Alan Varsik’s career journey started with his childhood love of animals, evolved into a fascination with gorillas, and finally transformed into an interest in administration and working more closely with zoo visitors.

Alan Varsik

Courtesy Metro Parks Tacoma

Like many people pursuing a dream job, Varsik had to settle for an unpaid volunteer gig as his first job to get his foot in the door. That job came when, after graduating from college, he applied to — yet received nary an offer from — every zoo in the country. So he settled on volunteer work in behavioral research for the University of California Berkeley.

After getting some real-world experience working with animals, it didn’t take long for Varsik to land that first zoo gig as a keeper at the Oakland Zoo. When his time there was up, he shed his sunglasses and flip-flops for Sorel boots and a heavy winter coat when he took a job working with primates in Chicago at the Brookfield Zoo. From there, he moved from zoo to zoo, taking on more administrative responsibility and earning a graduate degree in management.

In 2015, Varsik landed in Tacoma first as the deputy director, and later director, of Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium and Northwest Trek Wildlife Park. Here’s what a typical day in Varsik’s life looks like.

Photos courtesy Alan Varsik


5:26 alarm clock

5:26 a.m. The day typically begins with my sunrise alarm clock gradually getting brighter. Yes, this thing does get brighter and will eventually add the sound of chirping birds.


5:45am Gym

5:45 a.m. It’s off to the gym to do battle with various aerobic equipment and weights.


7:10am Coffee

7:10 a.m. Coffee, specifically a mocha, comes into play throughout the day, as do bits of single-source chocolate. I’m into bean-to-bar chocolates.


7:20am dog

7:20 a.m. My dog, Angus, is always curious about any sofa picnic. Perhaps I share a little from time to time. Could this behavior be reinforced somehow?


7:40am Point Defiance Zoo Aquarium work station

7:40 a.m. My Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium work station. Not a bad view out the window. I have another work station at Northwest Trek Wildlife Park.


9:00am meeting

9:00 a.m. Yes, my day is filled with meetings. I get to work with some really cool people who are incredibly passionate about what we do.


11:15am high school at the zoo SAMi

11:15 a.m. A stopover at our high school at the zoo — the Science and Math Institute (SAMi). What an amazing collaboration between Tacoma Public Schools and Metro Parks Tacoma which enables 530 students to be a part of our zoo.


1:30pm Goat

1:30 p.m. Yes, I do get to see some animals from time to time, like this new mountain goat kid at Northwest Trek.


2:45pm Sheephead Fish

2:45 p.m. I get to work with wonderful colleagues. I regularly consult with Buddy, the California Sheephead fish, in the zoo’s beautiful, new Pacific Seas Aquarium. He provides great advice.


6:15pm view

6:15 p.m. I really enjoy Tacoma and appreciate the view out my living room window every day. No wonder Tacomans are connected to the water and the mountains. They are all around us.