Gabrielle Harris, the Curator of Animal Behaviour and Guest Experience at uShaka Sea World, epitomises an excellent animal keeper. She is passionate about her animals and has dedicated her life to their care and display. This passion for animals is equalled by her passion for conservation communication that she achieves through the daily presentations at uShaka Marine World’s Sea World.
As the daughter of a veterinarian practicing in Nelspruit, Harris was born into the animal world and grew up surrounded by nature and animals of all shapes and sizes. After finishing school she completed her BA at UKZN and started working at Sea World in 1990.
According to SAAMBR, Harris is the most experienced marine mammal trainer in South Africa and oversaw the move of the animals from the old Sea World to the new uShaka Marine World facility – a task which took incredible patience and nerves of steel.
The aim of uShaka Sea World is to inspire people to care for the oceans and Harris is ideally placed to inspire the Sea World visitors to care for our ocean environment.
Not only does Harris inspire visitors from all over Southern Africa and beyond our borders, but she is an inspiration to her colleagues and friends as well.
“I did not know what being in a relationship with an animal meant until I watched Gabby working with the dolphins,” said her long-time colleague, Arenea Becker. “Over the years she has mentored and encouraged many mammal behaviourists, some of whom have gone on to have successful careers around the world,” she added.
Harris was one of the founders of the Animal Keepers of Africa (AKA) and it is largely thanks to her energy and commitment that this group is still running. She is passionate about animal behaviour management and is committed to sharing this through training courses and the AKA.
Adding to her achievements, Harris also created the Penguin Promises Campaign – a campaign that is currently running both nationally and internationally under the auspices of PAAZA and SAAMBR.
With Harris not only being inspirational in South Africa, but also having claimed respect throughout the world for her knowledge of animal behaviour, she is indeed a worthy recipient of the 2016 PAAZA Keeper of the Year award.