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Managing a career and kids has its ups and downs, but when you throw a herd of antelope or a troop of kangaroos in the mix, things can get a little complicated.
The Bay Area is home to two fantastic zoos. Jim and Tracy Nappi work at the San Francisco Zoo; they have two kids and live in Pacifica. Victor Alm also has two kids and works at the Oakland Zoo as a zoological manager. Their jobs keep them pretty busy and weekend work is a must.
“Not everybody’s dad is a zoo keeper,” said Alm.
Becoming A Zoo Keeper
The path to becoming an animal care specialist has no official roadmap. Alm, who went to school in Arizona for wildlife management, thought he would be working for a government agency as a biologist after graduation. An internship at the Oakland Zoo turned into a career taking care of mammals; he is now the manager the African Savannah animal collection. His offices are actually in the Hamadryas Baboon exhibit.
Tracy Nappi, who grew up in San Bruno always knew she wanted to work at the San Francisco Zoo. She started volunteering at the zoo as a teen. Tracy now manages the same program she volunteered in so many years ago in her role as the assistant curator at the Animal Resource Center. She is in charge of overseeing the zoo’s educational collection (small mammals, raptors and reptiles) and a team of volunteers.
Her husband Jim, whom she met at the zoo in 1997, worked his way up from a custodian taking courses at Skyline Community College to landing a job as a the curator of hoofstock animals (antelope and deer) and marsupials.
Jim Nappi, who has worked with almost every animal at the zoo, originally saw himself working with the big cats. “The irony is that I have never worked with large carnivores.”
Making it Work
Being employed at the zoo is not your typical nine to five; you’re basically on call if there is an animal emergency.
“It can make it stressful when it comes to pick up if I know there is animal issues going on,” said Alm, who added that the traffic from Oakland to his home in Concord has got much worse in the past year. Alm also met his wife at the zoo – she now works at a local private college.
Jim and Tracy live close to the zoo in Pacifica, because of the kids' school schedule they both drive into work separately. Working for a non-profit and not for a high paying tech company in one of the most expensive areas in the West Coast does take some financial juggling.
“We make it work and I think that’s because we aren’t big spenders,” said Tracy Nappi. “Why would I want fancy clothes when all day long I pick up poop?”
One of the pluses of working for non-profit that relies on children’s interests is that the zoos have been extremely accommodating when it came to maternity and paternity leave. Having grandparents nearby to help out with pick-ups and weekends is also helpful.
Alm says finding time to squeeze in exercise on the weekends is hard since he is at work every Sunday. The family does visit the zoo, sometimes on his days off. He tries to make sure his six-year-old son tags along during big event days like Feasts for the Beasts and the Zoo Lights.
The Nappis catch up with one another on kid-free shopping trips to Costco or Trader Joe’s on Mondays when they are both off. Even though they both work at the zoo, they rarely see each other. Jim’s office is at the opposite side of the zoo from Tracy’s, which is near the front entrance.
Each year they arrange for a special field trip for their kids class, with a behind the scenes look at the San Francisco Zoo. Tracy jokes that that this is the one field trip where there is a waiting list for parent chaperones. Their kids have also seen some pretty amazing stuff while tagging along with Mom and Dad - last year the kids tagged along with Jim when one of the giraffes had twins (one of the twins died a few days later).
With their children in sports and summer on the horizon, Jim and Tracy rely on their vacation time for games and special occasions.
“Most people don’t take vacation time to hang out with their kids, because they have the weekends,” said Jim Nappi. Tracy added that if they were working a normal nine to five, their lives would be pretty boring.