Today I was giving a scheduled talk at one of our exhibits, and the crowd was small so I was basically just having short conversations with people as they passed by.
One lady, after asking several questions about the hoofstock, asked: “Is it weird working with animals?”
I didn’t really know how to answer that. “Is it weird?” I repeated. “In what way?”
“You know,” she said. “Do you ever just think, wow, this is weird? Like, you’re at work, and there’s a zebra. Is that weird?”
At that point I knew what she meant, and I had to laugh, because yes, it can be weird. I’ve just never had anyone ask me that before.
I’ve definitely had those moments that are like out-of-body experiences where, just for a few seconds, you think too hard about what you’re actually doing and it’s so absurd that it boggles your mind a little. Things like riding in a golf cart with a penguin. Or sharing a snack with a giraffe. Or chasing a runaway peacock through the golf course. Or giving a rhino a bath. Or having a conversation with a grumpy tiger. Or making Jell-O for meerkats. Those moments that make you think, wow, how many people will ever do this?
I feel very fortunate to be able to work around my animals every day, and I take the responsibility of being their caregiver very seriously. But when I really think about it, yeah, what I do every day is super weird, and I love that about my job.
If you’re a keeper or you work with animals in some way, take time this week to notice and appreciate the weird moments, those moments that would make a non-keeper say, “Wait, you what?!” Embrace the weird. Enjoy it.
But keeping animals in an exhibit isnt just opening up a door and letting them out and watching them frolic. Senses are extremely important to animals; it helps them to understand their environment and who is in it. Sensory enrichment includes visual, olfactory (smell), auditory (hearing), taste and tactile stimulation. New and young animals are actually quite skittish, enrichment ideas help them break out of their shells. This idea is one of my favorites for kangaroos; I like to call it Whiffing Wilffleballs. They combine two basic enrichment ideas of Smell with Novelty objects.
Providing new smells in an animal’s exhibit can encourage exploration and sometimes triggers territorial behaviors like rubbing and scent marking. A wide variety of scents are used for enrichment including spices, cooking extracts, perfumes and animal urine.
Novel objects are enrichment items that can be manipulated in some way with hands, paws or hooves, mouths, horns or even tails. Placing these objects in an animal’s environment can cause the animal to display all kinds of natural behaviors ranging from exploration to play. .
Non-natural objects, such as these balls though, are usually used in the animals’ off exhibit spaces. The balls are coated with a liquid extract then rubbed down with a powdered spice. Then we just walk out and spread them around
And as you see Clayton here can already smell his favorite flavors(banana and coffee)
To learn more things people dont realize about zoos here ~> Zoos Queues
I have been seeing more and more people I used to volunteer with vehemently speaking out against zoos and captivity in general. Many of whom being people I respect, there have been a few moments where I felt a shred of guilt for wanting to do what I do. And I had to remind myself why I want to do what I do, and why I support (responsible and accredited!) zoos.
We have moved, for the most part, past the age of wild capture for captivity as far as our larger landmark species go. Giraffes haven’t been brought from Africa in some 30 years. The SSP means zoos can breed and “donate” animals to other zoos. There simply is no need to take from the wild and therefore, for the most part it doesn’t happen.
The majority of animals you see in zoos are captive born. And that is the card they’ve been dealt and where they will live. A good zoo will provide the most natural, enriched quality of life possible for that animal. And who does that?
The keepers. The keepers are the ones that make the difference in those animals’ lives and gives them the best life possible. You can be against zoos all you want but the fact of the matter is they are full of animals that need care and will not ever be released back into the wild. When presented correctly, these animals inspire, awe, and lead people to care. People connect with what they can see. And what’s more, these keepers talk to people.
I hated talking to/in front of people in the past. It was my least favorite activity and I couldn’t stand it.
Until I found something to talk about. Giving tours at BCR was one of my favorite things to do when it was initially what made me the most nervous. Talking to people at the zoo now about the giraffes makes me incredibly happy and I love seeing their eyes light up when they hear something new or unexpected.
Tell your story, tell stories about the animals, connect your audience to that animal and you have made a difference. Like what had been the case with me when I was younger, you are inspiring future generations to care deeply about animals and maybe even take up a career in the field. Or simply inspiring people to do their part in protecting their wild counterparts.
And we cannot forget that good zoos raise money for conservation organizations around the world. A zoo career is also a career in conservation. You are changing people’s lives and most importantly changing the lives of the animals you care for. And that is what fulfills me and that is my passion. That is how I plan to change the world. And that is why I support zoos.
A zoo is like a high school cafeteria: people tend to be grouped and classified with others like them. Oh, and someone’s always throwing food.
Certain types of people prefer to work with certain types of animals, and on the flip side of that, certain types of animals attract certain types of people. Don’t even act like that’s not true, y'all. Many keepers (including me) work with a variety of species every day, but even then, almost every keeper has a niche where they fit best.
Curious to see where you land? Under the cut, if you dare…
[DISCLAIMER: Jokes, people. These are them. Don’t get offended.]
[Also, reblog and let me know if you agree or disagree, and add your own! These are really general categories, but the possibilities are endless…]
I received a question recently about the differences of working with species or sections within zoos. I thought i would post a small bit of a break down on various departments in order for people to perhaps know what to expect when working with particular species
Things do differ from collection to collection but the basic ethos is there. This is for people keen to know the core realities of management of particular sections.
Aquatics, Herpetology and Invertebrates
these three departments are seen as somewhat more scientific than say, a mammal department. You have species that require such specific controls in temperature, light, and general habitat condition that there is a lot numbers and behavior to be recorded. there is lots of cleaning of tanks and holding boxes to be done, aquatic experience is often required even in reptile and invert departments these days as siphoning water and looking after some fish and crustacean species often fall in these departments these days..You also maybe with dealing with animals with an incredibly short life spans when working with inverts, however with some reptile departments, say a Galapagos tortoise..you maybe working with some incredibly old animals too!
However there is just a phenomenal amount of work in terms of conservation breeding and studies done in these areas that, due to the animals not being cuddly and furry sometimes go unheard of. The reason for this is sometimes the cost of working to save a captive colony of Partula snail for example, is far more cost effective then say, a group of Bonobo. (food costs per animal or group etc) Arguably they can achieve far more conservation work and stay in budget.
Birds And Mammals
Working with birds will differ slightly in terms of species, such as if you are working with animals such as vultures or with Penguins. This goes without saying - There is always lots of scrubbing to be done Birds poo a lot so lots of cleaning of floors and rock faces. Aquatic experience is also often desired especially with penguins.
There is often opportunities to hand rear birds and Train and fly birds for shows for the public and public feeds . In some organisations the opportunities to re-release birds back to the wild.
Mammals I will try and breakdown a little bit as it seems to be a popular area of work.
from rats and mice to bats and loris and tamarins. It can often mean working in small often dark enclosures, where you may have to contort yourselves through ropes and Liliana! often you will be sharing the enclosures with the animals while you clean and feed. along with Lots of damping down enclosures with a hose to keep the Humidity up.
Preparing food for small mammals can be a chore. You often have to weigh fruit, vegetables and other feed such as pellet and seed mix very precisely. I always found it comical because sometimes their food dishes look like little salad bar servings! so it is very precise.
Elephants & Hoofstock
Full contact work with Elephants, going in with a herd and walking them is something which is very much dying out. Many reputable zoos are in the process of, or already have switched to Protective contact systems. In my opinion far too many keepers have been killed or seriously injured, and its not something that I deem is necessary to a herds well being. Most of the time it also means keepers have to discipline their elephants and again far too many times we hear stories in the press of elephants being abused.
Working with Elephants you will be shoveling A LOT of heavy and large poo. the size of soccer balls. not to mention old browse, hay and bedding. It is really hard work so you must be willing to be fit, strong and healthy.
There are opportunities to bottle feed young Elephants sometimes.
I firmly believe that Elephants are probably some of the most dangerous animals that you can work with in a zoo, you must really have your wits about you.
Care of Hoofstock is somewhat similar to elephants, you spend much time day to day shoveling and forking lots of bedding. Some would say its much like working on a farm.
With both Elephants and hoof stock there are opportunities to train, for things like foot care of Okapi or zebra and such, and ear and trunk care in the case of elephants.
Working with Primates is extremely Clinical. Be prepared for a heck of a lot of cleaning. Great apes especially can catch human disease and infection so there is a lot of scrubbing poo off floors, walls and climbing apparatus. It is of course extremely rewarding and your animals do give you a lot of interaction. Being close relatives it is a deep bond you make with your animals (that is not to say you do not with other species) but be prepared for some emotional times when animals are unwell or sadly pass away.. its not easy. Depending on where you work there is lots of opportunities to train animals also. Many good zoos will encourage a heavy amount of enrichment for their primates.
Again the danger is always there. Apes and large monkeys especially will try and grab you. whether they mean to be aggressive or just playful they can do a lot of damage through protective mesh. safety and protocol is of utmost importance. Lock checking and a strict routines are in place such as accounting for all animals when going into an inside or outside animal area. in addition to ensure there is not a mistake made and an animal is able to escape. Primates are smart enough to know what locks are for and are known to try and pull at them !
Working with large carnivores, Big cats and canines or bears is also fairly clinical. lots of scrubbing and blasting out animal areas with hoses!
Its important to be aware of stereotyping from some carnivores can be particularly bad. they must have an enriched life in captivity.
You will need to be comfortable with preparing large joints of meat and hanging them on poles and at heights within enclosures. Security is also important with carnivores very similar protocol will be in place when working with carnivores. When you have packs of dogs and wolves its important t head count all animals, and be able to keep an eye on all their health and well being.
I’ve probably rambled somewhat off the subject in places but i hope it makes sense. I’ve obviously not covered all species or section areas but its a rough outline. If anyone has anything to add or an opinion to give let me know!