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Going “all-in” with animals

Hi everyone! My name is Hope and I am a seasonal bird keeper here at Zoo Atlanta. Before I became a bird keeper, I interned with the Zoo’s Gorilla Care Team. Although birds and gorillas might seem like completely different worlds, one of the most common questions I have been asked in both animal areas is “Do you go in with the animals?”

Although there are many good answers to this question, the best one is an answer you will hear us say about almost everything we do: We want what’s best for the animals! Animal care team members work hard to build strong bonds with the animals in their care based off trust and respect. This bond allows us to do our daily cleaning, feeding, and enrichment without causing the animals stress. However, some animals don’t want someone coming into their homes and moving around, and that’s okay! We must know not only the species of animal we are working with, but also the individuals in order to figure out what is best for them.

With animals like gorillas and many others, animal care team members do not share space with the animals, but with the birds, it can vary by species. The hooded vultures are okay if I go in and clean underneath them so long as they have the option to fly from perch to perch. I also move slowly to respect their space. One of the wattled cranes goes into a different space while I clean because she is so nosy and always getting in the way; with her around I would never get anything done!

No matter how much we interact with the animals in our care, bonds are made through respecting their space, their homes, and their territories and natural behaviors. In most cases with animals, bonds are stronger and better when built on trust, respect, and choice to participate, rather than just physical touch or interaction. Next time you see one of us in an animal area or without an animal, try to figure out why that animal might prefer it that way!
Hope E.
Seasonal Keeper, Birds

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl