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Allison GinsburgBy MYRON LOVE Even as a young girl, Allison Ginsburg knew that she wanted to dedicate her life to working with animals.

During her thus far 20 year career, she has lived and worked all over America. In October, her most recent career move brought her to Winnipeg and a new role as curator of animal care – specifically large carnivores - at the Assiniboine Park Conservancy.
In her new position, she notes, she is responsible for all aspects of care, health and training for the polar bears, seals, tigers and snow leopards at the zoo. She also oversees her team of animal care professionals – a role that involves mentoring, coaching and scheduling. As well, she is responsible for facility maintenance, exhibits and trouble shooting.
“We have 35 full-time zoo keepers,” she says. “We work well as a team. Everybody here is passionate about our work. We are dedicated to the well-being of the animals. We all understand that they are central to what we do.”
Ginsburg has high praise for our zoo. “We have a world-class zoo,” she says. “Here we focus on species native to Canada. We try to recreate their natural environment,” she adds, citing in particular the polar bears for which Winnipeg’s zoo is known worldwide.
The Conservancy is currently home to 11 polar bears, Ginsburg notes - ten of them rescues from Churchill and nine of them brought to Winnipeg as orphaned cubs. The Conservancy also houses six seals, three tigers and 13 snow leopards – the latter having become very rare in the wild.
“We also focus on educating the public so that people think of our zoo and understand the importance of the research and conservation work we are committed to,” she says. In a troubled world, we strive to send a strong message that the zoo is providing a safe home endangered species.”
For Ginsburg, the Assiniboine Park Conservancy is a distinct change from her previous involvement in the animal world. Up to now, her work over the past 20 years had been focused primarily on dolphins.
Originally from Chicago, the third generation Jewish American was introduced to sea life through regular visits to her baba and zaida, who had moved to Fort Lauderdale. “We would usually visit Sea World when we went to see my grandparents,” she recalls. “I started scuba diving when I was 12.”
In college, she earned a degree in Psychology with an emphasis on working with animals. During her university days, she had an opportunity to serve an internship at the Dolphin Research Centre.
“That experience solidified my determination to devote my life to working with animals,” she says.
After university, she got a job in the Florida Keys working at a dolphin research facility. After five years there, she moved to similar work in the Virgin Islands, followed by positions in northern California, Orlando and the Dominican Republic.
“I have been lucky that I have been able to work in a lot of interesting places,” she says.
For the past ten years prior to coming to Winnipeg, she served as curator for marine mammals – principally dolphins – at the National Aquarium in Baltimore.
“I loved working with and studying dolphins,” she says. “We can learn a lot from them. Their behaviour is a lot like human behavior. They have strong family bonds and they like to socialize. They are also very playful.”
After 20 years though, Ginsburg was ready for a change in direction. Thus, she welcomed the opportunity to come to Winnipeg to work with polar bears and big cats. She notes that her son, William, (who will be celebrating his bar mitzvah next year) was also excited to come to Winnipeg because he loves polar bears.
(Incidentally, Ginsburg has joined Temple Shalom and the Rady Centre since relocating to Winnipeg.)
Ginsburg points out that being a zookeeper is not a 9-5 job. “It’s a lifestyle,” she says. “The animals rely on us for all aspects of their care. At times, we can put in 14-16 hour days. We have to work holidays and weekends. I have had to cancel vacations because emergencies have come up.”
Still, she says that she considers herself lucky to have been able to spend her life to date doing what she loves working with animals. “Every animal has its own character and personality,” she says. “I have built a very close relationship with some of the dolphins and other animals in my care. They become like part of my extended family.”

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