Keeper Chat

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

jjuttup asked: Just curious as im an aussie keeper, but what makes otters dangerous? Are they cunning or something?

While otters aren’t ever (at least that I’ve seen!) classified on the “code red” level of danger (code red otter… can you imagine!!), a lot of zoos don’t allow interns/volunteers to work with them because they do have a NASTY bite.  Like, absolutely nasty in a straight-to-the-hospital sort of way.

Anonymous asked: imagine that i want to work with dolphins or sea lions and train them. i know that i should study marine biology but what about the training part? what do zoos look for in trainers? what kind of things should i be envolved with to get more experience in training? thank you :D

I highly recommend The Middle Flipper.  She’s a marine mammal trainer and her blog is excellent; the info over there will probably help you much more than I can!

bearlytame asked: I've been a seasonal relief keeper for about 9 months now. I'm making a species list of everything that I've worked with, and I've gotten stuck. Since I'm a seasonal keeper, I'm not allowed to work with any of the more "dangerous" animals, such as the otters, tiger, sun bear, etc. However, I do help out on occasion with cleaning and diet prep, just not shifting and training. I was wondering if I could/should add these animals to the list. What do you think?

If it’s a personal list for your own satisfaction, then your criteria can be whatever you want!  The phrase “work with” is so vague when it comes to animals.  Have you “worked with” bears if you’ve merely chopped their diet, or would you not consider yourself to have “worked with” them until you’re at a routine immobilization helping to rearrange a bear’s anesthetized body?  And what about everything in between those two extremes?!

Personal choice, my friend.  For what it’s worth, I usually say I’ve worked with a species if I’ve spent significant time (i.e. more than a day) doing something directly related to their care.

On a resume or job application, that’s a different story, and I would make your level of involvement clear (for example: “Did abc for hedgehogs and goats.  Did xyz for tigers and sun bears”).

Anonymous asked: hi! great blog! :) i looove animals and i'm 100% sure that i want to work with them.. being a zookeeper is a huge goal for me but there are some things that i'm unsure of. i'm not really physically strong (though i think of myself as mentally strong) but i'm only 15 years old so i have time to work on it, right?? i am also a bit shy.. i get super nervous in my oral presentations but since i'll be talking about animals and i'll be sure about what i'll be saying, it's fine, right? thanks :)

Hi!
Short answer: yes, these are both things you can work to improve on and a little bit of honest effort will take you a long way.

Further reading in previous posts:
Physical fitness and zookeeping
Public speaking and zookeeping

Thanks for the question!

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.

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