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The life of an Atlanta Zoo keeper

11:58 PM, Feb 7, 2014   |    comments
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While some people struggle to find their ideal job, others know as soon as childhood. For some, it's more than a career - it's a calling.

Dr. Hayley Murphy was that school girl who always rescued animals and dreamed of becoming a becoming a veterinarian. Today, she's in a woman in charge as the lead veterinarian at Zoo Atlanta.

11Alive's Melissa Long interviewed Dr. Murphy as she gave 11Alive an exclusive look behind the scenes at a top job at Zoo Atlanta.

Murphy is in charge of all creatures, great and small, at Zoo Atlanta, including the largest collection of orangutans and gorillas in the United States.

On one particular day, a cardiac sonographer from Children's Healthcare of Atlanta worked with zookeepers to check Stadi's heart. It's vital because cardiac disease is a leading cause of death in the Western Lowland Gorilla.

"All of our training here is done through positive reinforcement," Murphy said.

Most cooperative, the 22-year-old gorilla's reward is fruit.

"If they decide they don't want to participate for whatever reason, they just walk away," Murphy said.

Murphy is also one of the nation's leading experts on gorillas.

"All of the gorilla populations are endangered or critically endangered right now," Murphy said.

Due to poaching, so is the black rhino. That's a big reason why the staff is still celebrating Jabari's birth last summer.

"This is the first time the Zoo Atlanta has bred black rhinos," Murphy said. 

Now around 500 pounds, the baby boy has an adorable squeal. Understandably, new rhino mom Andazi wanted 11Alive's camera a safe distance from her firstborn.

"When you're near an animal that large and that powerful, I think it takes your breath away," Murphy said.

While passionate about her calling, it is all-consuming.

"I travel quite a bit. I get phone calls all hours of the night if there's a sick gorilla somewhere," Murphy said.

To help with their hectic lifestyle, her husband, a vet for small domestic animals, scaled back his work.

"My husband was generous enough to take a back seat," Murphy said "He does work part-time so that our kids have a more balanced life."

For Dr. Murphy, all of the hard work and sacrifice are worth it because of the positive impact.

"Hopefully, and this is what drives me, some of the people who come through our gates will make a difference in the world. I certainly hope I'm making a difference," she said.

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