Bonnie Van Dam, Detroit Zoo worker 2.20

Written by David Green.

Bonnie Van Dam knew when she was a high school student in Morenci that she was destined to work with animals when she grew up. She just wasn’t clear about the species.

“I actually wanted to become a marine biologist when I was in high school,” she said. “I was crazy about whales and dolphins.”

Not too many years passed before she traded fins for feathers. It happened when she got to know some penguins.

After Bonnie earned a zoology degree at Michigan State University, she was hired by the Nature Conservancy to do research for the Michigan Natural Features Inventory—a survey of native plants and animals where data is collected by traveling into woods, along the shoreline, across fields, etc.

Bonnie learned something important from that internship—she realized she wasn’t cut out for research in the field. She found a posting for a job opening at a zoo and thought that might be more to her liking.

She started working with the Detroit Zoological Society in 1994 and it was a good fit. She’s been there ever since.

Within two years, Bonnie was working as a senior zookeeper in the bird department. She worked primarily with the zoo’s penguins for five years.

Her work didn’t revolve around penguins entirely. Vultures, flamingos, storks, cranes, spoonbills—she’s become well acquainted with them all.

Along the way, Bonnie initiated the zoo’s artificial incubation and hand-rearing program. She’s had success with a variety of species ranging from hummingbirds to the Ruppell’s griffon—a vulture native to Africa.

In 2001, Bonnie was promoted to head zookeeper of the bird department and in 2006 she took another step upward, this time as associate curator of birds.

This puts her in charge of 11 other zoo employees who oversee five bird facilities housing more than 40 species...

  • Front.splash
    Water Fun—Carter Seitz and Colson Walter take a fast trip along a plastic sliding strip while water from a sprinkler provides the lubrication. The boys took a break from tie-dyeing last week at Morenci’s Summer Recreation Program to cool off in the water.
  • Front.starting
    BIKE-A-THON—Children in Morenci’s Summer Recreation Program brought their bikes last Tuesday to participate in a bike-a-thon. Riders await the start of the event at the elementary school before being led on a course through town by organizer Leonie Leahy.
  • Front.drum
    on your mark, get set, drum!—Drew Joughin (black shirt), Maddox Joughin and Kaleea Braun took the front row last week when Angela Rettle and assistants led the Stair District Library Summer Reading Program kids in a session of cardio drumming. The sports and healthy living theme continued yesterday with a Mini Jamboree at Lake Hudson State Park arranged by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Next week’s program features the Flying Aces Frisbee show.
  • Front.art.park
    ART PARK—A design created by Poggemeyer Design Group shows a “pocket art park” in the green space south of the State Line Observer building. The proposal includes a 12-foot sculpture based on a design created by Morenci sixth grade student Klara Wesley through a school and library collaboration. A wooden band shell is located at the back of the lot. The Observer wall would be covered with a synthetic stucco material. City council members are considering ways to fund the estimated $125,000 project and perhaps tackling construction one step at a time.
  • Front.train
    WRECKAGE—Morenci Fire Department member Taylor Schisler walks past the smoking wreckage of a semi-truck tractor on the north side of the Norfolk and Southern Railroad tracks on Ranger Highway. The truck trailer was on the south side of the tracks

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