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Zookeeper Em showing her arm tattoo with animals

As lovers of animals and nature, many Brevard Zoo staff members wear their passions on their skin. Zoo Tattoos explores the stories behind these meaningful works of art. 

A fixture of the Paws On Petting Zone, Em began working at the Zoo in 2008. She filled a number of roles before being hired as a keeper the following year. Staff and volunteers admire Em for her encyclopedic knowledge of every creature in her care; she makes sure each individual receives a boisterous birthday celebration with as many guests in attendance as possible. So it’s not really surprising that a good portion of her body is devoted to the creatures she’s known and loved.

She was first inked about 20 years ago while living in England—a silhouette of a cat standing in front of a sunset.

“This is the only tattoo I have that isn’t connected to a specific animal,” said Em. “I’ve just always loved cats and I wanted one to carry with me wherever I go.”

A larger, more specific tattoo sits on her right shoulder. It features Xinca, a jaguar who lived at the Zoo from 2003 to his death in 2009, and Chaska, an alpaca born here in 2010. The drawings are based on photos Em captured herself.

“I never worked with Xinca directly, but he was a beautiful, magnificent animal and one of my favorites to walk past when I was a housekeeper,” she explained. “As the first and only alpaca born at the Zoo, Chaska left quite an impression on me as well.”


Em's tattoo with the scientific name for goat

Em’s tribute to Ivory and Oona.

Em’s newest tattoo is a simple Capra hircus (the scientific name for the domestic goat) on her left forearm. The writing is adorned with two hearts—one ivory and the other purple—to memorialize goats Ivory and Oona, both of whom died earlier this year.

Does Em have plans for more tattoos in the future?

“I’m thinking about getting a rabbit on my left shoulder. The cat could use a friend.”