Zookeeping is the profession of cleaning up after, training, giving veterinary care to, giving enrichment to, and the general husbandry of the animals that live in the zoo. By doing our jobs well, animals that are endangered will be happy members of their species and hopefully breed to make more members of said species. We also are adding to the body of knowledge of the animals in our care, knowledge that can be useful in helping animals survive and thrive in the wild. Below you will find a brief job description.
Most all zoos these days require zookeepers to have a college degree, usually in a biological field. Some colleges even have a concentration in Zoology, and that is why most of the Binder Park Zoo zookeepers went to Michigan State University. Find out more at: http://www.zoology.msu.edu/.
Zookeepers are responsible for the day to day care of animals, and the majority of that includes cleaning up the poop! We embark on a daily routine of raking, sweeping, shoveling, hosing, and disinfecting that won’t end until every animal holding area is good and clean (at least until you let the animals back in there). You may wonder why a college degree is necessary for this job, but simply cleaning up is not always as easy as it sounds. While cleaning we are also making sure the animals are eating and pooping enough, making sure there is evidence that they slept and weren’t stressed for some reason overnight, and making sure there is no sign of blood or fur on the ground that would be indicative of fighting or extreme stress. And while we are disposing of all that poop, we are also checking it to make sure it is the right amount, size and consistency that indicates an animal in good digestive health.
This is just an example of one of the areas where over 50 exotic African hoofstock are housed at Binder Park Zoo, and where we zookeepers spend hours doing what most would consider mucking out stalls, but which in reality is much more than that.
Training animals to do things that they would normally be resistant to and probably have to be chemically immobilized to do is the goal of the training program at most zoos. Common goals of training include but are not limited to: training diabetic primates for regular blood draws and insulin injections, training for physical exams, x-rays, blood draws, injection of vaccines, nail or hoof trims, and the list can go on and on. Some animals are trained to do simple things, such as to go into (or onto) a crate on cue:
At Binder Park Zoo we have trained several giraffes to station to a target that allowed us to exam, x-ray, and eventually glue a block to an injured foot.
All zookeepers are expected to know the basics of animal training and then use them to better the lives of the animals in the zoo. This giraffe, for example, is not stressed at all and is enjoying a snack while necessary medical care is preformed to his leg. Also, the zookeepers are safe because the animal is calm. This is an example of how a training plan had very successful results.
Call the Vet
While zookeepers are expected to identify and treat simple injuries and ailments, consulting the veterinary staff is something that is done on a very regular basis. The veterinary staff diagnoses illness, performs surgery, bandages wounds and takes care of the complicated medical issues. Some of the other routine medical procedures are done by the zookeepers themselves. Giving animals prescribed medicine is a common task undertaken by zookeepers. That may sound easy, but it sometimes can be tricky if an animal doesn’t particularly like medicine all over his food, for example. Anyone who has ever tried to shove a pill down their cat or dog’s throat knows what I am talking about. It is a zookeeper’s job to get creative, and we usually can find some kind of tasty treat to hide a pill in, even for the most finicky eaters in the animal world.
These zookeepers are hand restraining a zebu cow to apply a fly-repelling liquid that will work for up to two weeks. This repellent was prescribed by the vet staff; how we got it on the 500 pound cow was up to us. We are now in the process of training this very animal to station to a target (and enjoy a snack) while the liquid is applied to her back.
Enrichment usually comes in the form of auditory, olfactory, visual or physical stimulus that is novel to the animal and helps to enable natural behavior. Primates and other mammals and birds are the common recipients of enrichment, but most people are surprised to learn that amphibians and reptiles also benefit from enrichment; their enrichment can come in the form of a change of scenery, new shelter or new food item, for example.
The giraffes enjoy a variety of enrichment. This one is using the natural behavior of feeding with its tongue. The item she is using is called a puzzle feeder, and this particular feeder has more than tripled this animal’s feeding time. This is significant because in the wild giraffes would be feeding with their tongues for most of their waking hours, but in the zoo, animals are given their feed in a tub and usually finish in minutes. This puzzle feeder enables natural feeding behavior.
Brown Lemurs are able to figure out a variety of puzzle feeders (even when they are unable to see the food), and the African Wild Dogs enjoy exhibiting pack behavior chasing a scented “prey” toy on a lure course:
But not all enrichment serves such an important purpose, some is just for fun. We have recently discovered that the wallabies and the Mongolian Wild Horses at the zoo enjoy watching television, and football or cartoons seem to be their favorites. Even though the TV isn’t enabling any natural behavior, it helps fight the boredom caused by living in the zoo, and serves a positive purpose none the less.
All Other Things
Or trying to figure out which one of these identical goats needs a vitamin (and then figure out how to get it to take said vitamin)…
|What you will be asked to do at the zoo is limitless, and may or may not include holding a tarantula all day so people can learn about it…
||Or visiting the newborn baby Black Mangeby monkey…
||Or brushing the Fennec Fox…
There are many bizarre things that a zookeeper does in the course of a work week, in addition to all of the routine and fun things. But at the end of the week, this is a very rewarding job. We do things in the zoo that are saving animals from extinction in the wild, and we take care of some of the most unique, most exotic and endangered animals in the world. If I do my job right, the public sees animals in the zoo that are happy and engaging in natural behaviors and living in natural habitats; hopefully this leads them to care enough to do something: start recycling, conserve energy, or even investigate and then invest in conservation.
If you have any other questions regarding the field and profession of zookeeping, please contact us at battlecreekAAZK@gmail.com or use our contact form.