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Hidden skills of an animal care professional

Being an animal care professional at Zoo Atlanta is a lot of fun. One acquires many skills while working in such a unique profession. Most of that knowledge is obtained from a four-year college degree; however, many other of the “odd” skills a keeper comes to possess are learned on the job and, although it would look great on any animal care professional’s resume, it might look a bit worrisome if on a resume for a “regular” career.

Imagine sitting in an office across a well-manicured desk of an executive for an interview, and they ask you what skills you can bring to the table that set you aside from other candidates, and you respond with being able to identify an animal solely based on the odor of their feces. Your interviewer gives you a look, so you continue by adding that you can safely fit your body via outrageous contortionist-like style into any sized space, all while using an electric drill. At this point your interviewer has a subtle look of terror across their face. To help ease their mind you decide it may be best to share talents that are more relatable to the position you are applying for. You tell your interviewer that you are great at multitasking and give several examples. Their horror melts away and they appear impressed. You decided to brag a bit more about your strange collection of skills starting with having Wonder Woman-like strength and being able to lift ridiculously-shaped and off-balanced perching and large allergen-filled hay bales over obstacles and across various distances. You add that you are gifted with the unique ability to imitate nearly any animal on command. Your interviewer tests this claim by requesting to hear an assortment of calls.

You begin your Animalia monologue with a long roll of the tongue that soon transforms into a short “kook” after “kook” followed by a long rapid fire “oo, oo, oo” gradually increasing in volume by the second until the ears of your interviewer begins to ring. The call climaxes in to a booming echoing laughter that bounces off the walls of the small glass office you sit in where you then complete your mimic of the laughing kookaburra with a subtle tongue roll. You ready your posture for the next call. The interviewer politely begs you to stop just as you get out the starting howling shriek of the ring-tailed lemur. You both sit there awkwardly staring at each other until you wake up and this peculiar nightmare ends.

I can’t say that I’ve ever performed an animal call during a job interview, but have done so for guests on countless occasions. Although these odd skills are nothing fancy or gawked after in the “real world,” animal care professional pride themselves on the multiple quirky talents we acquire over our lengthy careers. If you are interested in learning more about these “odd” skills and how you too can master them, come visit one of our Keeper Talks or presentations. We will be more than happy to demonstrate our talents.
Deidre Ousterhout
Keeper II, Ambassador Animals

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