Appreciated an animal care worker today?
Holidays this year will probably look a little different than they normally do, but I know one thing will be the same as any other year. Zoo Atlanta will be closed on Thanksgiving Day, and most of my teammates will be able to enjoy a day off work to spend with loved ones. But many of the animal care professionals will report to work as usual, and many of my other teammates will work on the days immediately surrounding the holiday. It’s something that comes with the territory of working at a zoological organization and represents a personal sacrifice we make in the name of helping wildlife. With this in mind, I try to extend a little extra love and appreciation to my amazing teammates during the holiday season.
Even though I’ve transitioned back to the Education Department, I carry with me many fond memories of working with the primates and a keen appreciation for my teammates who devote their professional lives to providing the best care possible for the animals at Zoo Atlanta. Today, I want to share with you why I’m thankful to work with such dedicated, passionate, and inspiring people. Along with the animals themselves, they’re one of the primary reasons I love working at the Zoo.
I wish I could say that holidays are usually just a “typical” day at work, but the truth is that there is no such thing. You need a certain amount of flexibility and adaptability to thrive in an environment where every day looks different from any other, and my teammates sure do rise to the occasion. From building dynamic enrichment items and designing novel research studies to developing innovative training programs and planning animal introductions, our animal care professionals are some of the most creative people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. I’m starting to think there’s not a problem that they can’t solve.
Solving these problems usually requires teamwork, another quality my teammates exude on a daily basis. This has been especially true in the challenging year of 2020. As you can imagine, animal care isn’t a job that can be done remotely. While the Zoo was closed, our animal care teams worked more and longer days than usual to minimize the possibility of an entire team needing to be quarantined for exposure to COVID-19, some even cross-training in new areas to support other teams. I have endless respect for the work they pour their hearts and souls into and I consider myself lucky to personally know so many of my role models.
In addition to flexibility, creativity, and teamwork, being an animal care professional requires keen observational skills, attention to detail, compassion, patience, innovation, and strength of mind, body, and spirit (among many other things!). Some people think it’s just feeding and cleaning up after animals, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. While cleaning and feeding are important daily tasks, so are providing enrichment, training husbandry behaviors, monitoring animal health, observing behavior, designing engaging habitats, and managing social dynamics. These are some of the things you might not see during your visit, but they’re happening every day.
It takes a special kind of person to provide the highest quality of care for wildlife. Not only is their job physically and emotionally demanding, but it often means working on holidays and weekends. For some, it also requires relocating to a new city as this is a highly competitive field and often difficult to get into. The animal care professionals at Zoo Atlanta inspire me every day to face challenges head-on, think outside the box, and advocate for others who can’t do it for themselves. The next time you visit the Zoo, look for an animal care professional and join me in expressing appreciation and gratitude to them for devoting their lives to caring for the wildlife we all love.