the morning and throughout the day, we trade yards at night and give one cat (or sometimes a cheetah/dog pair, like Kris and Remus) the yard overnight. One trainer goes down to the habitat to ensure that Redd and Tom are also fed and safely tucked in for the night.

One of the best parts of my job is spending time with our cheetahs. I’m so lucky to be a trainer, zookeeper, and educator, and I hope that I can make people as excited about cheetahs as I am! Unfortunately, there are less than 7,500 cheetahs left in their native range in Africa. Yes, you read that right. Luckily, the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden does SO much for cheetah conservation. We have a cheetah breeding facility right here in Cincinnati, out at our Mast Farm in Loveland. Our zoo also supports cheetah conservation efforts across the globe through programs like Cheetah Outreach, Ruaha Carnivore Project, and Cheetah Conservation Botswana. Supporting these programs means supporting projects like giving guard dogs to farmers in Africa to protect their livestock, which has significantly reduced livestock loss from cheetahs in the area. This reduces human-wildlife conflict and helps to save the cheetah.

If you’re looking for one way to help support cheetahs on this International Cheetah Day, you can visit the Cincinnati Zoo or your local AZA-Accredited Zoo or Aquarium. Thanks for checking into a day here at our Cat Ambassador Program!

Want to see this in action? Check out the video below of one of our trainers caring for our cheetahs during the pandemic when the zoo was closed. Thankfully the zoo is fully open again and we were able to do programs this year! While our Kroger Cheetah Encounter season is over, you can still come out to the zoo and see our beautiful PNC Festival of Lights!