Kirsten Reinhart 2020

Kirsten Reinhart '20
  • Large Mammals Zoologist | Dallas Zoo
  • B.S., Environmental Studies | Sweet Briar College, 2020
  • P.S.M., Zoo, Aquarium, and Animal Shelter Management | Colorado State University, 2023

Kirsten Reinhart remembers the day her fifth grade teacher asked each student to name their favorite animal. She googled the weirdest animals and came up with the okapi, a rare African ungulate that looks like a mix of a zebra and giraffe. Today, as a zoologist at the Dallas Zoo, Kirsten helps tend four okapis, from daily health care to educating students about the unique species. Kirsten, Class of 2020, works in the zoo’s Large Mammals section which is home to the Wilds of Africa. She also cares for two yellow-backed duikers, five Somali Wild Ass, and various small hooved animals.

Kirsten Reinhart remembers the day her fifth grade teacher asked each student to name their favorite animal. She googled the weirdest animals and came up with the okapi, a rare African ungulate that looks like a mix of a zebra and giraffe.

Today, as a zoologist at the Dallas Zoo, Kirsten helps tend four okapis, from daily health care to educating students about the unique species. Kirsten, Class of 2020, works in the zoo’s Large Mammals section which is home to the Wilds of Africa. She also cares for two yellow-backed duikers, five Somali Wild Ass, and various small hooved animals.

“I really enjoy animals with hooves,” she says. “I appreciate the other species but there is something about hoofstock that holds a special place in my heart.”

Her passion for hooves started early when she began riding horses at age 5, which led her to Sweet Briar, where she rode regularly and majored in environmental studies. Kirsten became the first student to take advantage of the College’s partnership with the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation. The Front Royal, Va., facility houses some animals from the National Zoo, as well as research laboratories and the school. Students take courses and work alongside professionals dealing with real-life issues affecting animal conservation.

Kirsten did internships at the Mill Mountain Zoo in Roanoke and the Dakota Zoo in North Dakota, before starting graduate school at Colorado State University. As she earned a professional science master’s degree in Zoo, Aquarium, and Animal Shelter Management, she helped tend and was the primary trainer for the university’s animal ambassador, Cam the Ram. She completed her capstone project at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo on seasonal diets for giraffes in managed care. And she got a chance to meet her first okapi.

She found that Sweet Briar prepared her well for the academic challenges. “I got to grad school and I was able to organize my life better; I was able complete the work to a high degree,” Kirsten says. “Sweet Briar really set up success for me. My professors there really inspired me.”

At the Dallas Zoo, Kirsten is part of a team of about 40 people who tend a range of species, providing basic health care, breeding management, and neonatal care. She spends time building relationships with the animals so they will allow her to do basic tasks—cleaning hooves or giving injections—without sedation.

She also engages with the public regularly, giving tours, sharing her passion with students on career days, and informal and formal chats about the zoo and animal conservation. The zoo allows people to feed the giraffes, an experience that gives the visitors an entirely different perspective on the animals and allows them to feel the connection that Kirsten experiences everyday.

The public interaction and hands-on animal care has persuaded her that she doesn’t want to be a researcher and instead hopes to pursue a career as a zoo director or curator. “I really enjoy educating people who are interested in animals and inspiring a greater appreciation for the lesser-known animals,” she says. “I have children come up and asked me the oddest questions about animals daily and there’s nothing I love more.”