Work: Zoo habitat designer

TONY LIBERA | Updated 3/20/2013

Jim Biesinger designs exhibits for animals at the Minnesota Zoo.

Jim Biesinger designed this habitat for black and white colobus monkeys.
Photo by Bre McGee

Q: Was designing animal habitats at the zoo always something that interested you?

A: It developed later on. I was always interested in wildlife and art, but as far as zoos, I guess I didn’t really give much thought to the exhibit part of it. I remember liking zoos and various aspects of it, but not until I got into the [zookeeper] profession did I realize how much more there was to do in the zoo business.

Q: What does your day-to-day routine consist of?

A: One thing I like about my job is it always varies. I can be doing something as simple as repairing a rock, to designing a new exhibit, to doing a bronze, to making artificial [displays] — I just did a bison skull, I did bison cracks, I even made bison feces [laughs]. Not that that’s exciting, but it’s one thing I like about my job — it can be varied. One day I’m working on the tropics, the next I’m out on the Northern Trail, I’m in the shop, I’m out on exhibits.

Q: Is exhibit design equal parts form and function? Are exhibits geared more toward animal lifestyle or the public’s viewing pleasure?

A: I think a good exhibit is both. Hopefully, if you’re building an exhibit you’re accentuating the natural habits of an animal so that the public does enjoy it. If the animal is doing what it does in the wild, it’s automatically going to be interesting to a person who comes to view it.

Q: What is the No. 1 thing you love about the job?

A: Probably when you finish an exhibit, to watch the public come in and really appreciate the animal. If you’ve done a successful exhibit, the animals are doing what they would do in the wild in such a way that the public can appreciate what they’re seeing and have a newfound respect for those animals and nature itself. I think that’s kind of the purpose of zoos: to get people inspired to see that these animals are worth saving, they are worth having in this world, not just obviously in a zoo but in their natural environment.

Jim Biesinger

Age: 56.

Lives in: Apple Valley.

Job: Exhibit designer.

Employer: Minnesota Zoo.

Hire date: 1984.

Education: Santa Fe Community College zookeeper program.

Background: Arts, former zookeeper.