Keeper Chat

A friendly resource for prospective zoo professionals, as well as curious passers-by.

Anonymous asked: Hi! I'm a zookeeper from Florida and i was wondering if you have any ideas for enrichment for hoofstock....

aaronblogswhales:

keeperchat:

Hello!
As most hoofstock species are flighty and neurotic, it’s always a good idea to err on the side of caution when introducing new enrichment.  Anything new is potentially terrifying, so — baby steps!  (And of course always get your supervisor’s and/or veterinarian’s stamp of approval before giving new enrichment, follow protocol, yadda yadda common sense disclaimer.)  Here are some things we use at my zoo.

Food: Unseasoned air-popped popcorn; wheat/corn/rice Chex cereal; sweet feed; compressed alfalfa cubes; sugar free Kool-Aid; sugar free Jell-O; molasses; produce.

Manipulative/Environmental:  For a lot of hoofstock, just seeing something new in their stall or yard — a ball, a traffic cone, chalk drawings on the walls — can be very enriching.  You can also hang things from the ceiling, and you can put treats or part of their diet in just about anything.  Try stuffing some hay in traffic cones, cardboard boxes, or empty paper grain bags.  Cut a few holes in a plastic barrel, fill it with treats, and hang it from the ceiling with a chain to a height that the animals can reach to eat from it and beat it up.  Feed them out in an empty hard plastic kiddie pool instead of in their bowls.  Make a puzzle feeder by cutting small holes in a plastic water cooler bottle or hollow plastic ball, filling it with treats, and letting them roll it around.

Sensory: Christmas lights (outside the stall/inaccessible to the animals, obviously); music or CDs of animal/nature sounds; spices; perfume.

Giraffes!  …are super weird and like to lick everything, so give them some fun stuff to lick.  Tie plastic objects together with a rope or chain and hang it for them (we have one that’s just a rope with a bunch of plastic juice-pitcher lids tied to it, and the giraffes love it).  Make hanging puzzle feeders by cutting holes in PVC pipe and plastic water cooler bottles.  Mount scrub brushes on the walls for them to scratch against.  Our giraffe are also oddly fascinated when we play DVDs on a TV right outside their stall.  (Important: remember the heightened risk of strangulation for giraffes with hanging enrichment, and be extra careful to monitor them and make sure everything is hung safely.)

That’s all off the top of my head but there’s tons more!  Anyone have other suggestions?

(Edit: I forgot browse for browsers!!  Lots of leafy branches!!  Also logs, logs are great.)

A good enrichment idea that works for horses, is putting carrots in a feed tub with molasses, filling it about half way with water, then freezing it. Then just lay it in there stall/enclosure and then it would challenge them to break it until they can free there treats. Plus the molasses are good for those who like to like the bowl once it melts lol.

Yes, I completely forgot ice treats of all types!!
Water + 5 gallon bucket + hay/alfalfa, produce, and/or a bit of sugar free Kool-Aid powder are all fun options for hot days.

Anonymous asked: Hi! I'm a zookeeper from Florida and i was wondering if you have any ideas for enrichment for hoofstock....

Hello!
As most hoofstock species are flighty and neurotic, it’s always a good idea to err on the side of caution when introducing new enrichment.  Anything new is potentially terrifying, so — baby steps!  (And of course always get your supervisor’s and/or veterinarian’s stamp of approval before giving new enrichment, follow protocol, yadda yadda common sense disclaimer.)  Here are some things we use at my zoo.

Food: Unseasoned air-popped popcorn; wheat/corn/rice Chex cereal; sweet feed; compressed alfalfa cubes; sugar free Kool-Aid; sugar free Jell-O; molasses; produce.

Manipulative/Environmental:  For a lot of hoofstock, just seeing something new in their stall or yard — a ball, a traffic cone, chalk drawings on the walls — can be very enriching.  You can also hang things from the ceiling, and you can put treats or part of their diet in just about anything.  Try stuffing some hay in traffic cones, cardboard boxes, or empty paper grain bags.  Cut a few holes in a plastic barrel, fill it with treats, and hang it from the ceiling with a chain to a height that the animals can reach to eat from it and beat it up.  Feed them out in an empty hard plastic kiddie pool instead of in their bowls.  Make a puzzle feeder by cutting small holes in a plastic water cooler bottle or hollow plastic ball, filling it with treats, and letting them roll it around.

Sensory: Christmas lights (outside the stall/inaccessible to the animals, obviously); music or CDs of animal/nature sounds; spices; perfume.

Giraffes!  …are super weird and like to lick everything, so give them some fun stuff to lick.  Tie plastic objects together with a rope or chain and hang it for them (we have one that’s just a rope with a bunch of plastic juice-pitcher lids tied to it, and the giraffes love it).  Make hanging puzzle feeders by cutting holes in PVC pipe and plastic water cooler bottles.  Mount scrub brushes on the walls for them to scratch against.  Our giraffe are also oddly fascinated when we play DVDs on a TV right outside their stall.  (Important: remember the heightened risk of strangulation for giraffes with hanging enrichment, and be extra careful to monitor them and make sure everything is hung safely.)

That’s all off the top of my head but there’s tons more!  Anyone have other suggestions?

(Edit: I forgot browse for browsers!!  Lots of leafy branches!!  Also logs, logs are great.)

#zookeeperproblems

ursusenthusiast:

I really need to stop running errands after work in my uniform. A number of things frequently happen: people in line next to you stare (A. They see the zoo logo and think you wrangle animals all day or B. They don’t see the logo and think you dress like an unusual man) and then “do you work at the zoo? That must be so cool” why yes it is! And then there was today, my favorite conversation with a cashier yet. This made me laugh extensively and call my best friend/fellow keeper to tell her. This cashier was a lovely young girl we shall call her Claire…

Claire: “you work at the zoo? That’s awesome I’m so jealous”
Myself: “yeah it’s great, really rewarding but a bit hot today”
Claire: “do you have to go to school to do what you do?”
Myself: “typically, I have a biology degree with a concentration in ecology but what’s really important in this field is the amount of experience you have, so lots of volunteer work and internships”
Claire: “oh… Well I guess I could just get a job there picking up poop..”
Myself: “yeah, that’s what I do”
Claire: “oh”

Yes I have a college degree, yes I pick up poop, no that is not the only thing I do, and yes I love my job!


If I had a nickel!!

Also happens: people don’t notice the logo and think you walk around smelling that bad for no reason.  Super awkward.

Anonymous asked: Hey I'm currently enrolled in an AZA accredited teaching Zoo in Gainesville Florida called Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo. And following graduation I'm hopping that I can get a low level keeper position at another AZA facility. But as of right now the school is my only real experience working in any type of facility at all and I was just wondering what my chances are of acquiring a zoo keeping position without first gaining more experience. Thank You!

Hi!
I know a few keepers who went to zoo school (some from Santa Fe, some from other places).  While it’s not impossible to get a full-time keeper job straight out of a school like Santa Fe, you’d probably have better luck going for a seasonal position first.

Teaching zoos and zoo college programs are good in a lot of ways, but… how to say this delicately?… a common attitude among the keepers and supervisors I’ve worked with has been that people from zoo schools often have a bit of a superiority complex because they think they’ve learned all they need to know from their college experience.  Of course this doesn’t apply to everyone from teaching zoos — but it is common enough to be notable, and common enough for some of the supervisors I know to disregard zoo school as actual experience.

That being said, you’re right on target when you say you want to go for a low-level keeper position.  Zoo school can teach you a lot, but only being a keeper can teach you how to be a keeper.  The good news is, for you, college pretty much counts as your internship experience, so you should be able to skip that step and go straight for the seasonal keeper positions after college (which may not sound like a big step up, but trust me, IT IS).

The bigger variety of experience you get early on (i.e. different facilities, gradually but steadily increasing responsibility levels, etc.), the better keeper you’ll be in the long run.

Good luck!!

veganprimatologist asked: Hi there! I am studying primate behavior/anthropology. I am low income and can only do internships with housing/stipend. I want to work with primates but so far I have only been able to obtain internships with birds (North American and now exotics). I want to take a gap year before graduation in order to pursue work that I truly want to do (primates/field work/zookeeping/African conservation). However, the only internships I can find that are friendly to low-income/homeless students involve...

[Continued:]
"…cleaning, cleaning, and more cleaning. I am perfectly capable of husbandry, animal handling (birds and small mammals), and veterinary assisting (restraint, medication, etc.) I feel so discouraged by these job listings. They are either way below or way above my skill level. Do you have any recommendations? I have checked AZA and other job boards already. Many AZA jobs do not offer housing or are very short-term. Thank you so much!"

[Also from veganprimatologist, but related to the above questions so I’m copying it here:]
"Boy, I love this blog! I have so many questions for you. I understand more about zookeeping as a profession after reading your posts. How much cleaning (hours) do you do in a day and how many animals do you care for? I feel like my whole job as a parrot keeper is mostly cleaning. The things I love (handling, interacting with the public) play a very small role in my day. I clean from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM and take care of about 80 birds. I work at a sanctuary. How would things be different at a zoo?”


Okay, hi!!  And thank you!
Sorry it’s taken me so long to answer, but there are a lot of questions in here and I have a lot to say, so I’m gonna break it down under the cut.

Read More

keeperchat:

10 August 2013 is the first World Lion Day!The official website includes this list of organizations working to conserve lions and lots of great lion conservation info.As a lion keeper, this subject is very close to my heart.  Please take a minute to learn something about these beautiful cats, and if you can, donate to one of the many groups working to protect them.

Reblogging for World Lion Day 2014, which is today!

keeperchat:

10 August 2013 is the first World Lion Day!

The official website includes this list of organizations working to conserve lions and lots of great lion conservation info.

As a lion keeper, this subject is very close to my heart.  Please take a minute to learn something about these beautiful cats, and if you can, donate to one of the many groups working to protect them.


Reblogging for World Lion Day 2014, which is today!

snowysentiments asked: How did you get your first Zoo job?

zoo-help:

urbpan:

eruditionanimaladoration:

My first job was just perfect timing. I had been volunteering for almost a year(4months intern 6months volunteer) and the zoo just opened up a new giraffe feeding deck and would need to hire people to be there an interpret. Well the woman who was tasked with running the program had become a friend and knew I was volunteering forever getting desperate for zoo work. So she offered to me :)

I’ll pass this along as if it were a meme.

I volunteered for about 4 years at various animal facilities. I had no college degree. I applied for one job and didn’t get it. I called them and asked why, and they said I didn’t have enough wild animal handling experience. I asked how I could get it, and they said I could volunteer with them. I did that for about 6 months and then got my first paying animal care job. That was 14 years ago.

I also would like to re affirm this. 

I started out volunteering for four years in a few zoos before i got a seasonal keeper job.. and then went back to interning in a more species specific area of interest after that period.

Sometimes it really comes down to right place and the right time..the stars tend to align themselves. :) 

Volunteered at Zoo #1 over a few summers in high school…

Unpaid internship at Zoo #2 over the summer between junior & senior years of college…

First paid zoo job at Zoo #3, landed approximately 7 months after graduation (and I was initially hired as a seasonal).

Patience and persistence, people!!

Moving Up in the Animal Ranks at the Kansas City Zoo (Kansas City, MO)

Another video from the KC Zoo, this time about what it means to be a curator.  I get asked pretty often what curators do and how to become one; this should clear a few things up for those of you who are curious!