Photo courtesy Katie Cotterill: Northwest Trek Wildlife Park Assistant Curator Ed Cleveland stands with his two of his favorite animals, moose Spruce and Nancy. Cleveland is retiring Aug. 31 after 36 years.
Photo courtesy Katie Cotterill: Northwest Trek Wildlife Park Assistant Curator Ed Cleveland stands with his two of his favorite animals, moose Spruce and Nancy. Cleveland is retiring Aug. 31 after 36 years.

Northwest Trek Wildlife Park Assistant Curator Ed Cleveland will retire Aug. 31 after nearly four decades of service.

Cleveland, a moose lover and passionate conservationist, began as a zookeeper in 1984 and worked as the head keeper for 15 years. The 62-year-old served as assistant curator since the beginning of the year.

Cleveland said the park has evolved a lot through the years. When he started, he was one of two full-time zookeepers. Other staff comprised of a couple part-timers, a handful of volunteers and an on-call veterinarian. Today, there are nine full-time zookeepers, four part-timers, an on-site veterinarian team, a robust volunteer program, a media team and more. There are also more animals than ever before, Cleveland said.

Public interest in conservation efforts are also increasing, and Cleveland applauds these efforts. When he was young, wanting to work with wildlife animals was often misunderstood.

“When I was in high school and said I wanted to work with animals, everyone thought I wanted to be a farmer,” Cleveland said. “[Now] people are encouraged to be advocates for wildlife and for conservation.”

People are not only more interested in wildlife but also how to enrich the lives of animals and how their lives can be affected by our choices, Cleveland said. He said people must continue to advocate for animals everywhere.

Conservation efforts do not stop with for animals, Cleveland said. Today, people consider whether to take a straw or use a plastic grocery bag when at the store, he said. Everyone must also think about how the environment is being affected and how those effects can harm wildlife, he added.

“It is really important that our younger people are learning this,” Cleveland said.

Cleveland noted how his grandparents used to burn all their trash — unknowingly putting toxins in the air. People know better now, he said. Polluting the air and being unconscious of our effects on the environment harms us and endangers the wildlife around us, he said.

“[Being conscious] is a commitment, a big commitment and a big change for a lot of people,” Cleveland said.

Cleveland said he has had a passion and a commitment to wildlife, nature and conservation his whole life. His passion for native Northwest wildlife, however, began at a wildlife management job in Idaho after graduating from the University of Missouri. In particular, he fell in love with the moose and caribou, animals not native to his home state of Missouri.

After working in Idaho for two years, Cleveland worked as a zookeeper at the Saint Louis Zoo but shortly after was hired at Northwest Trek.

“The first day I walked in there, it was a change in my life and what it was going to be until now,” he said.

As a junior and senior zookeeper, Cleveland was in charge of many different animals: badgers, wolverines, bears, foxes, wolves and more. When promoted to head keeper he worked in the free-roaming area of the park, where the deer, elk, caribou and moose live. As the assistant curator, Cleveland is in charge of scheduling, all the little details and making sure supplies, tools and equipment are ordered and filled.

Cleveland also met his wife at the park, where she worked as a volunteer. They raised two children.

Cleveland said he has loved every moment of his job.

“I really love what I do…,” Cleveland said. “There’s not a lot of people that can keep saying that (through their career).”

Cleveland said he will sorely miss the animals, as well as his coworkers.

“It has been a good group of people,” he said. “I’ve grown with them through the years.”

Once he retires, Cleveland plans to complete a number of home projects before his wife retires from the Washington State Court of Appeals, where she is a clerk. They intend to travel together, something they have not been able to do much through the years.

The Northwest Trek is open to visitors, but strict guidelines are in place. Visit www.nwtrek.org for more information.