Interview by Tianna Adams
You may know him from his hilarious zoo parody YouTube videos, or his awesome Instagram sharing amazing animal photographs and facts, but I had the amazing opportunity to get to chat with the awesome, Jordan Veasley aka Jungle Jordan. Some of my favorite things about his YouTube channel and social media presence are not only his positive energy and editing genius, but also his realness. He is someone who has a genuine passion for wildlife and sharing what is amazing about them with others, and I was able to experience that even more as we talked.
Take a dive to get to know the man that is Jungle Jordan just a little more, including why he started creating and sharing his videos, why he would compare himself to a wolverine, his experience training tigers, and how he hopes to be an inspiration to kids from all backgrounds.
Tianna Adams (TA): So I know that you graduated from the University of Washington with a Bachelor of Science, but what is a little bit more about your experience and background that got you to where you are today?
Jungle Jordan (JJ): I started volunteering at Woodland Park Zoo when I was 11. I had some anger management problems growing up and my mom noticed I was always happy at zoos and wanted to find a way to get me involved in that. That really set me on the path to becoming a zookeeper very young. I did a lot of volunteering through college, and I got an internship at Point Defiance Zoo after graduating. I also worked at a Primate Research Center and I got my first keeper job at Northwest Trek Wildlife Park. Later, I became a keeper at Woodland Park (Zoo) and was there for about 2 years. Now I am working full time in education, marketing, and fundraising with Cougar Mountain Zoo. I am able to do a lot of outreach and was offered this job partly through my Jungle Jordan videos. ,
TA: What made you start posting videos on YouTube?
JJ: The first video was 2012/2013. I did a video about komodo dragons with Woodland Park, but I was also making videos on my own. I have always wanted to help educate people and have had a passion for education. Jungle Jordan came to life about two years ago, and I got my start with videos because I felt different. I wasn’t seeing very many zookeepers that looked like me, and if you saw me in person, most people don’t assume I am a zookeeper, being a 6’4 African American dude. People assume I just play basketball, and I do, but I do more than that and I wanted people to know and kids to see that there can be a different vision of what a zookeeper looks like and to know there is diversity in this field besides who they see and watch on t.v.
TA: I love all of that so much. I definitely think you are helping inspire kids and people everywhere. Okay, so do you have any favorite training or any favorite animal stories from animals you have worked with or from your experience?
JJ: Gosh that is hard. There is a lot of different stuff and a lot of animals I have had the chance to work with. One of my favorite accomplishments was when I was an intern and helping with a voluntary blood draw from a tiger from the tail. It was one of the very first times I was that close to a tiger and I just kind of realized that this is a tiger who could easily kill us. And being able to grab the tail (of the tiger) for the blood draw was just an amazing experience that keeps you humble but also gets you excited about the field. I was also able to help upkeep training with hippos and there a hippo named Lupe (at Woodland Park), and remember getting to help maintain different behaviors such as going down, turning on her side, and opening her mouth, and that has always stayed with me.
TA: What is your hope/goals with your Jungle Jordan social media presence?
JJ: I want to get more people involved with animals, animal care, and conservation. I feel like I can bring a different demographic in. From where I grew up there is a lot of fear around animals and the unknown and fearing what is hard to understand. Many people only know what they see on t.v, which can be a lot of negative things. For instance, I work with a lot of wolves and in movies they tend to be portrayed as these terrifying carnivores that will stalk you and hunt you down which is not the case. Wolves are very shy by nature and want to avoid people. I want to be able to reach a whole new crowd of people and teach about animals.
TA: Have you had any issues being in the public eye, and what is the hardest part about becoming an emerging social media presence?
JJ: Luckily I haven’t had too many negative instances and people have been very supportive. I have had a lot of positive people. The biggest challenge is trying to reach more people, and sometimes feeling like I am not good enough. Or things getting kind of stagnant and feeling like my videos aren’t reaching people. I have been able to learn a lot from Rick Schwartz and Stephanie Arnie, and that is the cool thing about getting to do what I am doing now, people have been reaching out and giving advice. Rick (Schwartz) has been a really big influence in my career, and there is a nice community that helps each other because we all want to see the same thing.
TA: How do you address pictures being posted that may make wild animals seem like good pets to people?
JJ: I always try to explain to people that they are wild animals, and we have a lot of training and have been able to build this relationship with them. Most zoos have protected contact for safety for ourselves and for the animals, and even if you have raised the animal since they were young, you still have to be careful. Just like a kid who can have bad days or throw a temper tantrum and can lash out. If it is then a tiger and they lash out and swing at you, that can be your life and some people out there in social media might be portraying wild animals as if they would make good pets, but I always try to remind people that these are wild animals and should be respected as such.
TA: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
JJ: In 10 years, I see myself traveling worldwide and visiting different schools giving talks about animals and conservation. I hope to see myself as a spokesperson for wildlife. I used to always joke about being able to have my own t.v. show and I would love to be able to do that, but for the right reasons. Not for the money or to be famous, but I want to help people and this earth and I see myself going all over the world to help. I want to get more people really attached to wildlife and our planet because our planet is not going to be around forever with the way we are destroying it.
TA: What do you like to do in your free time?
JJ: I play a lot of basketball. I like to go out and explore looking for animals in the wild and bring my binoculars and go on walks. I have always found that really fun and fascinating. I am not the best photographer, but I like photography. And movies. I LOVE Disney. That’s a big, big, big, big thing in my life. My wife and I are obsessed with Disney. We go to Disneyland at least once a year and we love Disney.
TA: If you could compare yourself with any animal, which would it be and why?
JJ: I would compare myself with something that is always happy and energetic. The athlete in me would say a serval because of their jumping ability, and they are decently fast and have good motor skills. But if I were thinking about a happy animal, I would probably pick a wolverine. I used to work with a wolverine named Diablo, and he was just a funny, happy little dude. So I think a wolverine. They have power, but can be really good with people, and also aggressive when they have to be.
TA: Any advice you have for someone looking to work with exotic animals?
JJ: Get experience. I would say don’t get into it for money. Get into it because you want to actually help the animals. That’s what most of us do this job for, is because we really care about the animals and we have to think about the bigger role we are playing. We aren’t just there to have fun with animals. We are there because we are taking care of the ambassadors of their species. They are there and helping people care about animals and helping people want to protect them in the wild. And just stay with it. You can get discouraged because it is a competitive field, but stay with it.
I had the best time chatting with Jordan and this is definitely just scratching the surface. If anything can be taken from my conversation with this wonderful individual, it is that he is open and willing to share. Whether it’s that turkeys have over 5,000 feathers, or that his favorite potato preparedness is the french fried variety, Jordan represents and embodies passion and positivity that makes you want to learn more.
If you love learning about animals, or like to laugh, or just want to get drawn down into the rabbit hole of watching amazing videos by a down-to-earth, humble, comical, real human being, subscribe to the Jungle Jordan YouTube channel here, and follow him on Instagram and Facebook @JungleJordan23.
Keep up the good work bro! Way to be an example to kids everywhere.