Rene Alvarado and his wife Elise Alvarado have only a few weeks together before he is deployed with the Texas National Guard to Egypt — he is also a state trooper in Hill County.

The couple spends time together with daughters Peyton, 5, and Aspen, 2, at the Fort Worth Zoo. 

“I’m about to leave for a year or so, so during my downtime, we come down here to make memories for the girls,” Rene said. 

The zookeeper chats that the Fort Worth Zoo hosts every 30 minutes at different exhibits are the perfect way for the Alvarado family to spend time together. The chats aim to rid the negative connotation of zoos that they trap and hold animals for entertainment by educating guests on the work being done inside the facilities.

Elise is a newborn care specialist and works nights making it even more difficult to spend time with the entire family.

The family has a membership to the Fort Worth Zoo, and it said it frequently visits for their daughters.

“She’s going into kindergarten, so she’s very interested in the zoo. She loves animals in general,” Rene said.

Peyton’s favorite animal is a cheetah.

The Alvarados listened to a primate session during their June 9 visit.

The zoo holds about 20 to 25 chats that can be anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes long depending on the crowd size — which can be in the hundreds — and if they have questions or not, outreach specialist Olivia Olvera said.

The chats are about “getting guests involved in knowledge and education,” Olvera said.

“It’s trying to bridge the gap between just looking at an animal and forming a connection or relationship with the natural habitats and species that you would never be able to see,” Olvera said. “The average person can’t take a trip to go see gorillas.”

Guests build a better relationship when they know the animal’s name, habits and personality, Olvera said. Some people can read about animals and want to go make a change or help endangered species, but some people have to see them in person to feel the connection, she said.

“When people say, ‘I’ve actually interacted with this animal. I’ve actually formed some sort of memory and bond and connection.’ That’s what motivates people to want to help. So, keeper chats are kind of a step in bridging all of those gaps,” Olvera said.

When people walk up to exhibits, the outreach specialist said they may think the gorillas are bored or sad because they sit in there all day. But, when a keeper talks to them about how gorillas are sedentary in their natural habitat, or how they would sit around to conserve energy, people walk away thinking “that makes a lot of sense.”

“For the zoo industry, it’s about getting away from those negative connotations of thinking they’re just here for entertainment. Like they’re purely here just for our enjoyment,” Olvera said. “These animals are here, not only to bridge the gap and connection between people and their natural habitats, but also a backup plan in the world for if something were to happen to their natural populations.“

Cristian ArguetaSoto is the community engagement journalist at the Fort Worth Report. Contact him by email or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Cristian is a May 2021 graduate of Texas Christian University. At TCU, ArguetaSoto served as staff photographer at TCU360 and later as its visual editor, overseeing other photojournalists. A Fort Worth...