#68 - Jungle Jordan Veasley: Improving Welfare for All Species

[00:00:00] Jordan: I made a uh, teeter totter thing for these uh, otters once, and that was, they were river otters, and that was fun. They didn’t interact with it. They did not interact, and I was like, okay, why aren’t they interacting with it? One, because they’ve never seen it before, it’s brand new. Sometimes a lot of animals are very interested in new things, and like otters usually are, but they were avoiding this.

Why are they avoiding it? Is it scary? Do they think it’s a threat? So, entice them a little bit. Put a fish in there, see what happens. Okay, they go after, they go for the fish, but they just pull it off the teeter totter. They don’t go on the teeter totter. What is something to make them realize this is a fun toy? They make, they have more fun playing with a rock and a pebble, they will be entertained for hours with a pebble. They love that kind of stuff, and I feel like people will see that. They they visit the zoo and see, “Oh, he’s playing with a rock, he must be bored.” No! He’s just really having fun with this rock! And, I don’t know I just think, don’t give up too soon. Just because the animal doesn’t interact with it. That’s my best advice.

[00:01:00] Allie: Welcome to Enrichment for the Real World, the podcast devoted to improving the quality of life of pets and their people through enrichment. We are your hosts, Allie Bender…

[00:01:17] Emily: …and I’m Emily Strong…

[00:01:19] Allie: …and we are here to challenge and expand your view of what enrichment is, what enrichment can be and what enrichment can do for you and the animals in your lives. Let’s get started.

Thank you for joining us for today’s episode of Enrichment for the Real World, and I want to thank you for rating, reviewing, and subscribing wherever you listen to podcasts.

The voice you heard at the beginning of today’s episode was Jungle Jordan Veasley Jungle Jordan is a zookeeper and wildlife educator whose mission is to make it fun to learn about the animal world. He advocates not only for the conservation of wildlife, but also for diverse audiences to get involved in animal care and conservation.

Jordan hopes his voice will inspire more diversity and inclusivity in the animal world. Y’all, this interview got me teary eyed. Jordan is doing such important work not only for the animals in his care, but for humans too. Representation matters, and he’s a living, breathing example of why.

Plus, he really does make education fun. He’s a wonderful educator and storyteller, and just a great human being. In this episode, you’re going to hear Emily and Jordan talk about what sorcery this is, relating to other people when they’re not ready to hear what you have to say, boxes are fun, neurodiversity, diversity, and representation, and imagine how hard it would be to give a bear something. Alright, here it is, today’s episode, Jungle Jordan Veasley Improving Welfare for All Species.

 And just a heads up, there’s a content warning for this episode. There is some discussion of animal abuse and racial discrimination.

[00:02:52] Emily: All right, tell us your name, your pronouns, and your pets.

[00:02:56] Jordan: My name is Jordan Veasley. I go by Jungle Jordan. Pronouns he, him, and I currently don’t have any pets.

[00:03:03] Emily: All right. So, tell us your story and how you got to where you are.

[00:03:07] Jordan: Well, that’s a long story. I’ll try to shorten it up as best I can. So, I started out with just this love and passion for animals and wildlife. And I always just found myself fascinated by them and watching them on TV, reading different things like zoo books, and animal books. And like specifically, you remember the Zoo Book magazine. I used to read those all the time, like until the pages were worn out. I always. Would just go in my backyard and stare at the birds, specifically eagles, especially they were amazing. They would fly and raise their little babies and fly off like they would, like the babies would fledge, and it would be really cool to watch them as they grew.

And I grew up with anger management problems as well as ADHD. And I grew up different, and kids thought it was weird that I was so into animals and kids also thought that it was like funny to like tease me because of my anger. So, my mom tried to find an outlet for me to, to figure out, “Hey, how can we keep him happy?”

Cause I was always a happy kid, always a big smiley, happy kid. And she went to the zoo, my local zoo and said, “Hey, can my son be a volunteer?” They said no initially, because I was, I was only 11 years old. And uh, that’s not like something that zoos did, taking 11-year-old volunteers. But, they, my mom was persistent, and she kept pushing and pushing, and then they said, “Okay, fine, bring him in, we’ll see what happens.” And I went, and they fell in love with me, because I they took me in, and I stayed.

And so, I was one of the youngest volunteers in the history of that zoo. And at that point I realized I wanted to become a zookeeper. But before that, I always had a dream to have like a show where I educated people about wildlife. And that’s where we fast forward to now. I always would walk around the zoo as a kid and just talk to strangers about wildlife, just as a visitor.

And I just love that. Even when I was a zookeeper, I just love giving talks. But I learned that I have a bigger goal and mission to be able to talk to people that I couldn’t necessarily do as a zookeeper. Which is why I created my social media presence as Jungle Jordan.

[00:05:18] Emily: I love that so much. And I think one of the reasons that I really wanted you on the show is because I really resonate with your story. I also am neurodivergent and as is the case with many types of neurodivergence, I also struggled with emotional regulation, and I also had a passion with animals and channeled that.

And I also got started at 11 for similar reasons. So, different field, cause I was working in shelters and vet clinics, but we share so much in common in that regard and that journey. And I really love seeing somebody else who started off as just like a little munchkin. Growing into the field and moving towards humane education.

And I gotta just kick off this interview with some immediate awkwardness because that’s how I roll. And also, because I need to gush at you about you. Because here’s the thing. I am just so blown away by your ability to be informative, and interesting, and accessible, and hilarious, and keeping focus on the broader picture of conservation, while also maintaining focus on the individual animal’s wellbeing. And to me, that comes from I’m not saying I’ve got all the skills you’ve got, but game recognizes game.

That comes from just growing up, and like living and breathing animals and spending so much time with them and so much time educating people. And I see that, right? And I love how gentle you are when handling animals. There was this one clip, where you were holding a little amphibian of some kind.

And even though you did a great job of keeping that kiddo relatively calm, you also just kind of in passing made a comment about letting him go before he got too stressed out. And I think that’s such an important thing to show people, like you don’t have to make a big deal out of it to be impactful and be like, I can pick up this animal and educate you about him while still, or them, I don’t know, I don’t know the sex, but while still keeping, in their wellbeing in mind. And making sure that we’re taking care of them and watching out for them. And then there was this other video that you did with Kyle Hetzel, who we had on our show last season, where you gave him the space to talk about how they give their animals choice and control.

[00:07:35] Jordan: He’s in a few videos. Yeah, he’s in a few. He did talk about the giraffes. Yeah, he’s a cool guy.

[00:07:40] Emily: He is. We really loved having him on. So, you, I love that you like gave the, give zookeepers also a stage to talk about the welfare of animals and how to give them choice and control and, and meet their needs. And just in everything that you do, you’re constantly demonstrating the ways in which enrichment exists to improve the animal’s quality of life. And yet, you do all those things in such a subtle and seamless way that none of it really feels preachy or clunky.

So, my first question to you is. Just how? How do you do it? How do you strike that balance? What sorcery is this?

[00:08:18] Jordan: Well, first off, I appreciate you for all those kind words. It’s interesting you say all those nice things. I have a hard time with acknowledging my specific abilities. Ha ha ha ha. Or, I have a hard time giving myself praise, you know, and appreciating what I can do.

So, I appreciate you doing that for me. Thank you. But no, seriously, I think to be honest with you, it’s just something that I let flow naturally out of me. I think I can do it that way because it’s what I actually believe. It’s what I live. Because I just let myself be my most natural self.

I like to have a sense of humor. I just, I’ve always been that person. I’ve always been this big smiley person. That’s who I am. And I really care about people learning about these animals. And I’ve been doing it since I was a little kid, right? So, like, I’ve just, and I’ve learned connecting with people through humor, through being kind, and gentle, and not threatening, because no one wants to go to a talk at a zoo or where someone just like talking at them. What I like to do is I like to engage with people, like to bring them in the conversation, and have them be a part of what is going on so they can learn.

I feel like people retain more information when they’re having fun and being entertained. And that’s what I’ve learned, being in the zoo setting, aquarium setting. So, I, I couldn’t tell you exactly how I’m capable of doing that. And this, I don’t want to come off sounding like I’m just like this cocky person about what I can do with educating people, but it’s just something that I, has come naturally to me.

[00:09:56] Emily: First of all, it doesn’t sound cocky. I think that’s a I think you hit on some really important key points. One of which is it’s, it comes naturally, and it just flows out of you because it is what you believe and it’s your passion. And so, that’s just how you operate in the world because it’s like the way that you do things is stemming from your worldview, which I think is a really important points to bring up.

Because one of the things that we deal with over and over again, to give you a little bit of background on us, we have a mentorship program for behavior professionals. And so many people in our program are highly skilled, and they’re here to learn some additional skills on top of what they do. But just like you, they constantly undervalue the skills that they have.

And as my business partners will tell you, that’s something that I’ve struggled with as well, undervaluing my skills. And I think the reason for that is if you live it and you believe it to your core, it’s just such a part of who you are, that you take for granted, that it’s something that you can actually offer to other people.

So, I love that you brought that up. Cause I think a lot of people need to hear that if it’s your passion and if you live it and breathe it, and it’s what you do. You have something to offer to the world, right? But the second part of that, that I actually want to talk to you more about, and I want to pull the thread a little more, is that aspect that you said, you mentioned it in passing, that like, you realized that you have to learn how to relate to people to get them to care about these things.

And I think we all get to a point, and anybody who works in animal welfare, we get to a point where we realize there’s a limit as to how effective we can be if we’re just doing stuff on our own. And so humane education is the logical next step. So, what I want to hear from you is how do you meet your audience where they’re at? Cause I’m sure, actually I know because I’ve seen some of your funny, like snarky videos too. I’m like not snarky, but saucy. And I love it. I’m here for it. So, but we all, we’ve all had the audience that maybe isn’t ready to hear what we have to say. So how do you, obviously, you have some people who are like, just soaking it in. How do you interact with, and work with, and talk to the people who you realize aren’t really ready to hear what you have to say, but you still want to plant a seed so that maybe later they’ll circle back and be A little less abrasive.

[00:12:20] Jordan: I’m just laughing over here because I, I don’t know if you’ve seen my comment sections, but they’re very tame compared to a lot of other comment sections. And I have a very friendly kind of following fan base, if you want to call it that. But yeah, I’ve pretty friendly people that follow me.

But the audiences are very different on every single platform. Let’s say for instance, we have Facebook, that’s the older generations over there. And there’s a lot of people over there that have a very specific mindset and what they believe and feel comes out immediately, especially if they feel you’re wrong. They have their belief system and they will let you know that you’re wrong, even though they are absolutely incorrect about everything they’re talking about. But my way is to try and educate everybody as best I can. I didn’t learn about the block button until I got a little older in this in this situation with social media, I’ve had to hey, say, “Hey, all right, you’re not listening.” Talking, that’s like talking to a brick wall. They don’t want to listen. So, what I have learned is I try to formulate how I post information on each different, each different platform.

How do I say that? It’s funny, when I first started making videos, right, for, specifically for to get more of myself out there. This is back in 2016, I want to say, when I first started my own YouTube channel. And I used to make videos specifically for zookeepers. Basically, the gist of those videos, right, is I was trying to just make something fun for zookeepers, because that’s my background, right? It’s zookeeping, so I was trying to make them, just give them something to laugh about. Because they go through so much and they’ve, they’ve been through quite a bit.

Like they, they put in all this time and effort to make sure these animals are well taken care of, and sometimes they don’t get the recognition they deserve. And it’s a tough job. But anyways, even though I’m making fun of the guests, I’m, I play both myself as a zookeeper, and then, I play whatever guest it is, and the guest will say something silly and me as the zookeeper responds, but I always respond in a respectful way.

It’s funny, but I never like demean the person. I only demean the person as the person that speaking that doesn’t even make sense. But so, like those videos, I wouldn’t make those kinds of videos anymore. Now, even though people say I should, even the guests that make those comments have mentioned to me that I should make videos like that again, but skits take a lot out of me. But how the question was how do I manage all those separate audiences?

It’s tough. They, I, I Try my best to relate to everyone, and the way I do that is when I explain things like animal facts, I don’t give gigantic scientific words. Yes, I know a couple. I’m a decently intelligent person, I think. But I’m not the smartest guy out there. I’m not using all these different scientific terms. Because people, that goes over people’s heads and that just bores people. And I don’t want to bore people, I want to get people actually invested in this. And when it comes to talking about hard to talk about topics, I’ll get into it, I’ll go, I’ll ease into it.

[00:15:42] Jordan: And then I typically will respond to people when they have comments. And I will start a conversation, but sometimes that gets tiring. Like I mentioned earlier with the Facebook comment section. That’s probably my hardest, I would say, comment section to deal with. The thing, actually, you know what, with Facebook, I’m going out of tangent here, but with Facebook, I’ve noticed there’s a lot of people that will defend your every word, and if they know that I’m right in that sense, they will jump in, and I don’t have to say anything and there’ll be multiple people jumping on some rude person’s head.

So that’s nice. And then sometimes you have to deal with the TikTokers, right? Which the, what the average age is like 13, 14 or something young. And those groups, that group, sometimes can be a little, what’s the term? Is there a nice term to say it?

They can be a little bit uneducated. And they will be a little bit rude with their comments, and they only do that because, what I’ve noticed about this, there’s a lot of keyboard warriors out there. They will make comments and not expect you to respond. So, when I respond and actually have information, they’re always like, “Oh, wow. I was just kidding. I had no idea you would respond. Thank you for the answer.” And they backtrack so far, so fast. So anyways, does that answer the question?

[00:16:59] Emily: It does because, so here’s the thing. I think when we’re talking about people under 25 who don’t have a fully developed frontal lobe yet, right? And adolescence is a time when we think we’re invincible and, and omniscient and we know everything. I think there’s that yeah, off the cuff sort of shots fired on social media because it’s easy and you can, and it’s culturally acceptable.

And also, your adolescent brain facilitates that, but that doesn’t mean like, I think that’s one thing to that is really important to bring up is that it doesn’t mean that they’re not open to learning. It just means that they’re, they’ve got a habit that has been refined through the years of the existence of social media.

That, I think, is a valid point. And also, another thing that you brought up is knowing when to block people, right? Knowing when to set boundaries. Knowing when to set boundaries and protect your mental health because, the ROI is not there for trying to engage with somebody who’s being openly hostile, right?

 I do love that balance of like, yes you are aware of how to meet different audiences, and how to plant a seed and, and continue to be respectful and, and then let them do whatever they’re going to do. And also, there’s a time and a place to be like, I’m going to protect both of us by disallowing you to continue to behave this way towards me.

[00:18:21] Jordan: That’s funny you’ve said that, I’ve had to, I’ve had to learn that, as someone like myself who grew up with dealing with things like anxiety, that I didn’t understand until just the last two years or so. My anxiety led to me reacting certain ways, and I have learned that I can’t, as my presence begins to, as growing on social media, I can’t. Have like, I can’t react with like outrage, I can’t react super impulsively, even though i’m a very impulsive type of person. I can’t do that with social media or anything like that because that’s not my persona, right?

I try my best to be a kind person to all. I like to give people benefit of the doubt for a lot of different situations. I like to hear people out, but I have had trouble in the past with people, seemingly attacking me, and my, actually my barber recently told me that that he was. He was, he wish he could have been more like me, able to tone things out even though when he said that I just laughed internally because I’m like, I don’t. I just am really good at pretending like it doesn’t bother me. And even though it, it, these things bother me to my core. And that’s something, what everybody sees on social media, right? Is the most perfect versions of us. I feel like, and that’s something I try to avoid. I’m always open and honest, with what goes on in my life. Well obviously I keep certain things from myself. But, it’s just, it’s tough. It’s tough.

[00:19:53] Emily: There’s so much there’s so much to be said about. realizing that you’ve had to practice masking for so long that people on the outside think that you’re not bothered. And then you’re like, ah, actually I’m super bothered. I’ve just had to practice this a lot because it’s something I’ve struggled with my whole life.

That’s a beautiful skill to hone because you’re absolutely right. People who are in a position of learning sometimes forget that the teacher, especially a content creator that they don’t have a personal relationship with, they just kind of are learning from you at a distance. I think sometimes that people forget that the teachers are humans too, and we also have emotions, and needs, and we get tired, and there’s only so many times we can be yelled at in a week before we’re just done. And so, it hits different when a teacher or role model lashes out, then when just rando on the street does it. So, it is a skill that humane educators like us have to hone, which is sometimes not easy.

[00:20:55] Jordan: It’s not very easy at all especially, so what I’ve learned is, with my social media I’ve always been somewhat open to talking about certain, certain situations in life, and I show that I’m not perfect. I show that. Shoot, just yesterday, I shared a story on Instagram about this guy hitting his dog. And that you, I captured my reaction because I was filming in a park. And so, the first night, or excuse me, the first day I just shared like me talking to myself on the, on my phone just, say, Hey, I don’t know what I just witnessed. I didn’t know what to do. I was confused.

And then the next day I posted. My big camera was on me because I was filming a more important video with my nice camera. And it I was just like I you could hear the guy in the background screaming, and I was like, okay. You can see me trying to process what do I had a lot of stuff going on in my head as you know as neurodivergent people do I was like, okay, do I interact with him? Do I go stop him from doing what he’s doing? He seems unhinged, extremely. I have to finish this video before it starts raining. I need, I’m outside by the way, and it’s in Seattle, so it rains, obviously. And I was like, oh, I also have somewhere to be at like 1230. Okay, all these things are happening.

Is it worth me going all the way, this guy was super far away, is it worth me going all the way over there? And then I had to assess the situation because he was scared, and anxious because his dog almost ran to the street with oncoming traffic, and so he took out his anxiety, and turned it into anger and aggression on his dog, to try to help the dog understand, but the dog is confused.

So, these are all the things that was happening in my mind all in that one second and I shared my reaction to that, right? And I’m like, okay, I’m human. I didn’t go stop this person. And people are responding saying hey I would have done this I would have done that and I’m like, well you all say that, until you get in the moment. So, I felt I, it was best to just share my reaction right there, so everyone can see what people would actually do and I froze. Not froze, but I was just like, okay I have to assess this he could be crazy is the dog, all right. It was a giant dog. The dog seemed like scared for two seconds, but then it was back to being goofy again like a minute later. So, I’m not sure anyways, that was I don’t know why I gave one of that tangent there.

[00:23:33] Emily: I think it’s beautiful because that is, it is such an important thing to, to remember that when you are, when you are in the middle of a situation, you have to remember that you’re a human. And so, you’re dealing with your physiological responses, which cloud your thought process. And you’re processing, like you said, all the different things that are happening, and the time it takes you to complete processing by that time, the moment is already past. So, it’s really easy to watch a video from the comfort of your home and say, well, I would have done this, that, or the other. And it’s yes, hindsight is 20, 20. But I think the other important thing that you brought up there is show, the choice to show that vulnerability is going to empower other people to be vulnerable as well, right? And we’re not going to grow and progress as a field or as a species. If we’re not able to be honest with each other about what it is to be human and what it is to navigate really complex situations and what it is to, make decisions that are really hard decisions, and to make mistakes. And so, I think that’s a really important part of moving our field forward is just being able to be vulnerable. And when you are in a position to be a content creator, where you’re putting things out for other people to consume, to allow yourself to be vulnerable and kind of show, show your imperfections in your process is a really big deal. It’s really important.

[00:25:01] Jordan: Shoot, last month was ADHD Awareness Month, and I put a big emphasis on that for, for October, and that’s, I think that gives people the allowance to join in the conversation because it’s I’m surprised every day with how many people tell me that they are neurodivergent or have ADHD. I’m like, oh wow, you do too? And I, the funniest part about it is I can always, I feel like I can pick up on it when I’m talking to someone in person. Like when I’m having an interaction like, ah, have it too. Okay, I could tell.

[00:25:30] Emily: You’re a little neuro spicy too.

[00:25:32] Jordan: Yeah, I, and I’m also very open, like I know people, some people might be fearful of it, but I think with my openness to talking about it, it surprises them, and at first they want to like, shy away, but then they see how normal, like how I’m normalizing it, because it is something normal, it’s something, yes, we’re different, but everybody’s different, and I appreciate the differences in people.

[00:25:54] Emily: Same. For me, it was really, it was a very validating thing to first get the ADHD diagnosis. And then recently I haven’t gotten a formal diagnosis, but one of my business partners, Ellen gave me access to the RADS R test, which is a way to assess if you are on the autism spectrum. And like the threshold for considering possibly being autism is a score of 65, and my score was 144. And it was like, oh, I actually, it actually is really validating because I’ve, my whole life have been like, why am I like this? Like, why can’t I do this thing that seems so obvious to other people? Or like, why is my perception of events so different than so many people around me? And learning that about myself helps me to be like, there’s nothing wrong with me. My brain is just wired differently. So, I have to learn how to lean into that instead of just constantly beating myself up for not being, like everybody else, whatever that means.

[00:26:54] Jordan: I feel that same exact thing. And I feel like I took that test, was a similar test when I was a kid, but it didn’t, I don’t remember the results, but I think I wasn’t on the spectrum like, like I wasn’t very high on there. But I think if I took it now, I think there would be some more revealing, traits and components.

[00:27:13] Emily: Well, and I think, as we learn more about the brain, and neurology, and, and neurodiversities, we probably are going to also develop more precise testing, which is what’s happening now, right? It’s much more precise now than it was when I was a kid in the 80s and 90s. So, we evolved that way.

But this is actually a good topic. So, I’m going to skip ahead a couple of questions because this topic kind of really segues beautifully into something that’s a little bit related. Which is, I got to talk about the extraordinary work that you do in terms of representation, and the series of videos that you put out might have been on YouTube, or maybe it was Instagram, I don’t remember, because I low key stalked your content everywhere on all the platforms, regardless the ones where you talked about your experiences as a Black Zookeeper, and why it’s so important to show young BIPOC kids that, yes, they can absolutely work in this field if they want to, those videos had me in tears. So, I just want to say it again for the people in the back, representation matters. And can you please speak more to that for our listeners since they may not have seen your content yet?

[00:28:18] Jordan: Sure. I initially put that video. That, that video, this is before TikTok and stuff was created. That was, I think I made that video in 2018, so that was when I decided to actually, that’s when I changed my name. As far as my, sorry, my the social media name. I changed that and the YouTube and everything like that.

That’s when I created the name Jungle Jordan. And I had a lot of experiences in the zoo field and just myself growing up. I always felt different, from being the black kid that was so obsessed with animals. And I think growing up a lot of us You know, as far as African American kids, I have fear of animals because it’s just pushed into us somehow and you can go pretty far back as far as like people with fears of, fear of dogs.

You can go back as far as the civil rights movements. And with protesters and demonstrators getting bitten and attacked by police dogs, that’s, that goes pretty far back, but more so, we just have developed this fear of animals.

And I wanted to change that. And I still do want to change that. And I know a lot of people didn’t realize zookeeping could be an option. But I always was different, no matter what I did. I didn’t fit in, in a lot of different circles. Like I was a smart kid, but I didn’t fit in with the quote unquote nerds, and this is a, this is, this is a school time. I’m not, I love nerds. I am a nerd. I wasn’t quote unquote, one of them. They didn’t take me in. I was good athlete, but I didn’t fit with the athletes and the jocks that wasn’t, so I didn’t fall into. I fell into a lot of categories, and I think a lot of us have that special talent, and ability because we, I think we all have a little bit of every box, to try on a new box, get out of your own box, step into other boxes. Boxes are fun, like a cat. Anyways I just knew, right?

All these kids that used to make fun of me “Oh, Jordan, that’s so weird. Why do you like animals so much? Ha.” But fast forward, all those kids see what I do now, that have grown up, they’re like, Jordan, I love what you’re doing. I’ve always wanted to work with animals, but I just didn’t know that was an opportunity. I didn’t know that was something I could do. And I show my videos to my kids all the time, they love your stuff. And so, just me being seen is what I realized I had to do.

The story goes from that video that I’m talking about, I’ve always had a couple of weird interactions in the zoo field with guests, sometimes staff, volunteers. I’ve had guests call me weird names, and stuff make little, make jokes about if I was in an exhibit. “Oh, that’s a funny looking monkey.” Or something racial, something, you know, random stuff like that, right? And it’s, there was this one interaction that I had at the zoo here, and it was with a volunteer. And I was just walking around and behind the scenes and I was carrying a trash bag filled with poop, animal poop. And, as zookeepers do, I walk around with bags of poop. It’s normal. Normalize it. One of the things this, I just heard this noise by the hippo exhibit, and it was like clapping and like yelling. I was like, okay, I was working with the hippos that day. Let me walk over here and see what’s going on.

And I walk over, and I see a volunteer. A woman volunteer is making a lot of loud noises, and clapping, and doing this stuff, and that made the guests around her do the same thing. And so, when I, I approached, I was like, “Okay, hey let’s not do that. It’s antagonizing them.”

And I said this to the lady, and she looks at me, then turns away, and continues what she was doing. I was like, wait a minute, what? What? I had that face. The record stops and I’m just like, hold on a minute. Did she just do that? I think she just did.

Okay, and so, there was another volunteer over there. And he, it was a man, and he said, ” Oh she got the hippos to open their mouths for her.”

And then I said, “Well, we don’t really want them doing that because that’s you’re not reinforcing anything because you’re not being able to give anything to her and you don’t train, you don’t work with those hippos.”

So, the volunteer, the guy volunteer asked me, he says, are, “Oh, are you the zookeeper?”

I said, “Yes.”

And then the lady turned back around. The volunteer lady looked back around, and she looked, looked me up and down gave me that up and down stare the slow, “I’m better than you stare” and said, “Oh, you’re the zookeeper.”

I was like, “Yep.”

And then she said, “Oh, I thought you were grounds.”

And grounds at this facility means, the people that are like like the janitorial service people, the maintenance, like not maintenance, but take care of like, you know, garbages and cleaning all these different things around the zoo.

And so, but in her eyes, the way she said it, was trying to demean me. And trying to take myself, take me down a peg or two. I didn’t graduate from college to have that be said to me. But janitorial service people are can be graduate college graduates, too. But I’m just saying specifically in my situation what I went to school for was specifically so I can take care of those animals, she was yelling at. That was where my head goes. Then I said, “Hey, okay, well, can you stop?”

She looks at me and then walks away. And then she does it again to the animals next door, which were the giraffes.

And so, I followed her. I said, “Do I have to follow you around the whole zoo?”

And then she did a ah, and then just walked away.

And she wasn’t wearing a nametag, otherwise I would have gotten her name, but, in her defense, I was also not wearing a nametag. heh, heh heh, but I mean, I’m, I’m much easier to spot. Oh, it was the black zookeeper. After that, I was I reached a point where I was just tired of, why does this keep happening to me? Why aren’t people acknowledging that I work with these animals. Why aren’t people, why don’t people care?

And I decided that there, it was time to push harder. And what helped me with that besides the interaction, was the interaction I had with a little kid who looked just like me, by the same hippo exhibit, same area, he walks up, asks a question, I answer, he says, “Wait, are you the zookeeper?”

I say, “Yeah.”

And he asks me more questions, and he’s six years old, seven years old, he goes, he just, he asks all these hippo questions, and at the end, he was like, ” Well, I want to be a zookeeper just like you!”

And then after that, I was like, oh man, here come the tears, and that’s when I decided to make that video, I’m getting a little emotional right now thinking about it. That’s when I decided to make that video to try and be more of a impactful creator. And just by being visible is what can help make a change I feel.

[00:34:30] Emily: Yeah. Thank you for sharing that. I am so sorry that you went through that. And also, I love that you were able to take that experience, and the experience with the little boy, and realize that you can do something to make things better for people in the future. That is a beautiful reworking of a terrible experience that you shouldn’t have had to have.

I have a little sister through big brothers, big sisters, and she, she just turned 12, and she’s black and she, we met in the Bigs at the Zoo Program and she is just in love with the zoo. And she tells me about all the animals, and she knows everything, and it was so amazing to be able to like send her to your content because she’s, she’s had a rough start and I love to see her watch you and see the potential for herself. And start talking about, her future in the zoo, and so, they, on a personal level, it really hit, those videos really hit me. And also I just appreciate what you’re doing for everybody. Not just the children I know, everybody is out there. So

[00:35:34] Jordan: You’re going to make me cry. Geez. No, I know, it’s uh, I need those reminders especially if I’m working and I see, if I’m at the zoo work, cause I still work, I still work a job. On top of the social media. And I, my goal is to do the social media stuff or just to be Jungle Jordan full time. I mean, even though that is me, but it’s not like me, right?

It’s, it’s part of me but. Every now and then I ask myself, why am I doing this? Why do I keep grinding so hard to make content? And try to make everybody else happy. and then I get reminded when I meet those kids. Or just anybody, just adults too. When I meet people that come to the zoo and, and when they see me, and they’re like, like I can, I know the look by now. But it’s, it’s a very interesting look. I’m still not really used to it, but I get it. It’s like this like look of, oh my gosh, it’s my hero kind of thing. And it’s, to even think that I could be somebody’s hero is like, it doesn’t make sense to me. Because in my head, I’m just making videos about animals. I’m sorry, give me a second, please. Sorry.

[00:36:46] Emily: You don’t need to apologize. You’re good.

[00:36:47] Jordan: No, I’ve been having a tough time lately.

[00:36:50] Emily: Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that.

[00:36:52] Jordan: Yeah. Well, no, it’s just the mental, it’s a mental thing. It’s a uh, it’s just kind of, I have to like remind myself why I do this.

[00:36:59] Emily: The struggle that you’re having right now is something I’ve struggled with my whole life because I think socially we are told that if you work with animals, you’re less important than if you work with humans, right? And yet, look at how impactful the work that we do with animals is on humans, right?

So, we’re helping animals and we’re helping humans through the work that we do. And I think that has value because it’s not, you’re not just entertaining people. You’re also educating, you’re also fighting systems of oppression, right? That’s, that’s huge. That’s not just, you’re not just entertaining people on social media.

We have you here because of the work that you do is important, right? And that’s something that Allie and Ellen and I have had to remind ourselves many times that the work we do matters, even though it’s just with animals, right?

[00:37:49] Jordan: Right. Yeah. And yeah, I, I have to, it just remind myself that, and, it’s, it is a very interesting world, and some people for forget that, and some people don’t see that side. Some people don’t really realize all of these others, these other factors that are just building up, and this almost goes for just a lot of content creators, not, not every content creator, but a lot of people that are out there to make the world a better place.

And that’s, I think that’s why I push myself so hard. Even though I’m only reaching, a few people, right, in the grand scheme of things. But I, it’s I said it to a friend of mine, it’s like a, it’s like a task, what did I say? It’s, I’ve been working towards something for so long, and it has this big mental toll, but I can’t stop, it’s like I’m working towards an almost impossible goal.

But why do I keep doing it? Why haven’t I said, hey, forget this. I want, give me that desk job, no offense to anybody with desk jobs, but give me that desk job. Give me that computer, I, ugh. I am, I spend a lot of time on a computer, and I’m not much a zookeeper right now, anyways. I do a lot of desk work, but I, I’m still in the zoo, and I still get to walk around, and interact and do my thing.

[00:39:13] Emily: Yeah. I relate intensely to what you’re saying because like you the things that Allie, and Ellen, and I have created through Pet Harmony have been the culmination of a lifetime of blood, sweat and copious tears and doing things because the only thing worse than doing them was not doing them.

For terrible pay, and questioning my life choices the whole way. And finally having all of these things come to fruition, having our books published, having the podcast launched, having our mentorship program launched. It is an indescribable feeling to go, it was worth it. It was all worth it. I was doing it for a reason.

I listened to that, that fire inside of me against all, everything externally telling me that I was making poor life choices. It is really hard to describe to somebody who hasn’t been through that process to come out the other side and be like, well, hot damn, I did it.

[00:40:10] Jordan: It’s hard to, it’s hard to count all of our wins. That’s a big problem that I have, is I’ve done some pretty amazing things, but I forget all about them immediately after they happen.

[00:40:24] Emily: Yeah. I call it task amnesia. As soon as the task is done, I forgot I ever did it.

[00:40:28] Jordan: I’m done with it. I didn’t, oh, what did I do? Shoot, the other day, I, what did I do, and I’ve completely forgot about it. I was like, what did I do? I was uh, see, it’s gone. I was a, one of the early TikTok creators there was, like, a, that learn on TikTok thing they were doing, I completely forgot I did that, and was, like, I was one of the, one of the few, I think there was only a few a handful, maybe a hundred.

There was, like, there’s only a few creators they had in this Educational TikTok program that they were they were compensating us for making educational content. And I completely forgot I was a part of that program. I forgot. I was like, oh, yeah, that was only three years ago. I was like, oh, okay. I forgot I did that.

[00:41:08] Emily: Yes. I relate so hard. I feel those feels deep down in my soul. Okay, so I want to shift gears a little bit, although it’s not really shifting gears because we’re still talking about improving welfare, which is the mission, right?

It’s the goal. So, we talk a lot, both in the books that we’ve published and, in this podcast, about how the concept of enrichment came from zoos, and then stumbled its way into the pet community. And in that process, a lot got lost in translation because in the pet community, historically, enrichment has, for a long time, been thought of as just entertainment or keeping animals busy.

Whereas in zoos, the focus has always been on creating environments and teaching skills that allow animals to have freedoms and behavioral diversity that is comparable to their wild counterparts. Although, obviously not in the same ways, since in zoos we often have to sacrifice spatial freedom in exchange for other types of freedom, but we’re still trying to give them some comparable experiences to their wild counterparts.

So, in that regard, the pet community has a lot to learn from the zoo community. And since you have been in so many zoos all over the country, I would love to hear some of your favorite examples of the implementation of these concepts. So, what are some of the most memorable enrichment programs that you have seen implemented in zoos and what were the outcomes for those animals?

[00:42:32] Jordan: hmm. You know, That’s actually a really good question. I did want to comment something real quick, as far as spatial freedoms go. The thing about that, I wanted to make a quick comment about that. Just a quick comment. Because I’m a zoo person, and I wouldn’t be me, if I didn’t mention something about, zoos and space, right?

So, the first question I like to bring up to people is, what is an animal doing in the wild, right? They’re surviving. They’re getting away from predators. They’re looking for food, looking for resources, looking for water, looking for a mate. All these different things they have to travel long distances for sometimes to find.

But when you find and, when an animal finds all these things are in a specific territory, do they leave that territory? They do not. So, one of the biggest things for, that I’ve learned with these animals is that if their needs are greatly met, they are more than happy, and comfortable having that be their territory.

Which is why when some foreign thing enters that territory, they’re like, “Hey, get out.”

Instance, tiger or something, someone goes into a tiger exhibit, that tiger’s, “Okay, I’m terrified, this is my space and you’re intruding. Get out now.”

Okay. So, that’s why you can see so many animals. That’s the other thing too, people get these, this vision of what animals are doing in the wild because of what these videographers have videoed for days, weeks, months just of these animals, just to get like two minutes of them walking around, even though most of the time these animals are just, just hanging out, sitting. Anyways, that’s a, I just wanted to bring that up real quick. That’s just the beginning of that conversation.

[00:44:09] Emily: So first of all, thank you for saying that. I should have been more specific because I absolutely agree with you. And I think people really underestimate how lazy mammals are in general. And last season, we ended the season last season with somebody who raises reindeer and she’s talking about how reindeer are just caribou that have been selectively bred to not migrate.

And if you think about it, a lot of the animals that as a species migrate long distances, you just don’t see in zoos. And there’s a reason for that. So, thank you for pointing that out. Cause I think that’s a really important thing to bring up. And the reason that I said it is because I come from a background of working with a lot of parrot species.

And so, I’m thinking of those birds and how many of them in the wild do fly dozens of miles a day, but still, we can give them, meet their needs in ways that don’t involve them having to fly 120 miles a day. So, that’s why I made that comment, but thank you for clarifying it.

[00:45:05] Jordan: No, I know. I just wanted to throw that out there, because I, I, it needs to be said, and I just, I wouldn’t be the zoo-advocate that I am if I didn’t say anything, because I know how people can get, you know, like, Facebook comment section. Okay, so to answer your initial question, one of the most organized enrichment setup that I saw was for grizzly bears and brown bears at the Oakland Zoo. I just, that’s just one that’s sticking out in my head right now. I did a video about it, and their whole setup for these giant animals was very unique, and very interesting. I actually got to help put out some of these enrichment items on that, on the exhibit for the bears that day, which is really cool.

It’s, imagine how hard it would be to give a bear something. A giant grizzly, a giant Kodiak, a giant brown bear, right? You have to find something that they can, that’s durable, that is something that can take a beating, because this is a giant animal. They can be very delicate! But they can also be very destructive because they’re huge. So, but the way they had everything organized and situated in this like giant shed and it was all categorized by type of enrichment it is so you got the scent, you got the stick stationary you got like puzzle feeders, you got different sensory, got a bunch of different things in there from like a elk antler to a like I got like a boomer ball with holes in it, and you can throw stuff in there throw it around. The variety, and the ability to bring out their natural behaviors with these enrichment items and to keep their, keep them stimulated mentally, physically, emotionally, all these different things was set up really nicely at the Oakland Zoo.

And that was one of my favorite experiences that I had because I got to, one, I got to be a part of it, two, I just get to see them, the bears interacting with each thing, trying to figure it out because bears are very intelligent. So, how can they, how can that translate to the pet community?

Basically, they have to realize, yes, just because it’s a dog, cat, turtle, fish, whatever it is. Don’t let your creativity be stifled by assuming, “Oh, this animal won’t do this.” And let’s say you, let’s say you think, “Hey, this animal won’t do this.” Okay, so you tried it once, didn’t work. What’s to say the animal won’t interact with it a second time?

That second time, if you put it in again, put the enrichment item in again, let the animal figure these things out. Yes, it ignored it, but you never know, like how, what can you do to adjust it to make the animal interact with it?

That’s one of my, that’s one of my comments cause, we I made, for instance, myself, I made a uh, teeter totter thing for these uh, otters once, and that was, they were river otters, and that was fun. They didn’t interact with it. They did not interact, and I was like, okay, why aren’t they interacting with it? One, because they’ve never seen it before, it’s brand new. Sometimes a lot of animals are very interested in new things, and like otters usually are, but they were avoiding this.

Why are they avoiding it? Is it scary? Do they think it’s a threat? So, entice them a little bit. Put a fish in there, see what happens. Okay, they go after, they go for the fish, but they just pull it off the teeter totter. They don’t go on the teeter totter. What is something to make them realize this is a fun toy? They make, they have more fun playing with a rock and a pebble, they will be entertained for hours with a pebble. They love that kind of stuff, and I feel like people will see that. They, they visit the zoo and see, “Oh, he’s playing with a rock, he must be bored.” No! He’s just really having fun with this rock! And I don’t know I just think, don’t give up too soon. Just because the animal doesn’t interact with it. That’s my best advice to people in the pet community,

[00:48:51] Emily: I love that. Thank you. Yeah. If it doesn’t work, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, like try to figure out how to help that animal engage. Love that. Okay. So, what are our observable goals and actionable items that people can take away from this discussion?

[00:49:08] Jordan: Well, one thing I always tell people is, like my, one of my biggest goals is to make sure people follow their passions without a risk of worrying about what other people think about their passions. Let yourself, just let yourself be guided by your heart, and yes, you can throw some brain in there too if you want, if you like using your brain, I don’t know. I’ve got myself on sheer willpower and heart with the power of, what’s it, the power of, what is it, I don’t even know. Something like that. Some 80s cartoon.

[00:49:41] Emily: It’s a He Man quote, but I’ve also forgotten it because that was a long time ago.

[00:49:44] Jordan: Oh my gosh, that makes me think of Captain Planet too with our powers combined. Yeah, I think just allowing yourself to follow your passions. And, there’s no reason to give up. Why are you giving up? Just keep pushing.

[00:49:58] Emily: Love it. Okay. So, we give the people in our program that I mentioned, the mentorship program, which is called PETPro, we give all of them the chance to submit questions for our podcast guests. And the question that, the big question that was asked for you can we do as allies to support your mission of increasing accessibility and diversity in both your profession and ours, and really in animal welfare in general?

[00:50:28] Jordan: That’s a tough question.

Honestly, I think if they are belonging to specific institutions, specific zoos, maybe speak up a bit to try to increase those zoos or facilities, making visits to inner city schools in different areas, do more outreach with, you know, with the less fortunate, do more outreach with the lower income schools, and families because a lot of people can’t visit the zoo. And a lot of people don’t realize this is a job. This is something that they could strive for, and so creating visibility is a big thing, I think, and showcasing that it’s a safe space. Now, how do you do that?

You gotta hire, people with diverse backgrounds, but how do you get them to apply? That’s a question I don’t have the answer for. People have to realize what’s in it for them, because so many people are driven by money. So many people are driven by, what can they make? What is that gonna provide for them? And this job, the zookeeping job especially, the animal care, is not a job for high pay, which is why a lot of zoos, I feel like, can take advantage of the people because it’s a passion-based job. It’s a passion-based field.

So, my words would go out to the people that are in charge, start paying your staff more livable wages. That’s what I got. I don’t usually talk about that because I don’t want to, that’s me getting very serious and aggressive. But I try to stay out of money talk.

[00:52:08] Emily: Yeah, we can reframe that to, to saying assertive, right? You’re not, I wouldn’t call that an act of aggression to assert that if you’re hiring qualified, educated, highly trained staff, that they should be paid accordingly. And then of course we figure out like, then the question is how do we budget that?

But that’s not for us to figure out. That’s not, that’s not the thing that we can do, but we can try to do the things that you recommended of improving visibility and outreach and making things more accessible. So,

[00:52:42] Jordan: what your followers, what the people that are listening to this can do is, if they feel like it helps, they could share my content because I’m always talking about it, and I feel like the more eyes that see my videos, it increases that, that, that want and need for other people like myself to, to create content and realize, “Oh, hey, there’s someone that looks like me also making videos. Maybe I can make some videos because he looks just like I do.” And educate people and that just opens it up and gives people more visibility and the kids can see it and be like, “Oh, maybe I can become a zookeeper.”

[00:53:13] Emily: Love that. Thank you. All right. So, at the end of each interview, I ask the same set of questions to my guests because I like to hear what they have to say. The first one is, what is one thing you wish people knew about either this topic, your profession, or enrichment in general? Your choice.

[00:53:29] Jordan: I wish people knew that zookeeping is harder than it seems that we show on social media, or what they see on all these cool new TV shows now, like The Zoo and San Diego and The Bronx and all that stuff. It’s a job that is not just cuddling animals. It’s not what we do. We it, it takes a lot of hard work, a lot of labor.

The job is about 80 percent cleaning, and it’s tough. And I think people also need to have more of an open mind about zoos in general, accredited zoos specifically, excuse me. Accredited facilities, we’re nonprofits, and we’re not out to scam people for money and things like that.

We are genuinely trying to educate people and save our remaining wildlife. As far as enrichment, enrichment is extremely important for your pets at home. Especially to get a grip of their own surroundings, and give off some, some of their own natural behaviors, and even create a bigger bond with you. Just make a happier, happier individual overall. Yeah.

[00:54:35] Emily: All right. Next question is, what is one thing you’d love to see improved in your field?

[00:54:39] Jordan: We need more pay, and I said I wasn’t talking about money. I said I’m not into money, but we need higher pay. There’s no reason why I or my other, you know coworkers or people in this field should be struggling to pay for bills. And people like to say “Oh, you’re not working hard enough or oh you Millennials always like to complain.” You know? No. No. It’s, they aren’t increasing our wages with inflation and the cost of living, and it’s not easy.

[00:55:09] Emily: Yeah, I think that’s a struggle in so many professions is, inflation is making everything more expensive, but the salaries aren’t increasing accordingly, right? So, yeah. What do you love about what you do?

[00:55:22] Jordan: My passion is to just educating people. I love seeing people light up when I can make them laugh, even coming up here, we have this event at my zoo. Where it’s like the zoo transitions into like a, this, this like big holiday festival and we become elves and I, and I, one of my most fun things to do is I’m Santa’s photographer elf, as well as his bodyguard, as well as the world’s tallest elf in the world, world’s tallest elf, and I also have a little, little comedy bit that I do when I’m giving out like reindeer facts when I’m doing the reindeer feeding station, like I, I make people happy. And when I see them laughing and out there standing in the cold, but it’s still enjoying themselves, that’s what makes me happiest.

[00:56:08] Emily: I love that. Okay. What are you currently working on? If people want to work more with or learn from you, where can they find you?

[00:56:16] Jordan: Currently, I am working on a coloring book that’s possibly, should be released next year. It’s been done for a while, but I had some things come up, and I got to do some stuff. And I’m also trying to decide if I want to host a bit of a my own little mentoring, mentorship program. I got like a short one just to gauge popularity to see if people want to do that to either teach people how to become a zookeeper like a one-on-one interactions, like learning has how to be a zookeeper, or how to do content creation.

I’m trying to decide on that, but they can find me at jungle Jordan 23 on every single social media platform they can think of. You should be able to find just do Jungle Jordan. You’ll just see a picture of my face.

[00:57:02] Emily: Awesome. Do you want to plug the TV show?

[00:57:05] Jordan: Oh yeah, you can also, I don’t, see here’s, that’s actually, I don’t, it’s already forgotten, it’s already gone, I forgot all about that. You can also find me on a TV show called Super Animals, it airs on Fox Networks, Hulu, if you have a Hulu account with Cable or TV type in Super Animals, it’ll pop up. FUBO TV and Exploration station, these are the places you can find it. And I’m in it, so. Yay!

[00:57:32] Emily: Well, thank you so much. It has been such a joy to speak with you today. I really appreciate it.

[00:57:38] Jordan: Awesome. Thank you for having me. This was a lovely talk and I hope uh, I get to hear it soon ’cause I like to hear myself talk. Just kidding. I hate my voice.

[00:57:46] Allie: I told you, I legit started tearing up listening to Jordan and Emily talk about representation for kids who love animals and who will become the future of animal welfare. And as professionals, it can sometimes be hard to see the ripple effect that we have on animals, not only now, but in the future. And so that conversation, ugh, I just, I cried. Next week, we will be talking about how to create an efficient enrichment storage system.

Thank you for listening. You can find us at petharmonytraining.com and @petharmonytraining on Facebook and Instagram, and also @petharmonypro on Instagram for those of you who are behavioral professionals. As always links to everything we discussed in this episode are in the show notes and a reminder to please rate, review and subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts a special thank you to Ellen Yoakum for editing this episode, our intro music is from Penguin Music on Pixabay.

Thank you for listening and happy training.

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