On March 5, 2017, guests enjoyed a sold-out, delicious breakfast buffet inside the landmark Kovler Lion House while Lincoln Park Zoo’s Animal Care staff shared fascinating facts about the big cats in their care. Guests learned about the zoo’s lion pride and other feline residents, from the Amur leopard to our Eurasian lynx sisters. From enrichment supporting natural behaviors to operant-conditioning training that lets these feline residents participate in their own care, guests got a cat’s-eye view of life in the lion house.
Jill Dignan is the Assistant Lead Keeper at the Kovler Lion House and Kovler Seal Pool. She has been in her current position for seven years and at Lincoln Park Zoo for more than nine years. A former dolphin trainer, Jill now cares for harbor and gray seals and works with all our big and small cats. Exhibit maintenance, animal behavioral monitoring, diet recommendations and record keeping are part of her daily duties. She has successfully trained husbandry behaviors with animals through operant-conditioning methods that use positive reinforcement to help animals participate in their own care.
Allycia Darst is an animal keeper at the Kovler Lion House and Kovler Seal Pool. She began her career in 1993 at Santa’s Village Amusement Park, where she managed the barnyard petting zoo for several years. She came to Lincoln Park Zoo in 2005 as a seasonal Dairy Barn Attendant at the Farm-in-the-Zoo, and worked up to Assistant Lead Keeper there. Allycia has always had a passion for cats, and moved to the Lion House in 2010. She now works with eight species of cats, the red pandas and the harbor and gray seals. She has trained many behaviors using positive reinforcement with all the animals in her care, aiding in the animals’ daily husbandry as well as keeping them mentally stimulated. Allycia also helped revamp the zoo’s behavioral enrichment program to encourage natural behaviors for the animals in her care.