Meet the Curator: Ken Howell, Curator of Rainforest Exhibits at the National Aquarium

Ken Howell, Curator of Rainforest Exhibits at the National Aquarium. Copyright National Aquarium.

Describe your job: I manage the Upland Amazon Rainforest, portions of the Amazon River Forest exhibits, and the Sea Cliffs exhibit.  In order to care for the various exhibit inhabitants my staff includes aviculturists, herpetologists, and a horticulturist.  I am not sure how the Sea Cliffs exhibit (puffins and other alcids) came under the jurisdiction of the Rainforest Curator, but I like the juxtaposition of the hot tropics with that of the cold North Atlantic.  It sometimes seems like we are constantly asking our facilities department to raise the temperature in one exhibit while lowering it in the other.    

How long have you been in the position? I have been at the National Aquarium, Baltimore, Md., for six years.  I have always known I wanted to work with animals and began my zoo/aquarium career just over 30 years ago. 

What in your background helped you get the job? As a young person (with very tolerant parents) my house was a veritable zoo itself with terrariums, aquariums, and bird cages filling all available spaces.  As an adult things have not changed much in this regard.  I have always read (and collected) natural history books in a voracious manner and many of the early classics by Raymond Ditmars, Gerald Durrell, Carl Kauffeld, and others continue to entertain and inspire me.    A broad interest in natural history (both plant and animal) and work experiences that have exposed me to a large number of various species has been of great value to me in my current position.   

What’s your favorite thing about your job? Arriving at work and stepping out of a frigid Baltimore winter morning into a lush tropical rainforest filled with an amazing variety of living things is a pretty good gig.

Describe a favorite memory/experience in your current position:  Watching a pair of paradise tanagers forage for food among the exhibit plants, observing a dart frog transporting tadpoles on its back in a perfectly maintained terrarium, or holding a newly hatched turtle in my hand continues to illicit the same powerful and positive visceral and emotional response in me that is has for all these years. 

Do you have a favorite animal? This is a hard one as I have so many favorites.  I have always wanted to work with hippopotamuses, but to date I have not yet had the opportunity.   I have to admit that I have become rather fond of sloths.  We recently had the opportunity to hand raise an orphaned two-toed sloth, and it was an awesome experience for both myself and the other staff.  I am consistently amazed how incredibly powerful a single animal can be in galvanizing people’s attention and interest.  

Why is it your favorite?  As an advocate and admirer of odd and unusual animals, sloths really fit the bill for me.  Sloths do not reveal their life history easily for those of us without patience, and I love the fact that our group has this ‘secret life’ going on while we are not here to watch.  There is nothing quite as improbable as a baby sloth; they remind me of sock puppets with push pin eyes and sharp little teeth. 

Tim Lewthwaite

This entry was posted in Aquarium, Exhibits, National Aquarium, Profiles. Bookmark the permalink.

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