Where do the animals go in the winter?
Aside from a couple of domestic animals, the entire animal collection stays at the zoo year-round. Many animals are housed indoors (birds, reptiles, etc.), but there are several species that are surprisingly hardy and do well in the Michigan climate. Zebras get extra furry, vultures ruffle their feathers, and wallabies snuggle in hay beds under toasty heat lamps. Not only is it expensive to ship animals (a giraffe shipment can cost thousands of dollars), but it can be stressful for animals as well. Zookeepers work very hard to ensure all the animals are given plenty of heat, shelter, and enrichment when the mercury drops.
What type of education is required to become a zookeeper?
Most zoos require a bachelor's degree for zookeeper positions, and some zoos even require a masters or higher for curators and directors. These degrees can be specialized, like MSU's Zoo and Aquarium Science, or a simple BS in Biology. Many of the skills imperative to caring for animals are learned on the job, and getting positions can be very competitive. The best way to get a head start is to gain animal experience through places like your local animal shelter, 4H club, veterinary office, zoo, or pet center.
What does it mean when zoo's say they are AZA accredited?
AZA, or the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, is a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of accredited zoos and aquariums in the areas of animal care, wildlife conservation, education and science. For a zoo to have their stamp of approval, it must meet or exceed rigorous standards in everything from animal care to education to veterinary care. When visiting a zoo, seeing this logo on their graphics should ensure a quality institution. Every five years, Binder Park Zoo hosts a team of directors, veterinarians, and curators from around the country who meticulously inspect every aspect of the zoo before extending the accreditation.
What's up with that gross-looking dead zebra on exhibit?
Wild Africa is what zoo's call an immersion exhibit. That means that the goal is for the guests and the animals to feel as though they are actually in Africa, watching a herd of waterbuck casually stroll by, grazing on grass. To achieve this, many of the signs are distressed with hammers, trash bins are disguised as barrels, and the savannah is complete with a lion's kill being picked at by vultures. The model was constructed from fiberglass and is used to feed the carnivorous birds in the exhibit. The point is not to be disturbing or gross, but to educate the zoo guests on predator/prey relationships.
Where do the animals come from?
Back in the 1960's and early 70's it was common practice for some zoo animals to be taken from the wild. Zoos have made goliath strides since then, however, and this practice has all but been obliterated. In fact, releasing animals like wolves and swans back into the wild is what Binder Park Zoo is all about. Animals are either born at the zoo, or traded with other institutions- usually for breeding or husbandry reasons. Several preparations are made for an animal shipment, even those as small as an African tortoise. Veterinary exams and paperwork are done on both ends to ensure the animals safety when flying the friendly skies. Sometimes zookeepers drive hundreds of miles to pick up animals from other zoos so they can be monitored closely during travel.
How much money does a zookeeper make?
People who work with animals typically aren't in it for the money. Salaries vary greatly from one institution to the next. Binder Park Zoo is a non-profit organization. That means the money used to pay things like salaries, utilities, and to buy animal food is made from within the zoo, not given from city taxes. There are other factors in salaries as well. Experience, education, and cost of living in a particular state play a role in a keeper's paycheck. Realistically, anyone planning on having a career in zookeeping should not expect to become wealthy from it.
Is your job dangerous?
Zookeepers are heavily trained to ensure their safety and the safety of the guests visiting the zoo. Locking locks, wearing safety equipment, and using appropriate capture techniques when necessary are an absolute necessity in this field. That being said, there is always the possibility of being injured while working with wild animals. No one enjoys being on the business end of an angry camel, fiesty great horned owl, or grouchy lemur, but keepers work hard to learn to deal with those situations. That's one great part about this profession-learning something new each day.
What is an SSP?
The Species Survival Plan program began in 1981 as a cooperative population management and conservation program for selected species in zoos and aquariums in North America. For each species that meets the criteria, the program strives to ensure genetic diversity and stability within the captive population. There is usually one coordinator and several committee members who meet annually (and communicate throughout the year) to determine which animals will be put in breeding situations or moved to other institutions. This can be challenging for keepers who are working to breed endangered species. After several hours of number crunching, it may be determined that Lola and Lyle lemur have the best genes for the species, but they may either live on opposite ends of the country, or simply not get along at all! Currently, 107 SSP's covering 161 individual species are administered by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and Binder Park Zoo is proud to be a part of more than fifteen of these programs.