What institutions did she attend?

  • St Theresa’s RC School, Trinidad
  • Providence Girls’ Catholic High School, Trinidad

Other Achievements

  • Recipient of the Employee Recognition Award for Queens Zoo, 2009
  • Participated in field research on the classification, identification and ecology of Crenicichla (cichlid fish)
  • Assisted with numerous university research projects on birds



On Christmas Day, she visits the zoo early in the morning because, “The animals need to eat and be happy too!”


She was the first to volunteer to go to Piarco Airport to bring the first lioness to the Emperor Valley Zoo.


Now she is the adopted “mom” of three pronghorn antelopes. She perfected the art of feeding all three as babies at the same time – two in one hand, and the other between her knees!


When they are full-grown, antelopes can run at a top speed of 54 miles per hour! Unlike the cheetah, they can sustain such fast speeds for miles.


Donna-Mae Graffam (Date of Birth: 21st Nov 1963)

Caribbean Women in STI

Donna-Mae Graffam has carved a name for herself in the field of zoo keeping. She is Trinidad and Tobago’s first female zoo keeper and has over 24 years’ experience in animal care and zoo management. Her passion for animals has taken her from the Emperor Valley Zoo in Trinidad to Queens Zoo in New York, USA.

At the Emperor Valley Zoo in the 1980s, she worked with the team headed by John Seyjagat that was the first to successfully breed the Orinoco turtles in captivity. While at the zoo, she developed the native freshwater aquarium exhibit and enhanced the collections on reptiles, birds, mammals and invertebrates.

After a decade, she moved on to Queens Zoo. She was promoted to Senior Zoo Keeper and ascended the ranks to Animal Department Supervisor. She has been responsible for the care of large cats, bison, elk and bears, as well as the training and managing of junior staff in animal husbandry and animal handling techniques. Her daily routine includes supervision of the overall care of the animals, maintenance of animal exhibits, and acquisition of new animals.

Donna-Mae Graffam was born on 21st November, 1963 and grew up in Diego Martin, Trinidad. Despite studying business subjects at secondary school, she ventured into a completely different field. She credits this change in direction to her father, Michael Butcher, who throughout her childhood always pointed out wildlife and explained why animals behaved the way they did. That instilled a passion for animals that eventually led her to a career in zoo keeping. Her job requires that she be on call 24/7. Her personal motto is, “Believe… if you believe anything, you can make it real.”


What is a zoo keeper?

Zoo keepers are the daily caretakers of wild animals in captivity. They care for all types of animals, from mammals and birds, to reptiles and amphibians, to fish and invertebrates. They feed the animals, clean their living spaces, and work towards keeping them safe and healthy. They also track growth rates, help administer medicine, exercise the animals, and regulate their environment for temperature and humidity. Many zoo keepers also assist in research, public education, conservation and animal breeding.

Areas of Specialisation

  • Animal physio training
  • Care of a particular animal species (e.g. mammals or reptiles)
  • Care of exotic or endangered species (e.g. apes, pandas or

What do I need to study?

At CSEC and CAPE:  Biology, Integrated Science, Agricultural Science

Apprenticeship and vocational training in animal care or management are needed for entry positions in UK and US zoos. Senior positions require a bachelor’s or master’s degree in zoology, marine biology, conservation biology, wildlife management or animal behaviour.

What skills and traits do I need?

  • A nurturing disposition
  • Patience and dedication
  • Fitness and stamina
  • Keen observation skills
  • Safety consciousness
  • Good communication skills
  • Love for animals

Famous Zookeepers

  • Jack Hanna
  • Steve Irwin
  • Gerald Durrell Desmond
  • John Spitall