Saturday, November 3, 2012

What I Do (In) The Zoo

So perhaps you've found this blog randomly, or have been following me for a while. Or maybe you follow me on Twitter and have heard me talk about the awesome stuff I get to do at work over there.Well, I talk about it to some degree.

I figure I may as well put this right up front here. I know it might be a little frustrating how little I share, but the thing is: my job is IMPORTANT to me. I won't do anything to jeopardize it, and that includes linking my semi-anonymous internet writer life to my very, very real life.

Believe me, there is so much I wish I could share.

In the meantime, as always, if you have any questions about my job or a particular animal or animal behavior/ biology/ care/ training in general, I'm your gal. I'm always up to answer questions.

What this post is actually supposed to be about is sharing a little more. The first question people always ask me after I tell them I work at a zoo is: what do I do there?

That's a tricky question to answer. For a while, I tried to say "a little bit of everything" because that is the shortest, most accurate answer I can give. But it was always met with this blank stare, and I realized that most people really have no idea what that means.

So now, with 90% of my job being devoted to animal care, I simply tell them, "animal care". Sometimes, I throw "give tours" in there, too, because that's also true, but I mostly focus on animal care. With that said, I figure I may as well give a more detailed answer here, because if you get a case of the blank staresies you can click away at any time. But if you're interested? Read on.

Here, in no particular order, is a list of (almost) everything I do at my zoo, on a regular basis:

Clean. Well, okay, I said no particular order, but this consumes most of my day in one form or another. Cleaning falls into the following categories:
     -Cleaning up poo and old food
     -Cleaning animal enclosures (changing substrates, moving "furniture" around for enrichment, wiping down dust and dirt, removing cobwebs-- all daily chores)
    -Cleaning workspaces-- scrubbing sinks, sweeping front and back areas, dusting, mopping, cleaning enclosure windows
    -Cleaning animal crates (used for transport)
    -Cleaning food and water dishes, and animal ponds

Water and feed. Explains itself. This varies in difficulty, depending on the species. Some animals are toss-and-go, others have to be hand-fed and counted, like the frogs I work with.

Prep food. This is like making dinner for 80, with everyone wanting something different from the menu. In two hours. It's great fun, if you enjoy following recipes. Unfortunately, I can't memorize them because they change practically weekly.

Talking about animals. I do this, a lot. Most of the questions I get asked fall into the same few categories, though. I really love it when someone comes up with a new and interesting question. Those are the conversations I remember! Most people want to know a.) what is that, b.) is it a boy or a girl, c.) how old it is, d.) if they can touch/ hold it, e.) what it eats, f.) what its name is, and, for our nocturnal animals, g.) what does it look like. These are all totally valid questions and I'm not saying you shouldn't ask them-- just that I will love you forever if you ask something else!

Giving directions. Yeah, it's not all glamour. (Because raking up crap is really glamorous!). Sometimes people just need to know where the closest restroom is and where they can get something to eat.

Snuggling and socializing. The animals, not the people. I'll be totally honest-- I don't get to do as much of this as I'd like to. But the snippets I get are my absolute favorite part of my job.

Training. I also don't to do as much of this as I'd like to. But it is there, and I'm lucky to get as much as I do.

Paperwork. Believe it or not, there is a LOT of paperwork involved in zookeeping. Each animal has its own records, and there are reports that have to be filed with the bosses daily, as well as separate health reports to our on-staff vets and curators. We spend a lot of time weighing back leftover food -- how much is left of what-- so we can report to our nutritionists what our animals do and do not eat and adjust their diets accordingly. We also weigh the animals regularly and track this, as well as how much they're drinking, eating, going to the bathroom, and where they like to hang out. We monitor temperatures of their enclosures and humidity for some species, and order raw foods and supplies. About an hour of our day is devoted to paperwork; and we do more than that while working.

Enrichment. Enrichment is, basically, stuff to keep an animal's mind active. It can be anything from foraging for their food to training sessions to "toys" to socializing with their keepers. We spend a lot of time thinking of new ways to provide our animals with enrichment and ensure that things are always interesting for them.

Give tours. Exactly what it sounds like. 

While this is not comprehensive, it's a pretty good overview of a day in my life. Pretty much every day I have at work falls into at least two or three of the above categories. Most days, I hit them all. As for which animals I've worked with, well-- if a family of animals lives on land or in the ocean or flies in the air, I've probably worked with it.

Phew. If you've read this far, you're a champ. Any questions? Well, that's what the comment section is for!

Interested in pursuing a career as a zookeeper? See my ultimate guide here.