By her own admission, Kathleen LaMattina is much more comfortable with a 3-foot-long Indian Crested porcupine in her arms than she is speaking with a reporter.
One moment cleaning up emu droppings and the next making baby talk to a Fennec fox running circles around her, LaMattina is tailor-made for the job of acclimating 300 animals to human contact for the Bronx Zoo’s outreach programs in New York. In fact, she often takes them home with her overnight.
What did you first do when you got into work?
First I checked on all the animals and said ‘hi’ to my zookeepers to make sure everything was OK. Then I played with Buckley, a wallaby that I hand-raised after his mother tried to eat him.
Wallabies eat their young?
He was probably just bitten as she was trying to get him out of her pouch. It’s very energy inexpensive to give birth to a kangaroo or wallaby, but to actually raise the baby takes a long time. So if she’s not feeling well, the mother decides to focus on herself. It happens in the wild.
So what did you do after you played with the wallaby?
I had to bring an owl in for a surgical procedure. He has a tumor on his foot. He came here in 1994, the same year that I came, actually. We take care of animals from the cradle to the grave.
Are you a vegetarian?
For 31 years.
Do you think most people are who work here?
They’re all carnivores! But I don’t preach. I cook meat for my mom. Can you believe it — she actually asked me what emus taste like?