Ask Joey Powell if the wonder of working with animals every day is ever lost on her, and she responds with a resounding “no.”
“I truly have the best job in Springfield,” says Powell, public relations and marketing director for Dickerson Park Zoo and Friends of the Zoo.
It’s a labor of love for Powell, who each day is tasked with building the zoo’s brand and working directly with the administrators, zookeepers and support staff who keep the park running.
On this sunny Friday, her main focus is an April Fools’ Day promotion on social media. The idea is to tell fake animal facts – the hoglike animals with bristly fur known as Chacoan peccary, for example, are not actually called “porcupine pigs” – before a livestreamed video later in the day on “real-life animal foolery,” such as mimicry.
Powell arrives to her office at the Jeannette L. Musgrave Education/Administration facility – just up the hill from the zoo’s amphitheater – around 7 a.m. to catch up on emails and social media plans. She begins to put the pieces in place for the day’s promotion.
“Are you in lower?” she calls on her radio to a zookeeper. “Can you do a kangaroo video?”
Sporting a pink Dickerson Park Zoo-branded jacket, Powell jumps over to the zoo entrance around 8:15 a.m. to check out a signage issue.
Heading back to the office, she does “the poop samba” to walk around peacock excrement. The zoo is full of free-roaming peacocks, including a rare, all-white specimen.
“They run the place,” Powell quips.
Back to preparing social media for the day, she surprises her assistant, Lucy Atwood, the sole employee she directly oversees.
“I’m going to let you do a TikTok,” Powell says.
Atwood is delighted, as the zoo is working to grow its presence on the video app, alongside Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
“Lucy speaks fluent social media because she’s 23,” Powell jokes before advising her to “use the hashtag #AnimalFoolsDay.”
Around 8:30 a.m., Powell and Atwood walk onto the grounds of the zoo. The sounds of the animals are especially noticeable, as only zoo employees are in the park ahead of its opening in half an hour.
The pair meet up with Ana Frace, a zookeeper who takes them into the kangaroo habitat. Frace points out two males and seven females before Powell takes a video of her feeding them.
“Kangaroo moms carry fruit snacks and hand sanitizer at all times,” Frace says for the April Fools’ video.
Another video comes just before 9 a.m., when Frace says, “The geese are actually ninja warriors. Wait, that one’s true.”
Powell and Frace part ways for now as the marketing director heads back to the office.
But it’s not a long stay, as Powell hops onto a golf cart and begins to zip around the zoo.
She arrives at the giraffe habitat at 9:07 a.m., to meet with zookeeper Christina Rizzo. A lion in a nearby enclosure roars loudly, and monkeys are overheard conversing with one another.
“Did you know giraffes are the all-star players in all of Africa’s Sweet 16?” Rizzo says for a video, a nod to the college basketball tournament that’s currently underway.
It’s back in the golf cart for Powell, who heads to a staff-only area of the zoo behind a key-padded gate to check with a maintenance worker on the signage issues identified earlier in the morning. After a quick check-in at the animal food preparation building, she heads to her office to prepare for a Zoom call. She makes a quick cup of coffee in her office Keurig.
At 10 a.m., Powell joins the Zoom call with the executive director of the Zoo Conservation Outreach Group and representatives of other members of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums. The topic is a marketing campaign designed to draw attention to the destruction of Chilean flamingo habitats by mineral mining for products like cellphones.
The four people on the call go over promotional materials to bring awareness to the issue.
“I think it’s going to be this one, the ‘I Stand for Flamingos,’” Powell says. “I think there’s something about ‘stand’ that stands out.”
After the call, Powell has a quick conversation with Mike Crocker, the zoo’s director, on his recently completed book, “True Tales from Dickerson Park Zoo.” They’re preparing for a book-signing event at ABC Books the next day.
At 11:40 a.m., Powell is back on the grounds for another April Fools’ video.
“Spider monkeys have six invisible legs,” Frace says.
Powell guides Frace through two more animal videos before an office break at lunchtime.
It’s mostly office work until 1:45 p.m., when Powell shifts over to the education side of the Musgrave building to prepare for a Facebook Live with zookeeper Weston Marquart.
Atwood prepares the camera as the trio count down to the minute for the 2 p.m. livestream.
“This is a great day to introduce Mimic, who is living up to the name mimic by mimicking a coral snake. Mimic is a milk snake, and he mimics the appearance of a venomous coral snake,” Powell says, snake in hand. “Animals are pretty amazing, right?”
Marquart responds, “They’re incredible.”
It’s another sign of audience building for Dickerson Park Zoo, which has more than 50,000 page likes on Facebook, over 7,200 on Twitter and nearly 5,000 on Instagram.
By 2:20 p.m., Powell is back in the main office for a meeting with Isaiah Faughn, marketing consultant for Zimmer Communications’ Springfield radio operations, to discuss ad spots for upcoming zoo events. One that Powell wants to promote is an after-hours date night this summer.
“We’ve never done it, and we’re curious how it’s going to go,” she says. “The zoo’s a whole different animal at night.”
The two agree to finalize details later, and after the meeting, Powell is back in her golf cart, returning to the grounds.
She makes a stop near the otters and takes a walk to their water exhibit, picking up a bit of trash along the way.
An impromptu meeting with a couple of zoo staff members forms as the otters are fed.
At 3:20 p.m., Powell is headed back to the office to put the finishing touches on her workday. She reflects a bit on her six years at the zoo.
“My goal when I retire is the zoo will be in the top five things to do,” she says of Springfield attractions.
With the workday complete, it’s time for a weekend tradition for Powell.
“Friday nights must end in red wine and dark chocolates,” she says.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in May the all-items inflation index surged 8.6% over the past year, the highest increase since 1981.