Hun School students are now very familiar with Owls, as the Owl Pro cameras that have been installed in the classrooms enhance the at-home learning experience, but one Hun School alumnus, Mike Christiansen ’09, has an even deeper knowledge of owls, along with a wide variety of other wildlife. Mr. Christiansen has worked in wildlife conservation for years, gaining firsthand experience in animal behavior, husbandry, and care while working for zoos from Atlanta and West Virginia to back home in New Jersey.
It all began his freshman year at The Hun School, when he spent a summer at Sea World and Busch Gardens as a junior zookeeper. “I always liked animals, but that really started my passion for wildlife,” he explains.
Mr. Christiansen’s interest in animals also informed his college decision. “I attended Bucknell because they had a primate behavioral lab.” He earned a degree in animal behavior there. “It was a blend of psychology and biology,” he says.
He has worked with animals ever since. In New Orleans, he was charged with the rhinos, giraffes, and wildebeest. In Atlanta, he worked with the Zoo’s 24 gorillas, and assisted with cognitive and behavioral research. Back home in New Jersey, Mr. Christiansen spent several years at Six Flags, where he worked as a wildlife educator, trainer, and safari guide.
As fascinated as he is by animals, his passion for zoos is even stronger. “Zoos serve as genetic repositories, and they are often saving species,” he says. He also values the educational opportunity they provide. “Many people don’t have any concept of human and wildlife interaction, and zoos provide that. They’re also often in urban areas, where the only wildlife is typically birds.” He believes that the more people learn about wildlife, the more they’ll care about conservation and the environment.
His desire to effect change along with his interest in the business side of conservation led him to Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, where he will finish his MBA this spring. While he continues to volunteer his time as an elephant keeper at the National Zoo, his post-graduation plans have him shifting gears away from zookeeping and toward management, serving as a director of a zoo or conservation center.
Armed with a Georgetown MBA, Mr. Christiansen could certainly earn top dollar as an in-demand consultant, but his arrow points elsewhere. “I’m now used to really enjoying what I do. Nobody goes into zoos for the money,” he jokes. “It’s where their heart is.”