Arts and Culture

How to get my job: Zoo photographer

There are many jobs in this world. Some are so bizarre, you probably don't know they exist; others seem so great, you can't believe people get paid to do them. To highlight some of these jobs, we've started a new series about people actually working in the field. This week, we've tapped Dave Parsons of the Denver Zoo, who spends 80 percent of his time mastering the zoo's website and 20 percent of his time photographing effing adorable baby animals. Baby animals! Exclamation points!!!!!!

Westword: How did you become the zoo's official photographer? Dave Parsons: They were hiring for the position of webmaster. That was in 2002. As webmaster, I work on the website and also do graphic design and work with the PR folks, helping out with some of the events. So photography was never in the original job description. But I've always been interested in photography; I've been taking pictures for thirty years. I started taking pictures at the zoo on my off-time or during lunch. Slowly, the zoo learned I could take pictures and worked it into my job description.

WW: Do any of the animals recognize you as the photographer guy -- the zoo paparazzi -- who makes them famous when you go to take their picture? DP: The elephants do. Dolly, in particular, will come over and say 'Hi,' so to speak. Natasha, one of our snow leopards, she would come over and flick her tail at you. WW: Which animals are the hardest to photograph? DP: We just received a new fossa. You know the movie Madagascar? It's that. You know, all the lemurs are running away from the fossa. 'Aaah, fossa, fossa!' It's a quick, running, cat-like, mongoose-like thing. I was shooting it through the mesh and glass (of the enclosure), so it was hard to shoot because it's so fast.

Is there one photo you're particularly proud of? DP: Probably one of the classic ones is, we had lion cubs a few years back and our adult male, when they meet each other, they nuzzle past each other. The shot is of the cub coming up to the dad to do that. It looks like their noses are touching.

WW: What's the funniest thing that's ever happened while you were photographing an animal? DP: The orangutans, they'll make some funny noises, some farting noises. Like 'pphhhht!' Also, I've been peed on by numerous primates. We have some emperor tamarins, and they had a baby recently. I was up getting close to the baby, and there was an adult on a branch above me who peed all over my shoulder.

WW: Which baby animal do you think is the cutest? DP: I like the tiger cubs. I have a thing for tigers.

WW: So we understand you have a photography event coming up at the zoo. Tell us more about it. DP: It's called Early Morning Photo Safari, at 7 a.m. on October 9. We've been doing morning photography since 2007. People can explore on their own or I can lead the group, as well. I'll take my camera with me, also. I'll photograph and tell people how I'm photographing ... One thing that's really nice about getting to the zoo early is you can really hear the animals. The wolves will howl, the lions will be roaring. In the morning, the animals are a little bit friskier. (Click here for more information and to sign up.)

WW: Lastly, we wanted to ask you about that photo of the giraffe giving birth that you took earlier this year. (It might just be the best advertisement for birth control. Ever.) DP: (Laughs) Many times, that's the way, it, of course, starts. ... Giraffe births are interesting. It's not the most pleasant thing for people who maybe cringe at seeing placenta. But it's a part of life so it doesn't really bother me.

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Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
Contact: Melanie Asmar