Today is International Zookeeper Day (4 October) we’d like you to meet Odin Neil, one of Auckland Zoo’s many inspirational keepers.

Odin works with our elephants and kekeno (fur seals). His dream of being a zookeeper started as a toddler. Born in Australia, Odin moved to Auckland when he was just three years old, so we call him a Kiwi!

By then, he’d already befriended everything from toads and snakes, to cows, insects and even ferrets in the family’s hayshed. He says he can’t remember a time when he wasn’t fascinated by animals, and after 10 years at Auckland Zoo says he is still “living his dream job”.


We're giving sea lions a fighting chance!

Follow seals keeper Odin as he heads to Stewart Island with our friends at the Department of Conservation for the annual sea lion pup count.

A passion for marine mammals

For the past five years Odin has been part of a talented team of conservationists, led by New Zealand’s Department of Conservation, that visit Stewart Island every year to tag rāpoka, the most endangered sea lion in the world.  It’s the skills he’s learnt working with the rescued kekeno (fur seals) we have at Auckland Zoo that enable Odin to help these marine mammals in the wild. This tagging work is vital to informing how to better protect their habitat against threats.

“This data also shows us gender ratios which can give us insight into what the next breeding season may look like and help us understand if colonies are establishing and growing. You can’t stop a population declining in numbers without being aware of it in the first place,” says Odin. As well as this tagging work, Odin is currently investigating other ways Auckland Zoo can help sea lions in the wild,” says Odin.

“For me, being able to do something that is directly helping the most endangered sea lion in the world, and knowing you’re doing something of value for a species – it’s so rewarding and valuable, and it gives me a great sense of achievement.”


Why sink a boat for fur seals!?

In a great example of reusing and repurposing, seal keeper Odin dreamt up a use for our old boat – giving it new life as an enriching addition for our fur seals Kaiako and Orua’s home.

Sharing knowledge and skills and walking the talk

Odin is super generous in sharing his knowledge and skills. He’s helped train Department of Conservation staff in Auckland in how to work with kekeno – a species that can present on our shores and may have to be handled as part of assisting them. 

As a lover of the sea and a surfer, he has always appreciated marine life.

“I see amazing marine life when I’m out surfing. Unfortunately, my friends and I also see a huge amount of plastic –along the beach and coastline and in the ocean, where it’s having an horrific impact on so much of our marine species, and the amount of it has increased so much. Kekeno, sea birds, turtles, sea lions and also whales are ending up with huge amounts of plastic in their stomachs and/or being fatally injured by the likes of fishing lines.

“I’m always picking up plastic, and it’s great to see a movement for change and more and more people taking action and championing addressing this issue and doing things like beach clean-ups. We all just have to be super mindful. Like when we’re out fishing and cut the end of a line – dispose of it safely, so it doesn’t end up around a sea lion’s neck. We can really make a difference if we all do our bit,” says Odin.