Milwaukee zookeepers show passion for animals by getting tattoos of them

Milwaukee zookeepers show passion for animals by getting tattoos of them

Milwaukee zookeepers show passion for animals by getting tattoos of them

Several Milwaukee County zookeepers have tattoos. Check them out! Mike De Sisti, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Buy Photo Two poison dart frogs crawl up Shawn Miller’s left forearm, but he doesn’t seem to mind.

He put them there.

One is a colorful Ranitomeya imitator; the other an equally stunning Oophaga histrionica. They’re better known as a mimic poison frog and harlequin poison frog respectively, and they are permanently etched in the skin of the Milwaukee County Zoo’s aquatic and reptile curator.

"It’s important to me that they’re herpetologically correct," said Miller.

Miller did take one liberty in designing his tattoos — while the colors and markings are exact, the poison dart frogs on his arm are much bigger than in real life. He figured why get a tattoo of an animal so tiny it could comfortably sit on a human knuckle?

So because he loves amphibians and because, in a way, they’re his co-workers, he made sure his poison dart frogs were proportionally gigantic and easily seen while wearing short sleeves.

Miller is no inked outlier. Many Milwaukee zookeepers have covered their epidermis with pictures of animals. And because they know exactly what the creatures look like, the tattoos are exact representations and not cartoons. The tattoos range from penguins, sea lions and ball pythons to lions, elephants and rhinos.

While there are no statistics on the number of American zookeepers adorned with animal tats, nearly four out of 10 Americans born after 1980 sport tattoos, according to the Pew Research Center. Some zoos, particularly Walt Disney Parks & Resorts, do not allow employees to have visible tattoos. But it’s not a problem at the Milwaukee County Zoo.

Since it’s common for people to get tattoos reflecting something significant in their lives, it’s not unusual for zookeepers who spend all day caring for animals to take them home at night on their skin."Tattoos are very meaningful," said Heather Neldner, an aviary keeper who has worked at the Milwaukee County Zoo for 21 years. […]