Wildlife Prairie Park Animal Team
The animal care team at Wildlife Prairie Park is an important aspect of our park. Learn more about each of the individuals who work hard each day to ensure that all animals at Wildlife Prairie Park are safe, fed, happy, and healthy in their habitats.
Dr. Dave Knaak
Wildlife Committee Chair
David is a retired veterinarian at Limestone Companion Animal Hospital. He serves on the board at Wildlife Prairie Park to improve the welfare of all Wildlife Prairie Park animals! David’s favorite memory at the park is the roundup of the bison and elk herds. His favorite animal is the Alligator snapping turtle. David serves on the board at the Tri-County Animal Emergency Clinic and Mason County Pheasants Forever. David is married to Mary.
Director of Wildlife and Conservation
As Director of Wildlife and Conservation, Andy manages animal husbandry and animal welfare, personnel and change management, financial analysis and planning related to wildlife, agriculture, education, and forestland revenue and expenses.
Since a child, Andy has had a strong love for animals and the outdoors, spending much of his non-office time exploring and developing woods and prairie, caring for the wildlife on these lands, and husbandry to the farm animals.
His favorite animal at Wildlife Prairie Park is the wolf. He can remember loving wolves since he was a young boy. Andy’s other passions include traveling, hiking, horseback riding, camping, hunting, and exercise.
Dr. Nicole Johnson
Dr. Nikki is a 2003 graduate of the University of Illinois. She is a Pekin native and returned to the central Illinois area to join Pekin Animal Hospital in August of 2008.
She is a very active member and past president of the Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians. She is also a member of the Association for Avian Veterinarians and the Association for Exotic Mammal Veterinarians. She is currently the President Elect for the Mississippi Valley Veterinary Medical Association. She is also the Region IV board member for the ISVMA.
In addition to treating dogs and cats, Dr. Nikki has a strong background in exotic and zoo animal medicine and surgery. She shares her life with her significant other, Aaron, her teenage son, their Akitas Holly, and Spartan, their cats Autumn, Bruno, Sophie and Sid and a house full of reptiles including their continuously growing African Spurred Tortoise, Blue, who enjoys spending her winters, and entertaining the staff at PAH.
Dr. Kourtney Grimm
Dr. Kourtney Grimm was born and raised in central Illinois and returned home after graduating with a DVM from University of Illinois in 2012. Like many veterinarians, she has always loved animals, but developed an interest in exotic and wildlife medicine after studying sea turtles in Costa Rica for a year before starting veterinary school. Despite being land locked in Illinois, sea turtles remain her favorite animal. She spent 4 years working with her vet school’s wildlife clinic and was able to do several wildlife internships. She even participated in Wildlife Prairie Park’s Round Up twice as a student. She actively pursues additional continuing education in exotic animal medicine to provide high quality care to many different species of animals. She has a specific interest in community outreach and enjoys doing talks to adults and children about exotic and wildlife animal care and medicine. She is proud to provide care to the animals of Wildlife Prairie Park as they hold a special place in the hearts of many in Central Illinois and beyond.
Anna Lynn went to Southern Illinois University and has a Bachelors Degree in Zoology. She started as a Naturalist Intern in the Education Department at WPP, then became an Animal Keeper shortly after. Anna is now Animal Curator and has been at the park for about 8 years. She loves photography and often takes pictures of the Park’s animal residents.
Bryant is Wildlife Prairie Park’s lead naturalist and the primary animal keeper for the reptiles and amphibians in our animal collection. Bryant manages Wildlife Prairie Parks inaturalist project documenting the park’s biodiversity (link)
Bryant attended Georgia Southern University where he completed his B.S. in Biology in 2017. During this time, he worked as a part-time animal keeper for the Georgia Southern Center for Wildlife Education as well as contributing to projects in several biology research labs (aquatic invertebrates and widow spiders). After his undergraduate coursework was completed he went on to attend graduate school at John Carroll University and earned his M.A. in Evolutionary Biology and Ecology in 2019. His master’s thesis project focused on Eastern Redback salamanders and how they interacted with an invasive earthworm species. During graduate school, Bryant volunteered at “Herps Alive”, a reptile and amphibian non-profit rescue in Cleveland, Ohio.
Following completion of his schooling, Bryant has been employed as an intern at the Kentucky Reptile Zoo and as a reptile keeper/breeder at Josh’s Frogs where he primarily worked with a variety of tropical gecko species. In addition, recently he has completed the Amphibian Foundation’s “Master Herpetologist” course in 2021 and the Rattlesnake Conservancy’s “level 1 Venomous Snake Handling” certification in 2022.
Aside from Bryant’s professional keeping experience, he is an avid lover of many animals and has quite a collection of reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates at home who provide entertainment for his cat, Mortimer.
Lead animal keeper
Brielle Haile was born and raised in Rockford, Illinois. She started as an animal keeper at Wildlife Prairie Park in July of 2021. Her favorite part of the job has been being able to share her love for animals with the community. Brielle graduated from Northwest Missouri State University in 2016, where she got her B.S. in Marine Biology. While in school, she also attended classes at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory through University of Southern Mississippi. She loves anything and everything that relates to the ocean. After graduation, she worked as animal keeping intern at Summerfield Farm and Zoo for 6 months where she got experience with a wide array of native and exotic species. Brielle’s all-time favorite animal is any type of turtle, but at home she loves taking care of her leopard gecko named Yogurt!
MacKenzie “Kenzie” Sturm began her journey at Wildlife Prairie Park in March of 2021. Ever since she can remember, animals have been her passion and Steve Irwin has been her idol. Kenzie has wanted to be an Animal Keeper since the “what do you want to be when you grow up” days. Kenzie received her Associates degree in Biology at Illinois Central College, then her Bachelors degree in Zoology at Western Illinois University. During school, she volunteered many hours at Peoria Zoo and Keepers of the Wild in Valentine, Arizona. Her goal is to one day work with big cats, such as Tigers and Snow Leopards. After graduation she started her animal adventure at Mt. Hawley Animal Clinic as a Kennel Attendant, then she moved up to a Veterinary Technician at Prospect Animal Clinic where she spent 3.5 years taking care of Cats and Dogs. Now, she is very excited to learn from some of the most knowledgeable people in the area, and is happy to be a part of the wonderful Wildlife Prairie Park team!
Devin Poole has always known he wanted to work with animals. His journey at Wildlife hasn’t started like most others. He first came to Wildlife as a volunteer, and after experienced keepers noticed is exceptional talent, he was offered a part time position, which he happily accepted. From working part time he has been able to gain a lot of experience working with animals while he pursues his college degree. Devin enjoys being able to show children the beauty of nature and hopefully inspire future keepers as park employees once did for him when he was a visitor at the park.
Abbey is a seasonal naturalist at Wildlife Prairie Park. She has been working with animals ever since she was in high school and is always excited to further her knowledge. She is currently studying biology, as well as minoring in anthropology and women’s and gender studies at Bradley University. Abbey loves educating guest and really anyone who will listen about the amazing animals, nature, and history the park has to offer! She started here as a naturalist intern in 2021 and could not be happier continuing to do what she loves!
Brittany was born and raised in Royal Oak, Michigan. She loves hunting, fishing, hiking, and anything that has to do with the outdoors. She has a Great Dane named Belle that loves to give hugs! Brittany knew she had a love for animals the day she went to her grandpa’s farm as a little girl and aspired to help animals when she grew up. In 2013 Brittany went on to live that dream at Michigan State University for Animal Science. During school she worked at the dairy farm on campus for 2 years. After school she worked at a few vet clinics and realized companion animal care was not for her. She then became a counselor at Camp Bow Wow working her way up to Back of House Manager for 2 years. In March 2022 she was excited to join the Wildlife Animal Keeper team and found her passion for caring for wildlife! She is very eager to learn and expand her knowledge in the animal field.
Nathan Treichel is a long-time member of the Peoria community. He went to Augustana College, where he wrote his senior projects on cat predation on birds and got a grant from Pfizer to examine how fish tank size effects urination rates of fish. While getting his Bachelor’s Degree at Augustana, Nathan spent a long period of time with the Peoria community small and large animal veterinary clinics. Nathan spent 2 years at Browns Animal Hospital as a veterinary assistant, and loved taking care of the dogs, cats, and exotics that came into the clinic.
Nathan started his adventure with Wildlife Prairie Park in November of 2021 and is excited to share his deep love of animals with the parks patrons. Nathan is on the autism spectrum and uses his knowledge of the animals to ensures they are as happy and healthy as possible. His favorite animals at the park are currently the owls, the horses and donkey, and the groundhog. Nathan is hopeful that one day the park will have an armadillo and connect with the animal and his birthplace of Texas.
Jill was born and raised in Aledo, Illinois. She started as animal keeper at the park in May 2022 and is currently working towards her bachelor’s degree in biology at Bradley University. Since she was a child, Jill has been interested in wild and exotic animals, and is very excited to now get the opportunity to teach others about them! Jill’s favorite animal at the park is the sandhill crane, Betty.