Introducing the Teaching Zoo’s Jonathan Miot

Immobilization is the term used for anesthetizing a wild animal prior to handling. Images of khaki-clad hunters, armed with hypodermic ammunition, come to mind, but reality can be a bit stranger.

Example: How do you immobilize a 17-foot giraffe so that when the anesthesia takes effect, it does not keel over and break its neck?

Answer: Ropes, pulleys and a patient zookeeper with an understanding of engineering.

Zoo keeping is not a 9 to 5 desk job, and that is why Jonathan Miot is the man holding the rope.

Miot, 35, assistant professor at the Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo, arrived last January and does much of the work formerly done by Buz Bireline.

His résumé includes an extensive history in zoo keeping. Miot hails from Hanover, Mass. He received a bachelor’s degree in biology from Framingham State College (Mass.), minored in environmental management, and worked for zoos and theme parks around the country before coming to Santa Fe. He joined the faculty so he could make an impact in the field.

“I had the fantastic opportunity to make a difference in the long run,” Miot says. “We are training the next generation.”

Initially after college he worked a desk job, performing computer support for Fortune 500 companies, but after several years in corporate environments he answered the call of the wild.

His first zookeeper job was with Busch Gardens where he immediately started hauling down the big money: $6.32 an hour, but it did include unlimited roller coaster rides. He added the title of research biologist during his stay.

After three years he went to Zoo Atlanta where he served as lead keeper and interim assistant curator. Next was the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago where he again assumed the mantle of lead keeper, before arriving here at Santa Fe. Along the way he worked with everything from kangaroos to rhinos to the big cats. Of all the animals he’s worked with, hippopotami are his favorite. He has studied their vocalizations both in captivity and in the wild.

“They are extremely dangerous but a lot of fun to work with if you know your boundaries,” says Miot. Actually, learning to know your boundaries is what we do here, he added.

Knowing boundaries makes a big difference in how well you interact with animals and how safe your work will be.

“We give them [students] as much information as possible to make their jobs easier,” says Miot. “I wish I had had it. Usually zookeepers sit around and compare scars.”  

Miot has had big cats wake up during immobilization, hippos charge and baboons run him off their habitat, but has kept his hide intact.

As if overseeing 200 animals at the zoo is not enough, Miot enjoys spent part of last summer in Zambia checking out his charges’ wild cousins.

When not working or traveling, Miot spends his time hiking or at other nature-related activities. When he actually does stay indoors, he is hanging out watching football with his three cats, Phoenix, Gryphon and Buster, and his husky, Sinatra, all of which were rescues.

Miot pulls long days at Santa Fe, where he spends half his time teaching and the rest working on grants or promoting the zoo. Zookeepers are on call 24/7.

Outside of those regular duties, he is planning for the future. The Santa Fe Teaching Zoo received a grant from the City of Gainesville that will allow the zoo to move from guided to self-guided tours. Currently appointments are needed to visit the facility during the week, but after modifications are made, visitors will be able to tour the grounds at their own pace.

With a growing zoo, a dedicated student body and staff, Miot seems quite content in his new job and his long-term goals are quite focused.

“I would like to stay here a looong time,” he says.

~by David Hackett, Communications Specialist, College Relations