Mopping Put a Man on the Moon by Tim L. Tetzlaff, Director of Conservation, Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens

A few years ago, a zoo colleague shared a story about a woman who does custodial work in their offices. While out and about in the community, someone saw the logo on this woman’s uniform and asked what she did at the zoo. She replied, “I save animals.” I do wonder if she heard the story of the chance meeting on a NASA tour between JFK and a man in overalls who, when asked about his duties by the president, replied, “I’m not mopping. I’m putting a man on the moon.” His name is lost to history. After all, he didn’t take Neil Armstrong’s small step for a man that was a giant leap for mankind. While this NASA encounter is likely more rooted in legend than history, it encapsulates the profound truth that thousands of souls collaborated to make that lunar moment a reality including a man with a mop.

Likewise, our biologists and zoologists provide complete care for Naples Zoo’s wildlife which would be impossible without our veterinarian and her technicians. But they also depend on a dedicated horticulture and maintenance team – and every member of the admissions team, park attendants, accounting staff, and beyond. Indeed, none of our conservation successes in the wild would be possible without the zoo itself. Saving animals anywhere begins with caring for the animals here. Of course, the same is true for every organization. Every chef ’s exquisite dining experience that makes someone’s anniversary dinner a treasured memory would be impossible without the front of house staff along with someone to wash dishes, print menus, and pay bills. When I send supplies to my colleagues in the field, I appreciate being able to share how their role in shipping a box is a key part in this chain to ensure wildlife and wild places thrive into the future.

I write this in contemplation of the opening of our new entry complex this spring at Naples Zoo including the Hamill Family Education Center. Meticulous planning by passionate professionals put thought into this structure that will welcome the coming generations. But without the lead gift from Nancy and Jonathan Hamill along with other generous donors, those plans would have remained sketches on paper. And those would be empty rooms without our trained educators and the families who bring their children to encourage a love of nature in their children. Last year, our education team engaged nearly 35,000 individuals from school children to adult programs.

In 2024, we will begin to see the impact of this new center with even greater numbers. But the work isn’t yet done. If you’d like to help us meet the need for specialty items for both the animals cared for within this program as well as specialty artifacts for this growing number of our young learners, visit And however you support our zoo and historic garden from donating to visiting, you’re playing a part in our larger mission to inspire people of all ages to respect, value and help conserve wildlife and our natural world. And if someone asks you what you did for the zoo, you can simply say, “I’m saving animals.”

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