Shea agrees with perception of her “dream job”

Tye Chandler :
Posted May 30, 2018

When Fossil Rim Wildlife Center Giraffe Caretaker Molly Shea is shown with the facility’s tallest residents on social media posts, it is almost a given that at least one person will say Shea has the best job in the world.

The Wisconsin native is not going to argue that point. She recalls the day the offer was made for her to take on primary giraffe duty.

As our marketing staff went into full giraffe mode to focus on the species during June 2018, Fossil Rim Giraffe Caretaker Molly Shea took time out of her busy day to talk about each of the park’s 11 giraffes, as well as a number of other topics.

“When I was interviewing, (Director of Animal Care) Adam (Eyres) said ‘So, we need someone to take care of the giraffes,’” Shea said. “I said ‘I mean, I guess so. If you really need somebody, I guess I can take on that burden.’”

The Fossil Rim giraffes gather at this feed tower twice daily for breakfast and dinner from Molly Shea.

To be clear, Shea had already been an intern at Fossil Rim and knew Eyres well, so her understated sarcasm was well-received. It is evident from his comments how much Eyres appreciates her efforts.

Thomas Shea, Molly’s father, was the person who suggested that she pursue an animal-related career. The two are shown at a fundraiser at D’Vine Wine in Granbury where Thomas’s paintings were showcased.

“Molly does an excellent job of working with the giraffes here,” Eyres said. “She is responsible and cares about the well-being of all the animals, plus she has done a good job of sharing her knowledge and experience with other staff, as well as guests and volunteers. She has had opportunities to attend giraffe-specific workshops over the years and has returned with new ideas for Fossil Rim to implement.”

Shea began as an intern in August 2013 and transitioned to the animal care staff in August 2014.

An animal lover of all shapes and sizes, Molly is shown bottle feeding the white rhino “Jiwe” in early 2017.

“Getting that offer was really cool,” she said. “From the beginning here as a staff member, my focus was knowing the giraffes and working with them every day. Having them used to one person daily is really helpful when it comes to medical procedures.

Whether it is a hoof trim or any other giraffe medical procedure, Molly Shea said it is important to her to be there whether she is scheduled to work or not.

“If you see them every day, you notice the slightest changes and ideally catch a problem sooner. Major giraffe procedures (like hoof trims) are so few and far between that they are scheduled on Wednesdays when (the most staffers are) here, but no matter what I’ll always be here for a giraffe procedure.”

Relating to her comment about one person working with the giraffes, the key secondary animal care staff member for the species is Becca McLachlan, and Shea trained her in that regard. Every member of the hoofstock staff has been trained in giraffe care, in case they need to step in for some reason.

Molly Shea offers a few feed pellets to a giraffe along the fence line of their yard where she will hang some browse for them to eat.

Even if she did not realize at the time how large giraffes in particular would loom in her professional career, Shea apparently was always nature-driven.

“I always knew animals would be a big part of my life,” she said in a 2016 interview. “I was working at a pet store when I researched what I wanted to study in college, and my dad suggested looking into making my infatuation with animals and nature a career. I started looking at my options to better animals’ lives with a conservation purpose. Later on, I was directed to Fossil Rim by Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo where I did all my training.”

Although she was working on Fossil Rim’s avian care staff when this photo was taken – she transitions to avian care a few months per year annually – Molly Shea was an Attwater’s prairie chicken intern years earlier.

Recognizing that she wanted to work with exotic animals by the time that college came around, Shea studied zoo animal technology at Santa Fe.

“I wanted to work in a C2S2 (Conservation Centers for Species Survival) facility, because they are the places that usually have over 500 acres and large herd sizes, so I started applying to places like White Oak (Conservation) and Fossil Rim for every possible internship,” she said. “Luckily, I got started with an internship at (Fossil Rim’s) Children’s Animal Center, and then an animal care internship with our Attwater’s prairie chickens. I volunteered when possible in hoofstock and also shadowed in other (animal care) departments.

Thanks to surveillance cameras and her own smartphone, Molly Shea is able to watch Fossil Rim’s giraffes from the comfort of her own home on nights when they do stay in the giraffe barn.

“I was determined to never, ever leave, and I suckered them into hiring me. I wasn’t necessarily the most qualified when I started, but I think they knew I could learn the rest and that I would get along with the other staff members.”

Although she practically oversees a daycare center now after four giraffes were born in 2017, Shea had only been on the job eight months when “Nyla” was born in April 2015. It was the first giraffe calf Shea had taken care of.

Some of the giraffes prefer to eat food pellets above all else, while some prefer browse. Molly Shea will sometimes fill up her truck bed with browse and then place it on the fence surrounding their yard for the giraffes to enjoy.

“To see Nyla grow is really cool, because she’s learning to be a giraffe and work with the herd,” Shea said in 2016. “I enjoy seeing all the other herd members interact with her and teach her where to go. I remember when she discovered browse, playing with the leaves in her mouth and not even ingesting them.”

It would be remiss not to mention another Fossil Rim species that Shea is heavily involved with.

Molly Shea is the studbook keeper and Species Survival Plan coordinator for Kordofan aoudad. In fact, she took this photo of Kordofans at Fossil Rim.

“I’m the studbook keeper and SSP (Species Survival Plan) coordinator for Kordofan aoudad, plus I’m on the AZA Caprinae TAG (Taxon Advisory Group) Steering Committee,” she said. “Basically, AZA (Association of Zoos & Aquariums) breaks down the different animal groups, and there are people in charge of making the recommendations (for population management). Caprids are goats and sheep, so there are a few of us who try to encourage facilities to get more of those animals and offer our knowledge if they ever have questions. This is a new role for me, but it’s exciting.

Although others on the animal care staff will look after the giraffes at times, it is evident how comfortable Fossil Rim giraffes are with Molly Shea.

“The goal is for facilities that have generic aoudad to switch over to a known subspecies – Kordofan aoudad. Some people don’t get excited about hoofstock, or they think they are just looking at a ‘fancy deer’, which blows my mind because I think they are the coolest. Part of what I try to do is build the public interest in hoofstock.”

Building the public interest in giraffes certainly does not require the same effort, but Shea wakes up every day ready to work hard for all species she is involved with. Just as the comments on Fossil Rim’s social media channels reinforce, she knows she is fortunate to be doing something she is passionate about.

Molly Shea did a great job helping our marketing department promote North Texas Giving Day 2017 from the bed of her staff pickup.

“People always say ‘Aww, I’d love your job!’” Shea said. “I respond ‘You’re going to have to pry it away from my cold, dead hands!’ I never regret going to work. I love being outside and working with animals.

When weather or temperature warrants that the giraffes stay overnight in their barn, Molly Shea uses her truck to round them up at the end of the day.

“It’s not just the giraffes; I love all of them, from the addax to sable, gemsbok, waterbuck. They’re all part of it.”

-Tye Chandler, Marketing Associate 

2 thoughts on “Shea agrees with perception of her “dream job””

  1. Love her passion and perseverance to work with animals she is so naturally drawn to. She seems to be an incredible asset to the facility and I wish there were more like her with a passion to conserve and protect wildlife. I do envy her “job” 🙂

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