Patrick McCann, who handles landscaping for ZooAmerica North American Wildlife Park, an 11-acre walk-through zoo in Hershey, Pennsylvania, says his job is like getting paid to do a hobby because he loves what he does so much.
But maintaining the landscaping within an active zoo poses unique challenges that McCann says keeps the job interesting. Besides the fact that the animals often eat and trample the plants, McCann also has to find ways to work around the creatures so they aren’t disturbed.
McCann started in the industry after graduating high school. As a self-described “outdoorsy person,” he’s always loved being in nature. Prior to working for the zoo, McCann worked at a large wholesale nursery, where he gained a lot of plant knowledge. Today, he does part-time horticulture work for the zoo and also spends time as an animal keeper.
We’re a native North American zoo so utilizing native plants that are indigenous to the region is important to us. Fortunately, these days it’s getting easier to find native plants. I’ve been doing this for more than 30 years and when I first started out it was very difficult to find native plants. Now they are much more in demand. The key is to use native plants but still keep a maintained look. That often means a lot of weed pulling; they can get very wild.
Our wolf exhibit has a large mowing space, but we have to make sure all the wolves are behind fences and in their kennels before we send the crews out. With some exhibits, we have to do some shifting around with the animals. But with many of them, I just work right alongside the animals. We have a crane that is very curious and would jump right on the mower deck so oftentimes keeping the animals away from the equipment is more for their safety than ours.
Part of my job is also creating the animals’ habitats. That includes rock and log work—arranging them so that they feel like natural habitats to the animals. We basically get to create small-scale ecosystems. Seeing the animals enjoy the spaces is a very rewarding part of the job.
I grew up in an undeveloped area with lots of woods. I spent a large part of my life exploring and tuning in to nature. I definitely think that had a lot to do with where I ended up. I enjoy getting to spend so much of my time outside.