Mike Masterson began working for the San Diego Zoo in August of 1972. Although the job was supposed to be temporary working the Skyfari ride, Mike ended up staying on while going to college (he referred to himself, at the time, as a “Skyfariologist”). In 1977, Mike took two consecutive temporary positions in the Zoo’s Horticulture Department. Just as the second stint was about to end, a full-time position became available at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park and he secured that just in the nick of time. Mike worked at the Park until December 2006, when the Zoo hired him back.
As Mike says, he has “come full circle now.” He is currently working as a lead gardener with the LIMS (Landscape Installation and Maintenance Specialists). LIMS is a crew of six gardeners working all over the Zoo on special landscape projects. He really enjoys being part of this group of gardeners who work so hard and have a good time doing it. Mike says, “I love working with others who are similarly afflicted by plants. It is great to work with people who are dedicated to making the Zoo the best garden it can be.”
Mike is a self-described “plant addict.” While he finds something he likes about all plant groups, he especially likes cycads, palms, and bulbs. When visiting a nursery or looking through catalogs, he is most attracted to the plants he doesn’t recognize. Mike enjoys the fact that the Zoo is such a great place to see plants one may never see elsewhere.
Mike considers himself to be a very fortunate person to make a living doing something he loves to do. He has been able to work with many plants and plant collections at the Park and Zoo. Mike has especially enjoyed working with the Aloes, the California Native Plants, and the Palm and Cycad collections. He also says that, best of all, had he not worked at the Park, he would have never met his wife, Joyce, whom he married in July of 1979. Their daughter, Caitie, now works at the Wild Animal Park!
I asked Mike what advice he would give to someone new to the Zoo. He replied, “Take advantage of the unique situation you have found yourself in. If you are doing something you truly love to do, the rewards are more meaningful than money.”
Mychael McNeeley is a lead gardener at the San Diego Zoo.
Read a blog written by Mike: Construction Zone Plants
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